It’s never supposed to be easy in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Rangers never seem to give themselves a chance for a definitive victory even when dominant starts give them the opportunity for comfortable finishes.
That was the case again Saturday in a second-round Game 2 matinee against the Capitals at Madison Square Garden as the Rangers dominated the first period to take a two-goal lead but twice allowed Washington to get within one. The Rangers ultimately held on, 3-2, to level the series 1-1 going into Monday night’s Game 3 in Washington. All seven of the Rangers’ playoff games have been decided by one goal.
Chris Kreider, Dan Boyle and Derick Brassard scored for the Rangers while Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves, most of them over the final two periods. Alex Ovechkin scored another world-class goal midway through the third to cut the Rangers lead to one, but the Blueshirts held off the Caps in the final moments with Braden Holtby (32 saves) on the bench for an extra skater.
Kreider scored just 38 seconds into the game to give the Rangers an early 1-0 lead. Derek Stepan found Jesper Fast, who was switched to the second line for J.T. Miller, and Fast’s shot was saved by Holtby but the oncoming Kreider cleaned up the rebound with an open net for his second goal of the playoffs.
Kreider had one of his best periods of the postseason, making his presence felt all over the ice with his speed and physical play. After Ovechkin tried to jar the puck loose from Henrik Lundqvist at a 4:29 stoppage, Dan Girardi began a shoving match with Ovechkin which led to Kreider wrapping Ovechkin in a headlock.
Derick Brassard (l.) and Dan Boyle each light the lamp for the Rangers on Saturday.
Kreider hit Ovechkin hard into the boards early in the first period, trying to punish a guy who seemed intent on hitting every Ranger in sight. The Capitals registered 20 hits in the first period, five of them by Ovechkin, and he added three more in the second.
Dan Boyle scored a power-play goal at 15:40 of the first to double the Rangers lead. Troy Brouwer tried to clear the puck up the boards from the corner, but the puck seemed to be slowed by slush, allowing Boyle enough time to keep the puck in the zone. He promptly threw the puck at the net and it found its way into the upper-left corner untouched for his first goal of the postseason. It was the first power-play goal the Capitals have allowed in their nine postseason games. They had killed 17 power plays, including the Rangers’ first one Saturday.
The Rangers picked up a third man-advantage with 1:56 left in the period when Tom Wilson charged Ryan McDonagh, with Brooks Laich joining in for the sandwich hit. The Rangers outshot Washington, considered slow starters in afternoon games, 15-4 in the first.
Sure enough, the Capitals were revitalized in the second, putting 16 shots on Lundqvist’s goal. If not for a few sterling saves, Washington would’ve scored more than the one goal they did at 13:59 of the period, when Evgeny Kuznetsov netted a rebound for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Chris Kreider scores a rebound goal to give the Rangers the early lead.
Kuznetsov dumped the puck in on a breakout. Jason Chimera’s shot was saved but Kuznetsov beat Boyle to the puck and cut the Rangers lead in half.
Washington had five shots in the first six minutes of the period, more than they had the entire first. At 8:03 Lundqvist made a glove save which sent the puck up in the air and it was falling backward toward net, but Lundqvist turned around and knocked it away with his right arm before it could fall in for a goal.
Lundqvist made a theatrical save at 11:17 of the second to deny Kuznetsov, who received a backhanded pass from Ovechkin after he spun around in the right circle. Lundqvist got his blocker up at the post to rob Kuznetsov with his right leg flying in the air.
Brassard scored his team-best fourth goal of the playoffs at 6:07 of the third, 10 seconds after he emerged from the penalty box for interfering with Ovechkin. Rick Nash began the scoring play by intercepting John Carlson’s pass to the neutral zone. Martin St. Louis’ pass from the Caps bench got through two Capital sticks. Brassard was right in front of the net and his shot trickled through Hotlby’s legs to put the Rangers back up by two.
Ovechkin once again showcased his brilliance at 10:29 of the third, scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs and second of the series to bring Washington within one. He skated with the puck through the neutral zone with no help as Girardi and McDonagh clamped down on him, but the Russian somehow skated his way through them and while falling down in the right circle sniped a shot into the upper-left corner.
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