Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seventh Heaven

Capitals 2, Rangers 1 - Capitals win series 4-3
Scoresheet - Post - Times

With the echos of game sevens past, the Washington Capitals looked to finish the New York Rangers in this final game. Last year's loss runs deep with Caps fans. The team resurrected from the brink of elimination only to lose a heart breaker in overtime. This season, it is a different team, different circumstances. Different outcome. The Caps stun the Rangers who had the 3-1 series lead to win at Verizon Center and move on to the Conference Semifinals with a 2-1 win.

Unlike games five and six, the Rangers played very well. In fact the game itself was an instant classic battle with both teams pressing the attack. New York came out early and seemed to push the Capitals back onto their heels. Just :42 seconds in the game, Nik Antripov broke away alone on Simeon Varlamov. Varly came up with the dynamite save.

The Rangers would strike first though. Sean Avery, who played a spectacular game (he is a good player when he isn't doing the dumb stuff), won the long battle along the boards before getting the puck to the front of the net to Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky tried to deke around the Caps' rookie goaltender but he lost control of the puck and it dribbled right to Antripov who made no mistake putting the biscuit upstairs. That line of Avery, Dubinsky and Antripov gave the Caps fits all night long.

The Caps would answer nearly ten minutes later when Nick Backstrom brought the puck out of their zone after a Mike Green penalty expired. The Caps had a odd man rush, 3 on 2 when Green stepped back onto the ice. Backstrom dropped the puck to Alex Semin and Semin shot it that hit Ryan Callahan and took a funny bounce around Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game at one.

For the next period and a half the teams played a passionate, hard nose, in your face hockey game. Both the Rangers and the Capitals exchanged long shifts in each other's zone with a slew of scoring chances attached. The Rangers defense looked to have kept the Caps offense at bay through the first two periods. The Rangers held the shot lead over the Capitals until the third period, even holding the high shooting Caps to just two shots in the first period.

While the Rangers held the Caps in their zone for long stretches, their defense kept everything to the outside. Not allowing the Rangers to exploit the slot or middle of the zone. When New York tried to move the puck into the middle, the Caps were there to swallow up the pass attempt.

But the dynamic of the game and the series changed late in the third period. The building was getting more and more intense as the period wore on. Almost as if the fans were trying to will the goal to happen. Then with 4:59 remaining in the game, that goal came.

The winning goal did not come off of Alex Ovechkin's stick or Semin's. Instead it was the "old guy," Sergei Fedorov. He shot a wrister over Lundqvist left shoulder to break the 1-1 tie in the third with 4:59 remaining in the game. When he scored the building erupted into the loudest cheer I have ever heard to date at Verizon Center. The decibel level didn't drop until the last Capital left the ice at game's end.

The Caps kept the pedal to the floor as they continued to press for a goal. That frustrated the Rangers and they started to scramble. They couldn't even pull Lundqvist due to the Capitals' strong forecheck. When the Rangers were able to get the puck in deep, it was far too late.

That chip on on the Caps' shoulder they have been holding from a year ago is now gone. The Capitals earn their owner, Ted Leonsis, his first ever playoff win since his ownership of the team.

Varlamov played spectacular and besides the first period goal he was flawless. When the Caps' defense broke down, he was there with the save. He controlled his rebounds and his cool calm demeanor propelled the Caps' confidence through out the series. He got a shaving cream pie in the face for his deeds in game seven. He also received the game's first star.

Milan Jurcina had a good game too as he battled all game long with Avery. He made good defensive plays with the puck and even got a few shots off. Green had an okay game. He was often a little too cavalier with the puck and that led to turnovers. In the second period Mike Green took a hard tumble into the boards after he missed a check on Nik Zherdev. I am sure his head was ringing for a while after that collision.

Captain Chris Clark made a return to the line up and nearly scored just 3 minutes into the game. It was his first game back since January. He certainly picked a swell time to come back. He played well, handled the puck adequately. There were a few times he was a little out of sync, but not bad for his first time back.

The Caps complete the comeback with a game seven win and take the series. Now they face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New Jersey Devils. The series starts on Thursday.

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