Although his team returned home Sunday afternoon trailing the Capitals two-games-to-none in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Rangers Coach John Tortorella said before Game 3 that the series seemed much closer. All they needed was a fortunate bounce.
It finally came with with 1 minute 39 seconds remaining in Game 3 as the teams skated four-on-four. Brandon Dubinsky's point-blank shot bounced off Michal Neuvirth and Karl Alzner before the puck was eventually pushed over the goal line by Alex Ovechkin's stick to hand the Rangers a 3-2 victory at Madison Square Garden.
“You ask what's the difference, it's that that one bounces in,” Tortorella said. “We are not that far off. Now it's 2-1, but it could be reversed. It is that close.”
Although New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist earned first star honors for his solid, if not spectacular, 23-save effort, the Rangers cut their series deficit in half for what they did at the opposite end of the rink. They followed through on a promise to crowd Michal Neuvirth's crease, bumping the rookie goaltender repeatedly, and buried the types of chances they missed in Games 1 and 2.
Erik Christensen opened the scoring on the power play, beating Neuvirth over the shoulder, from a tight angle, in the second period.
In the third, Vinny Prospal scored the Rangers' second goal by firing in a rare rebound off of Neuvirth's chest protector.
“We scored some goals,” Tortorella said, shrugging. “Again, I don't think we did much different. We found a way to score some goals. There's no magic potion. We played the same way we wanted to play.”
The Rangers also out-performed the Capitals in a number of key statistical categories, including: shots (35-25); hits (41-29); and faceoff percentage (56-46). They were also more disciplined, getting whistled for only four penalties to the Capitals' eight.
New York also did the small things, such as Dan Girardi throwing his body in front of a Marcus Johansson slap shot in the second period. It wasn't textbook – Girardi took the puck in his back and winced as he glided gingerly to the bench – but it prevented a scoring chance.
“Those plays are huge for our success,” said the defenseman, who blocked a game-high 5 shots. “Guys diving and blocking shot, breaking up plays, finishing checks, that's stuff we have to keep going.”
It's just one game, but there was sense in the Rangers' dressing room that confidence is turning into belief.
“The great part is that one game can change a lot,” Lundqvist said. “Our focus was ...to change the momentum of the series a little bit.”
Tortorella added: “No one is down. We just keep going about our business. We have to be better in game 4 because Washington is going to be better. [The Rangers' resilience] doesn't surprise me anymore.We are going to keep moving on.”