By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The Washington Capitals outplayed the New York Rangers for most of the night. They outshot them by a wide margin, dominated them in the faceoff circle and edged them in hits.
But the Capitals struggled at the one position that can hurt a team the most this time of year: in goal.
José Theodore accepted the blame for last night's 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, saying in a hushed home locker room at Verizon Center, "I wasn't good enough."
The 32-year-old veteran was a question mark for the Capitals entering the postseason, given his uneven regular season. His performance against a Rangers team that struggled to score in the regular season will do little to allay those concerns.
"For playoff hockey, obviously, [I was] not good enough," said Theodore, who faced only 21 shots and yielded power-play goals by Nik Antropov and Markus Naslund on back-to-back shots late in the second period. "They only had a couple of shots in the first, and after that I tried to find a rhythm. I'm not happy with my game. I wasn't good enough. But in the playoffs, you bounce back and that's it -- you have to turn the page."
Magnifying Theodore's poor performance was the play of Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves for the Rangers, including all 14 shots he faced during a first period in which Alex Ovechkin pressed frantically for the game's opening tally. Ovechkin outshot the entire Rangers team, 6-4, in the opening 20 minutes. But Lundqvist turned each of them aside -- and he made it look effortless.
"He's right," Coach Bruce Boudreau said when he was told that Theodore shouldered the blame for the loss. "You need the save and he didn't make the save. But I'm sure he's going to bounce back. He's a professional. He's played this game long enough, I'm sure he feels bad enough."
Boudreau said he did not consider pulling Theodore and replacing him with 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov because "you never want to look like you're panicking. And that's how that would have looked to me."
Pressed about the possibility of turning to future franchise goalie Varlamov, Boudreau added: "There's a chance anything can happen. When you lose, you make changes. I'm not saying in goal. But I mean, there's a chance for changes in a couple of positions."
Brandon Dubinsky broke a tie game with 8 minutes 17 seconds left to play after two quick passes out of the Rangers' zone put the puck on his stick near the Capitals' bench.
Dubinsky cut to the middle, turning defenseman Jeff Schultz inside out. Schultz stumbled and fell while Dubinsky raced into the Washington zone and fired a wrist shot from the circle over Theodore's glove.
"This is the NHL, you get beat one-on-one, you can't hide from that," Boudreau said of Schultz. "That's not an error of anything other than he didn't get the job done on that play."
The Capitals were awarded a seventh power play three minutes later. But Lundqvist and the NHL's top-ranked penalty kill unit made sure Washington was unable to capitalize, and the Rangers scored an all-important first win on the road.
Dubinsky's goal clinched the win, but it's not the one that had Theodore upset afterward. That distinction belonged to Scott Gomez's first-period tally.
After Tomas Fleischmann opened the scoring on the power play at 6:40 of the second period, Gomez pushed the puck out to himself 69 seconds later, raced through the neutral zone and beat Theodore with an ordinary-looking wrist shot. Gomez was aided by Sean Avery's undetected trip of defenseman Mike Green at the top of the Washington zone, and possibly by Antropov falling on top of Fleischmann behind the play.
But Gomez's goal was one Theodore has to stop.
"Usually I like to challenge the shooter a little bit more," Theodore said. "But I was a little bit deep."
The teams struggled to gain control of the game for the next 10 minutes. Then the Capitals gave the Rangers the help they needed. With defenseman John Erskine in the penalty box for high-sticking, Antropov snapped a shot from the circle over Theodore. It was effectively a Rangers five-on-three because defenseman Shaone Morrisonn had his stick slashed in half by Ryan Callahan.
Just 1:39 seconds and one shot later, the Rangers struck again on the power play. Sergei Fedorov was in the box for delay of game when Markus Naslund beat Theodore's blocker to stretch New York's lead to 3-1 on its 15th shot.
Viktor Kozlov scored his first career playoff goal (in his 22nd appearance) and Alexander Semin had the Capitals' other goal, on the power play, to tie the game early in the third period. But it wasn't enough on a night when Washington was so badly outplayed in goal.
The result was somewhat surprising because the Capitals had enjoyed plenty of success against the Rangers during the regular season, going 3-0-1. But the Rangers underwent a midseason makeover that included replacing Tom Renney as coach with John Tortorella and adding forwards Avery and Antropov and defenseman Derek Morris.
The Rangers are an improved team. And last night they showed it.
"I didn't think we were going to win four straight," Boudreau said. "You always have the desire to win the first game. But we won the first game last year [against the Philadelphia Flyers], but that didn't do us any good. New York is confident that they stole one here, and we're confident that we're a pretty good team and we'll play well on Saturday."
Capitals Notes: Rangers captain Chris Drury came out for pregame warmups but left the ice before his teammates and missed the game with an upper body injury. The first-line center sat out the final game of the regular season with the same ailment. . . . Left wing Donald Brashear (sprained left knee) and defenseman Brian Pothier (healthy) were the Capitals' scratches.