The tight, low-scoring affair featured pressure on both Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves) and Michal Neuvirth (24) that mounted with each passing minute, and it may have been a preview of what’s to come in the series. Both the Capitals and Rangers take their defense seriously and neither allows a large number of goals on a consistent basis.
So if there is a lesson for Washington, which has scored only three goals in its last 13 periods against New York, it’s to take advantage of early chances in this series.
“If we hadn’t come out on top, we would have been in there saying that we had a great game and that we had to play the same way,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If anything, it’s going to encourage the Rangers that they came into our building in the first game and played us shot for shot, hit for hit. But it’s a lot less tiring when you win; you’re a lot less exhausted.”
Semin’s game-winner was a welcome individual reprieve for the Russian winger, who hadn’t scored in the postseason in seven games – his last playoff goal came April 28, 2009 in Game 7 of Washington’s series against New York. Asked if it was the biggest moment of his postseason career, Semin made no such claim.
“This is only the beginning,” Semin said through an interpreter. “My biggest moment will be when we win the series.”
To reach Semin’s moment in the 79th minute of the contest, the Capitals first needed to overcome a one-goal deficit. The Rangers had withstood a Herculean push from Washington, with a sold-out Verizon Center reaching new decibel levels of fervor in the first half of the game, to chip away and finally seize a moment of their own.
After two periods of scoreless play, Matt Gilroy beat a screened Neuvirth for a 1-0 lead just 1:56 into the third.
The goal was deflating at least, and a demoralizing reminder of the style of game the Montreal Canadiens used to knock the Capitals out in the first round last year at worst. And it silenced the previously raucous crowd.
The Capitals prevented New York from expanding the advantage and began to take more risks in order to tie the game. Boudreau switched his lines up, put Ovechkin with Semin and gave his defensemen the go-ahead to jump up into the play. With just more than six minutes remaining in regulation, Ovechkin and Semin encroached on Lundqvist’s crease and whacked away at a loose puck near the Swedish netminder’s skates.