By Steve Silverman
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The Rangers and Capitals may be all even through the first four games of their playoff series, but the momentum is clearly moving in Washington’s direction.
Excuse-making is starting to creep in on the Rangers after the Capitals used a Mike Green power play goal to take a 3-2 lead late in the third period. Despite pulling Henrik Lundqvist late in the game, the Rangers could not put the tying goal in the net.
The Capitals went on the power play when Carl Hagelin was whistled for slashing after knocking the stick out of John Carlson’s hands following a puck battle. The Capitals moved the puck well throughout the man advantage and were able to score when defenseman Mike Green was allowed to walk in from the right point and hammer a slap shot at the top of the faceoff circle that got through Lundqvist.
It was the kind of shot the Capitals had been waiting for from Green, who has been improving steadily throughout the playoffs. When he is allowed to step in to a shot like the one that proved to be the game-winner, even the best goalie in the world like Lundqvist is in trouble.
The Rangers were not thrilled with the call on Hagelin, considering Alex Ovechkin did the same thing to Brian Boyle less than a minute prior to Hagelin’s slash. The officials did not observe Ovechkin’s actions, so they did not make a slashing call on him.
The Rangers have to be careful not to start reliving the events and thinking that officials are giving them the worst of it. That’s a loser’s mentality and it won’t help them find a way to overcome a Washington team that is playing much better than it did during the regular season and are proving to be formidable in the playoffs.
The Rangers had a good idea of how tough the Capitals would be after watching them defeat the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round. The Bruins never were able to shake or discourage the Capitals and they were able to score an overtime goal in the seventh game to push Boston aside.
If anything, the Capitals are playing better now and they came up with perhaps their most impressive effort in Game 4. After dropping a heartbreaking Game 3 in triple overtime, the Capitals got goals from their best players in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Green to secure the victory. When any team starts to get consistent contributions from its best players, the confidence level improves and the team’s overall level of play usually improves quite a bit.
While it was Green’s goal at the 14:12 mark of the third period that proved to be the difference maker, the Rangers were probably done in by their play at the start of the game. As expected, the Capitals came out with desperation and the Rangers were outshot 14-2 in the first period.
Ovechkin opened the scoring with a shot from the point in the opening session and while the Rangers got goals from Artem Anisimov and Game 3 hero Marian Gaborik in the second period, the Capitals never wavered in this game. They matched the Rangers hit for hit, blocked shot for blocked shot and save for save. The Rangers were playing catch-up through most of the game and that allowed the Caps to dictate the pace.
Ovechkin also leveled Ranger defenseman Dan Girardi with a big hit midway through the second period. Ovechkin left his feet when he drove his shoulder into Girardi’s chest and he received a 2-minute penalty, but it does not look like the league will punish Ovechkin further. While Ovechkin may also have made contact with Girardi’s head, the hit did not seem intentionally dirty. Still, when Ovechkin leaves his feet and has a track record of those type of hits, he should not be immune from additional discipline.
That kind of talk needs to be reserved for talk shows, sportswriters and fans. If the Rangers are going to play their best hockey, they can’t be focusing on missed calls by the officials. Perhaps Ovechkin should have gotten a 5-minute penalty for his hit on Girardi and a 2-minute penalty on his slash of Boyle’s stick. But the calls did not come and the game slipped away.
The concentration has to be on the next game and getting off to a faster start. The Capitals can’t match the Rangers in overall talent, but they are not intimidated and loaded with confidence. The Rangers are going to have grind one shift at a time if they are going to eliminate a surprisingly dangerous team that is playing with desperation and efficiency.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).