The Rangers to a man say every Stanley Cup playoff game is a must-win, no matter the situation. But Saturday’s second-round Game 2 matinee at Madison Square Garden felt even more so like one after they let Game 1 slip away by quitting on a play in the dying seconds.
Knowing that traveling to Washington in a two-game hole could’ve spelled the beginning of the end of their Stanley Cup hopes, the Rangers got out to the dominant start they desperately needed. They opened up a two-goal lead before typically making things hard on themselves, needing to fend off chaotic Capital rallies to hold on for a 3-2 win and even the series, 1-1. All seven of the Rangers’ playoff games have been decided by one goal.
“I think after what happened last game, we were all upset,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 of his 30 saves over the final two periods. “I was really annoyed. It really bothered me. So you try to use that energy in a good way going into this game, to really be determined that we need this one. And I think the first period we played one of our better periods, created a lot of chances and set the tone.”
Chris Kreider scored his second goal of the playoffs 38 seconds into the game off a Jesper Fast rebound, the result of a long, crisp pass from Derek Stepan. Dan Boyle scored a power-play goal at 15:40 of the first, a shot from the blue line that went untouched with Rick Nash causing havoc in front of Braden Holtby (32 saves.)
Fast moved to the second line, swapping spots with J.T. Miller. Boyle’s goal was the first the Caps had allowed on the power play this postseason; they had previously killed all 17 man advantages they faced. The Rangers outshot Washington 15-4 in the first period.
Just as crucial as that early lead was Derick Brassard’s team-best fourth goal of the playoffs at 6:07 of the third period, which trickled through Holtby’s legs to put the Rangers up 3-1 amid a furious comeback bid by the Caps, who launched 16 shots at Lundqvist in the second period. Evgeny Kuznetsov had cut the lead in half at 13:59 of the second, beating Boyle to a Jason Chimera rebound.
Brassard’s goal came 10 seconds after he emerged from the penalty box, serving time for interfering with Alex Ovechkin.
Derick Brassard (l.) and Dan Boyle each light the lamp for the Rangers on Saturday.
“For two seconds I didn’t even know I scored,” Brassard said. “I think it went really slow. It was a good bounce for me and hopefully it’s gonna bring some confidence to our line.”
Brassard was “nervous” sitting in the box as Lundqvist made three saves on the power play, while Kevin Klein laid out to block an Ovechkin slap shot at 4:48. Klein had his left arm broken by an Ovechkin shot on March 11 and didn’t return until Thursday’s Game 1 loss.
“Especially considering that was the player that broke his arm in the first place, it’s pretty inspirational,” Kreider said. “It makes you want to do the same thing and sacrifice the body when you have to and do whatever it takes.”
Chris Kreider scores a rebound goal to give the Rangers the early lead.
That goal proved to be the difference as Washington’s assault on Lundqvist’s goal wasn’t done, and the Caps broke through again thanks to more brilliance from Ovechkin, who scored on a sublime snipe in Game 1. He cut the Game 2 deficit to one with 9:31 left in the third by skating with the puck through the neutral zone with no help, somehow barreling his way through the closing-in Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh and, while falling down in the right circle, firing a rocket into the upper left corner.
“(Ovechkin’s) probably the best player in the world right now,” Brassard said.
The Capitals attempted seven shots after Holtby went to the bench for an extra skater with 1:42 left. Three shots went on net, but their comeback bid fell short, leaving the Presidents’ Trophy winners heading to the nation’s capital with their Cup dreams alive and well. “It’s always in the back of our minds,” Brassard said of the Game 2 pressure. “We didn’t want to go back to Washington 0-and-2. This team always answers when we lose a big game. When our backs are against the wall we always answer, and that’s what we did tonight.”
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