WASHINGTON -- New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin prepared to take a penalty shot against Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the third period of Game 4 at Verizon Center on Wednesday.
With so little to separate the Rangers from the Capitals in their Eastern Conference Second Round series, it could not have been more important.
Washington defenseman Mike Green hooked Hagelin at 8:01, after the speedy forward broke clear receiving a head-man pass.
The Capitals led 2-1. Hagelin was at his blue line waiting for permission to shoot. The crowd was braying, trying to unnerve Hagelin and help the Capitals maintain their lead.
Hagelin had a plan early and never wavered.
"Fake shot and went to my backhand," he said.
Holtby had no such preconceived notion, admitting only that he felt Hagelin would try to use his elite skating somehow.
"Just trying to be patient, make him make a move; just treat it as another shot," said Holtby, who said he had no book on Hagelin and could not remember if the forward was even on the shootout pre-scout reports from the regular season. "It seems simple. Don't think."
Holtby followed Hagelin as he faked the shot and broke to his right. The goalie went into a split as the forward lofted a backhand. The puck disappeared into Holtby's glove and the fans cheered even louder.
The Rangers could not get the tie they so desperately needed and had precious few chances to score another goal in the final 12 minutes. They lost 2-1.
Hagelin insisted he had no regrets.
"What happened, happened," he said. "If there is one thing I have learned, it is all about moving forward. I got that opportunity and I missed It. Hopefully, next time I score."
The Capitals have outscored the Rangers 7-5, winning three times by one goal to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
It has been so close that Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik admitted New York could be the team in control of the series as it heads back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"I think we are so evenly matched and both goalies are playing so well," Orpik said. "I think it could easily be 3-1 them [in the series]. You need a little bit of luck. You need a couple of bounces to go your way and we've definitely had that. I think without looking at the score of the series, I think it has been played really evenly, to be honest with you."
Holtby has been the difference more often than not. The penalty-shot save was the latest example.
"He's been there to bail us out when we need it the most," teammate Troy Brouwer said. "He was calm and made a great save [on the penalty shot]. We've leaned on him to keep us in games and win games at times. We count on him to give us the best opportunity to win night in and night out, and he's done that."