Dan Rosen| NHL.com Staff Writer
NEW YORK -- The two things that never wavered for the New York Rangers during their topsy-turvy regular season were their League-best penalty kill and the stellar play of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
In their most important game of 2009, both came though in a big way for the home team.
Lundqvist was spectacular in stopping 38 shots and the Rangers killed all six Washington power plays to win Game 4 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, 2-1 -- despite more undisciplined play from agitating left wing Sean Avery.
The Rangers staked themselves to a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series and gave themselves a chance to close it out in Game 5 at the Verizon Center on Friday night. If they do, they'll meet the Boston Bruins in the next round.
"I've said it before, that's why they pay me the big bucks, being there to stop the puck," Lundqvist said. "It's fun."
The Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead 2:23 into the second period when Chris Drury scored on a rebound after his first attempt was flubbed by Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov. Paul Mara also scored on a slap shot from the point that deflected into the net off Washington defenseman John Erskine 13:55 into the game.
It was everything that happened after Drury's goal that showed why the Rangers are even participating in this year's playoffs.
The Capitals had 30 shots on goal, including eight on the power play, in the final 40 minutes. All but one -- an absolute rocket by Alex Ovechkin 2:13 into the third period, following a brilliant individual effort -- were turned aside by Lundqvist, who has been the difference in all three Rangers' wins in this series.
Lundqvist, who made remarkable glove saves on Alexander Semin's high blast in the second period and Ovechkin's low bullet in the third, said he's seeing the puck so well right now because he's so confident.
"When you're confident you are not fighting (the puck)," Lundqvist said. "You're a little more relaxed and you let the puck come to you. A couple of times in the second I just waited and at the last split second and saw it and could react to it. Sometimes you fight it and you open up and that creates holes. When you're confident you are more patient and you let the puck come to you and then you can react. That's big."
Ovechkin, who has been praising Lundqvist all series, was at a loss for words about the goalie's performance in Game 4. Lundqvist has stopped 141 of 149 shots in this series, including 33 of 34 by Ovechkin.
"What can I say about him," the Caps' sniper said. "He's great right now."
Thanks to Lundqvist, the Rangers' penalty kill was good enough after allowing two goals on six chances in Game 3.
The Capitals did a great job of keeping the puck in the zone, but the Rangers filled the lanes and blocked some shots to keep Washington's powerful power play from scoring.
"Penalty kill was fantastic," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
It had to be -- because Avery put the Rangers in a hole in the final 10 minutes by taking a pair of minors, giving him eight penalties -- seven minors and a misconduct -- in the series.
While chasing down an icing call, Avery whipped his glove around and whacked Washington defenseman Milan Jurcina in the face, drawing blood and a roughing call at 10:21. The Caps kept the puck in the zone for the full two minutes, but managed only one shot on goal and missed the net four times -- plus one shot by Ovechkin that hit the crossbar.
"I think that was intentional," Caps defenseman Brian Pothier said. "That's Sean Avery and we know what to expect out of him. We need to bury our chances, though."
Avery went off again with 3:06 remaining, this time for carelessly high-sticking Pothier. He took a left-handed, baseball-type swing at Pothier and caught him on the right side of face, though Pothier said he did not think it was intentional.
"I hope not, for his sake," the defenseman said. "With four minutes left I think I give him a little more credit than that."
"I've said it before, that's why they pay me the big bucks, being there to stop the puck. It's fun." -- Henrik LundqvistIt didn't matter because the Capitals again got only one shot on the power play.
"Maybe we move the puck around too much or maybe we have to take more shots, but we have to create some traffic in front of the net," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's the whole point. We have some set plays, but we didn't do that. We have to get better."
Bruce Boudreau pulled Varlamov with a minute left, but Lundqvist handled the Capitals' final surge.
"Somebody is going to have to score on this guy," Boudreau said of Lundqvist. "You can nitpick all you want, (but) we took 39 shots. When you outshoot a team 19-5 in their building (in the second period) and you're down, the other goalie is doing something right."
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Alex Ovechkin's shift early in the third lasted only seven seconds, but it was easily the best individual performance of this series so far and it sliced the Rangers lead to 2-1 just 2:13 into the period. Chris Drury won an in-zone faceoff from Alexander Semin back toward Derek Morris, but Ovechkin raced in and took the puck. He skated hard into the Rangers' zone and from between the circles, above the hash marks, let loose an absolute cannon of a shot that zipped past Morris and then rang off the back crossbar for his first goal of the series on his 32nd shot.
Chris Drury sure knows the right places to go on the ice in the playoffs. He scored the 17th game-winning goal of his playoff career. Drury semi-flubbed a shot from the left circle and it was knuckling so bad that Simeon Varlamov couldn't get it in his catching glove. The puck popped loose to Varlamov's right and Drury, cutting to the net the entire way, found it not far from the goal line and roofed it into the top right corner at 2:23 of the second period. Not bad for someone who's been battling an injury and was questionable for the game after Tuesday's practice.
Well, they were saves, so they technically are in the box score, but the description of each is what matters. Alex Ovechkin did score his first goal of the series in Game 4, but he was also robbed twice by Henrik Lundqvist on a pair of sparkling glove saves. Ovechkin ripped a shot from just inside the right circle that Lundqvist snared out of the air. With just over five minutes to go in the third period, Ovechkin sent a dart targeted for the lower left corner of the net, but Lundqvist went down with his glove and ripped it out of the air.
The Capitals looked great on their power play all night long. They kept the puck in the zone, managed 11 shots on goal and missed on plenty more. However, the Rangers did not allow a power-play goal. Their penalty kill, which was ranked first in the NHL this season at 87.8 percent, allowed four goals on 16 chances in Games 1-3. On Wednesday night, the penalty-killers withstood an amazing advantage in puck possession and Lundqvist stood tall.
With Sean Avery in the box for roughing Milan Jurcina 10:21 into the third period, the Capitals kept the puck in the zone for the entire two-minute power play. Mike Green had the only shot on goal, but Ovechkin missed the net twice (once hitting a crossbar) and Fedorov and Green missed twice. The Rangers still didn't clear the zone even after Avery came on the ice, but the whistle blew when Alexander Semin was called for tripping Avery to the left of Lundqvist. The Rangers penalty killers -- Blair Betts, Fredrik Sjostrom, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi -- were gassed three-quarters of the way through the kill but held on.