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Rangers 1, Capitals 0

by Dan Rosen

Dan Rosen | Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals may be getting the better of the territorial play, but the New York Rangers have shown through the first two games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series that they are the more committed team.

After blocking 21 shots in Game 1, the Rangers blocked 29 more in Game 2 in front of another roaring red crowd at Verizon Center Saturday afternoon. An early goal from Ryan Callahan was all they needed for a 1-0 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series back to Madison Square Garden.

"It's huge to have a lot of guys to block shots and sacrifice their bodies in a series like this, especially when you face so many good players that can shoot the puck," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 35 saves for his fourth career postseason shutout. "We had a lot of blocks in the first game, especially after faceoffs, and (Saturday) again they came up big on a couple that they had a pretty good shot opportunity. We did a lot of good things."

The Rangers scored the only goal they needed 7:44 into the game when Brandon Dubinsky's patience along the boards in the neutral zone resulted in a 2-on-1 for Markus Naslund and Callahan.

Capitals defenseman Mike Green pinched and forward Viktor Kozlov came too hard, allowing Dubinsky to send a pass to Naslund for a 2-on-1 against defenseman Tom Poti. Naslund cut through the left circle before slotting a pass to Callahan, who redirected it over rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov's glove.

Varlamov was the surprise starter in favor of veteran Jose Theodore, who allowed four goals on 21 shots in Game 1. The 20-year-old Russian played well, stopping 23 of 24 shots.

"We just have to score goals," said Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin, who had six shots on goal but took another seven that were blocked. "We made one mistake in the first period, they used it and we didn't score goals."

With Lundqvist at his best, which he has been so far in this series, and the way the Rangers are blocking shots, scoring goals has become a tough task for the Capitals, who were third in the NHL with 268 during the regular season.

"John (Tortorella's) team when Tampa won the Cup (in 2004), they blocked the most shots in the League (during the playoffs)," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Nothing got through. It's nothing new."

The telling part of how much the Rangers are sacrificing is it's not just one or two players going down to block shots. Fourteen of their 18 skaters had at least one block Saturday afternoon. Ten had at least one block in Game 1.

Fredrik Sjostrom only had one block, but his was of the utmost importance as he got in the way of a blistering Ovechkin shot that came off an in-zone faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps' power play late in the second period.

"That's what it takes to win…we have some guys that do it really well," captain Chris Drury said of blocking shots. "That commitment and ability to get down there and get in the way of an Ovechkin one-timer like Freddy did in the second; that shows how badly he wants it."

The Capitals believe part of the problem is they're allowing the Rangers to block a lot of shots by taking too many low-percentage drives from the perimeter.

"No," Green said when asked if his team is getting quality shots. "A lot of our shots came from the outside and that's easy for the goalie to make a save."

The only time they actually beat Lundqvist was when Ovechkin ripped a shot from between the circles off the crossbar with 6:01 remaining. Otherwise, for the second straight game, Washington didn't have enough skaters crashing Lundqvist's crease to create traffic in front of the All-Star goalie.

"The tough areas are around the net or in the slot and we gotta get into the gray areas where we can get quality shots," Green said. "I mean, Ovie gets in the slot there with (Alexander) Semin passing to him and he hits the crossbar. That's a quality shot, but the stuff from the outside, we have to learn to go to the net because the rebounds are going to come to those areas, especially if we're shooting from the outside.

"Now, with playoff hockey, the game changes a bit and you have to adjust. If you're going to win, you have to adjust."

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Brandon Dubinsky made the play that gave the Rangers the chance to score their first goal. Standing along the boards, he waited for both Mike Green and Viktor Kozlov to step up before chipping a pass up to Markus Naslund. Dubinsky's patience allowed Naslund and Ryan Callahan to go in 2-on-1 against Tom Poti. Naslund drew Poti to him before sliding a pass to Callahan, who redirected it in over Simeon Varlamov's glove 7:44 into the first period. It was the Rangers' second shot of the game.

Fredrik Sjostrom had a phenomenal game, even though it looked as if he was playing hurt. Sjostrom single-handily killed the first half of the Caps' power play at the end of the second period by blocking one shot and clearing the puck down the ice before going off the ice after a 35-second shift. He just did all the little things for the Rangers. That's exactly what they need him to do.

Oh how close Alex Ovechkin was to tying the game with 6:01 remaining in the third period. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal turned the puck over to Alexander Semin in the defensive zone. Semin gave the puck to Ovechkin between the circles. No. 8 twirled and fired a hard shot that nicked the crossbar before flying into the mesh. An inch or two lower and it would have been the game-tying goal.

The Capitals fired 88 shots toward the net, but the Rangers blocked 29 of them, which is a sign of how much they are laying on the line. They blocked 21 shots in Game 1. No other team had that many in their first game of this season's playoffs.

In what has to only be looked at as a surprising move, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau opted to go with 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov over 32-year-old veteran Jose Theodore in net. Varlamov stopped 23 of 24 shots. Theodore gave up four goals on 21 shots Wednesday night in Game 1 and came under fire for it. Boudreau said on Friday that "Theo is our No. 1 goalie," but "it's not safe to assume anything." He was right.

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