Hours before Game 6, several New York Rangers said they fully expected to face the Washington Capitals’ strongest push of the postseason.
They weren’t ready.
Instead of clinching the franchise’s first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 1997, they quietly packed equipment bags following a deflating 2-1 defeat. They’ll now have two days to lament all of their missed opportunities Wednesday night at Verizon Center, where things unraveled mere moments in.
Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring at 1 minute 28 seconds of the first period, only 15 seconds after Anton Stralman took a seat in the penalty box for tripping Jason Chimera. Before the game was eight minutes old, the Capitals owned an 8-3 edge in shots on goal.
“It’s not the way we wanted to start — again,” Rangers Coach John Tortorella said. In Game 4, Stralman was whistled for a momentum-halting interference penalty at 2:25 of the first period.
“We’re not happy with way we started,” center Brian Boyle said. “A lot guys wanted to bring a little more. I wanted to bring more. We wanted to close them out tonight and we didn’t. So it’s a bad feeling right now.”
Added goalie Henrik Lundqvist: “We talked about coming out and starting well and then they get a goal right away on the power play and it kind of set the tone for the game, and from there it was just tough for us to get going. I think we all feel like we can do better and we have to do better.”
In addition to giving up an early power-play goal that ignited the raucous, red-clad crowd, the Rangers’ own power play suffered an untimely outage. One game after scoring the tying and go-ahead goals on the man advantage, the unit finished 0 for 5, mustering a total of six shots in 10 minutes.
“I think at times our power play was actually pretty good,” said defenseman Dan Girardi, who anchors the unit. “We had some good entries. We moved the puck around well. Obviously, we didn’t get one on the power play and they got one on theirs. It could have gone either way.”
Tortorella did not agree, particularly when asked about the power play’s performance on a double-minor for high sticking assessed to Jeff Halpern midway through the second period with the Capitals clinging to a 2-0 lead. The Rangers managed three shots on rookie goalie Braden Holtby during the four-minute advantage, but they allowed the Capitals to direct three short-handed attempts at Lundqvist.
“It [stunk],” Tortorella said.
Asked what coming up empty does to a team’s momentum, the exasperated coach added: “It kills you. It [stunk].”
Tortorella also issued a terse, “No,” when asked whether he was pleased with his team’s overall effort.
For the fourth time in six games, the Rangers’ offense was limited to two or fewer goals. Much of that has been the work of Holtby. Some of it, though, has been the work of the Capitals’ commitment to clogging the neutral zone.
“They do a good job of taking away our speed in the neutral zone,” Girardi said.
Girardi also acknowledged Washington’s shot-blocking has played a role in bottling up the Rangers’ offense. On Wednesday, the Capitals knocked down 24 shots to the Rangers’ six. Dennis Wideman led the way, blocking four shots while Ovechkin, Roman Hamrlik and John Carlson each finished with three.
“We’re not going to change anything,” Girardi said. “We’re going to keep trying to shoot pucks through. They’re getting in lanes but we just have to get more through.”
Center Derek Stepan also said the Rangers are making it too easy for Holtby to see shots.
“Something we have to continue to work at is creating offense and getting pucks and bodies to the net,” Stepan said. “They just collapse. We have to work hard to get to the front of the net and get pucks down there.”
But they didn’t. So on Saturday they’ll seek to win a second consecutive series on home ice in Game 7.
“That’s what we play for all year: home-ice advantage, and I think home-ice advantage helps when it’s a Game 7,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “We have to go in there, be ready to go, feed off the crowd and get a win.”
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