Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
NEW YORK -- A year ago, the Washington Capitals had to scratch and claw their way back into their opening series against Philadelphia before eventually falling in Game 7.
They'll have another shot to win a Game 7 this season, but now they're fresh after coasting to back-to-back victories over the New York Rangers.
Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals, with virtually all the same players as last year save for the goalie, chased Henrik Lundqvist from the net for the second-straight game and got a four-point day from defenseman Tom Poti for a 5-3 victory over the Rangers, who played with suspended coach John Tortorella looking on.
Washington has scored on nine of its last 34 shots against Lundqvist after scoring on just eight of their first 149 in this series. The last time Poti scored four points in a game was here at Madison Square Garden in 2004 when he played for the Rangers.
"(Lundqvist) can't play every time like a god," said Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, who scored his third goal in as many games Sunday. "He can't save the game every time. When we score goals, we feel pretty good. We play simple and we play hard and nobody can stop us. We believe in our group and everybody believed we could bounce back."
Lundqvist will be back in net for Game 7 Tuesday at Verizon Center, but Rangers assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld, who was serving as the team's head coach Sunday for the suspended Tortorella, said, among other things, the goalie must be better.
"Rarely does he have three (bad games) in a row, but the team’s got to play better in front of him," Schoenfeld said. "We have to protect the puck in the offensive zone and get some rubber on their goalie, and Henrik has to be better. Absolutely."
After falling behind 3-1 last season to the Flyers, the Capitals won Game 5 at home, 3-2, despite being outshot, 21-6, in the third period. They won Game 6 at Wachovia Center, 4-2, thanks to a pair of third-period goals by Ovechkin. It was a tough stretch and the Caps eventually lost Game 7 in overtime, but this year they led Game 5, 4-0, after two periods and were ahead in Game 6, 5-1, heading into the second intermission.
The Capitals conserved energy in each of the last two games and that could be a difference Tuesday night.
"The only difference is we're going to win this game," Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said.
The Capitals took advantage of some significant individual Ranger mistakes Sunday. Defenseman Milan Jurcina scored 7:09 into the game after right wing Nikolai Zherdev coughed up the puck along the half-boards in New York's defensive zone. The Rangers scored 66 seconds later, but couldn't overcome their turnovers and discipline problems.
Less than four minutes after Mike Green scored a power-play goal, his first goal of the series, to make it 2-1, the Caps took a commanding 3-1 lead when Marc Staal pinched at the point and couldn't hold the puck in at the end of a Rangers' power play.
As Poti was coming out of the penalty box, the puck was right in front of him. He went in for a 3-on-1 with Boyd Gordon and David Steckel against Dan Girardi. The three penalty killers had some nice tic-tac-toe passing before Poti beat Lundqvist at 17:14 of the first.
Schoenfeld said the mistakes were little, but, really, "there is no such thing as a little thing."
"They're not something we can go on a chalkboard and say we're going to line up here or do this differently," he added. "They're 1-on-1s and really no matter what you draw up, the game eventually boils down to 1-on-1 battles. We, frankly, just didn't win enough 1-on-1 battles. If we don't win our share in Washington it could be a similar fate."
The Caps added a pair of goals in the second period, one from Viktor Kozlov and another on a tip-in on the power play from Ovechkin, to stretch their lead to 5-1. Tempers began flaring with about five minutes to go in the second. Brandon Dubinsky hit Green from behind into the end boards and was called for boarding. Shaone Morrisonn jumped in to defend Green and got entangled with Dubinsky before each got matching roughing minors.
Dubinsky was also issued a 10-minute misconduct. Schoenfeld said Dubinsky required a tetanus shot after the game because Morrisonn bit him during the skirmish.
"As (Dubinsky) was trying to show it to the linesman, instead of looking, he gave him a 10-minute misconduct," Schoenfeld said.
The Rangers had already lost a key ingredient of their penalty kill when Blair Betts was knocked down hard by Donald Brashear 9:54 into the first period. Betts had to be helped off the ice and he did not return to the game. Schoenfeld, who called it "a late hit to the head, and it was pretty vicious," said Betts' injury is significant, though he would not disclose the nature of it. The Capitals took advantage by scoring on both of their power plays in the game.
"When we watched that between periods, to me that was a shoulder, a complete shoulder," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I mean, he followed through, but the elbow didn't hit him. It was a good shoulder hit."
"When we score goals, we feel pretty good. We play simple and we play hard and nobody can stop us. We believe in our group and everybody believed we could bounce back." -- Alex OvechkinFair or not, the Rangers never recovered after that hit. Now, they have to find a way against a confident Caps team that is simply rolling now.
"We might have learned last year, you think that after Game 6 in their building … you can sometimes get overconfident," Boudreau said. "Philadelphia took it to us last year and we were fortunate to force overtime. It's a good teacher. Nothing has been won yet."
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Boyd Gordon forced the puck away from Rangers defenseman Marc Staal at the blue line at the end of a penalty kill late in the first period. The puck trickled past the Caps' penalty box door and Tom Poti, who was coming on after serving two minutes for a delay of game, scooped it up and went in on a 2-on-1 with David Steckel. Gordon raced in to make it a 3-on-1 against Dan Girardi. Poti passed to Gordon. He fed to Steckel, who then passed it back to Poti for the slam dunk goal at 17:14. Gordon forced the turnover and was quick enough to get down the ice to make it a 3-on-1. That was big time.
David Steckel, the Capitals' third-line center, had a second straight strong game. Steckel had the secondary assist on Milan Jurcina's goal 7:09 into the game that put the Caps up, 1-0. He had the primary assist on Poti's goal 17:14 into the first that gave the Caps a 3-1 lead. The Capitals' third line has been a major factor in these last two wins, and Steckel is the man in the middle of it.
Much-maligned Rangers right wing Nikolai Zherdev, pointless in the series so far, had a chance to get a big monkey off his back about halfway through the second period, but he couldn't do it. Zherdev's backhanded attempt off a juicy rebound left by Simeon Varlamov went about two feet to the left of the wide-open net. The Capitals turned the puck around and 12 seconds after Zherdev's miss Viktor Kozlov scored to give Washington an insurmountable 4-1 lead 9:21 into the second period.
Who knew Sunday afternoon would turn into the Tom Poti show. The former Ranger, who is always booed when he's back at Madison Square Garden, silenced the sellout crowd for Game 6 by scoring a goal and adding three assists to lead the Caps to the 5-3 victory.
The Rangers lost a key ingredient of their penalty kill just 9:54 into the game when Blair Betts went out with an unspecified injury after being hit at center ice by Capitals' left wing Donald Brashear. Betts, who is one of the Rangers' lead penalty killers and also their fourth-line center, played just two shifts totaling 1:46. He was helped off the ice by two trainers and it was announced early in the second period that he would not return. Without Betts, the Rangers gave up a power-play goal 13:58 into the first period and again with 3:56 left in the second. New York allowed only four power-play goals on 29 times shorthanded in the first five games.