Washington fell, 4-3, to the Rangers, dropping the franchise to 0-7 all-time with the chance to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series.
Multiple times throughout the loss the Capitals didn’t appear as composed as the team that won the first two games of the series.
The visitors took six penalties in the game’s first 27 minutes, ruining any chance at establishing a rhythm while giving the Rangers far too many power-play opportunities. New York exploited holes in the defensive zone for chances directly in front of the net — all four of their goals came from within 15 feet. And when the Capitals’ lauded power play went to work with the goalie pulled for a six-on-four advantage with 1 minute 54 seconds remaining, it didn’t muster a single shot on goal.
“That game was far from our best. We weren’t as tight as we should be, that happens,” Holtby said after finishing with 26 saves. “We have the team and the character to learn from that and make sure we change that.”
Nicklas Backstrom’s first goal of the postseason, on a deflection of a booming shot by John Carlson, gave Washington a 1-0 lead with 4 minutes 6 seconds gone in the first period but it was already clear that the Rangers carried a greater sense of urgency.
New York, for the first time in this series, displayed a shoot-first mentality and its trademark snarl was suddenly back in each of its hits on the forecheck. After Joel Ward high-sticked Derick Brassard with 10:50 gone in the first the Rangers capitalized, though not technically on the power play.
Gigantic forward Brian Boyle, who is listed at 6 feet 7 and 244 pounds, powered his way toward the Capitals’ net unimpeded by Mike Green and put the puck over Holtby’s shoulder to tie the score at 1 at the same second Ward’s penalty expired. Boyle’s goal, his first of the playoffs, ended a Rangers scoring drought of 124:06 since Carl Hagelin’s goal in the first period of Game 1.
New York wouldn’t score again in the opening period but another Capitals penalty, this time for too many men on the ice with just less than six minutes to go, offered another chance for its power play to gain confidence. Meanwhile, Washington couldn’t build off its largely sturdy five-on-five play.
“Anytime you’re taking penalties, it’s losing momentum and it’s tough to get that flow of the game,” Green said. “Guys get tired and we can’t have that.”
When Holtby was whistled for tripping Nash just 1:15 into the second period — a minor the goaltender acknowledged was unnecessary and careless on his part — it took New York only eight seconds to cash in.