By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 25, 2009
In 81 regular season games, Matt Bradley had four more fights than he had goals.
But last night, with his team facing the possibility of an unexpectedly early exit from the playoffs, Bradley used his stick instead of his fists, scoring the first two playoff goals of his career to lift the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The victory was Washington's first at home in the playoffs and sent the series back to New York with the Rangers leading three games to two. Game 6 is tomorrow afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
"It's not every day that Brads scores, so I was really happy for him," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He works so hard, and he's an unsung hero. Whether he plays four minutes or seven minutes, he's a big proponent in the room."
Bradley got the Capitals off to a strong start, scoring his first goal short-handed and the other on a low-percentage shot that somehow squeezed between Rangers all-star Henrik Lundqvist's pads. Buoyed by Bradley's unlikely offensive outburst, Simeon Varlamov took it from there.
Varlamov finished with 20 saves, while Lundqvist watched the third period from the bench after being pulled by Rangers Coach John Tortorella, who was involved in drama of his own later when he got into a heated exchange with fans that involved Tortorella hurling a water bottle into the stands.
The shutout was Varlamov's second since replacing José Theodore before Game 2. The Russian rookie, who turns 21 next week, celebrated the shutout by skating toward the glass at the end of the game and throwing a puck to his girlfriend in the stands. Varlamov has stopped 95 of the 98 shots he has faced, has a 0.76 goals against average and a .969 save percentage in the playoffs and joined Olie Kolzig as the only goaltenders in franchise history to record multiple shutouts in the same playoff season (Kolzig had four in 1998).
The Capitals also received goals from Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin, whose second-period highlight-reel goal involved beating three Rangers skaters. But the night belonged to the unlikeliest of first stars.
"I'm not going to lie -- I was just throwing the puck on net and luckily it went in," Bradley said of his second goal. "You don't get many of those against a great goalie like that."
He added: "We didn't want to end our season. Everyone played with desperation."
Bradley's first goal came only 4 minutes 58 seconds into the game and put the Capitals ahead 1-0. The play began when Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival bobbled the puck at the blueline. Bradley gathered the puck and put a move on Chris Drury in the neutral zone. Then Bradley deked Lundqvist and with a goal-scorer's touch -- a high backhander. Bradley had not scored in 21 previous postseason games with Washington and San Jose.
Bradley, though, was not done.
About six minutes later, Bradley raced into the Rangers' zone, reached out for a lead pass from Brooks Laich and fired a shot from the goal line along the boards. Somehow the puck slipped between Lundqvist's pads to put the Capitals ahead 2-0.
The Verizon Center crowd burst out in unison, "Lund-qvist, Lund-qvist," taunting the goaltender who had tormented them in Games 1 and 2.
"It was a bad decision," Lundqvist said of attempting to stop the shot while standing up. "That's on me, that goal."
Bradley, who had five regular season goals, added: "I wasn't happy with my numbers in the regular season. But I was looking at the playoffs as a new season."
And the rout was on.
Semin notched his fourth goal of the playoffs to put the Capitals ahead 3-0 at 4:57 of the second period. Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff and the puck bounced out to Semin in the slot, where the winger used his signature wrist shot to snap the puck off the far post and past Lundqvist.
Then about fifteen minutes later, Ovechkin really gave the fans something to cheer about as time ran out in the second period. He added another highlight to a résumé overflowing with unbelievable goals.
On the rush, Ovechkin faked Drury at the top of the Rangers' zone, then put the puck through Derek Morris's skates before kicking the puck back to his stick. Ovechkin then slipped the puck past Lundqvist just as he was knocked down to extend the lead to 4-0 on the Capitals' 14th shot of the game. It was the last shot Lundqvist would face.
A shaky Lundqvist wasn't all that was different about the Rangers' lineup. New York also played the game without agitator Sean Avery, who was scratched from the lineup after taking two ill-timed penalties in Game 4 as New York clung to a one-goal lead in an eventual 2-1 win.
Even without Avery, controversy managed to find the Rangers. Tortorella became enraged and tossed a water bottle in the stands, although it's unclear what precipitated the response. It's also unclear if he'll face any disciplinary action.
The game turned nasty on the ice, too.
Three misconducts were handed out in the third period -- to Washington's Donald Brashear and New York's Colton Orr and Aaron Voros. A total of seven roughing minors and one charging minor were doled out in the game, setting the tone for what could be a very interesting sixth game at Madison Square Garden.
The Capitals will have to win that game, too, if they want to come back for a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday.
Asked if he planned to return to Verizon Center, Ovechkin said: "That's our goal. We never give up. We fight. We know the situation, but we love it."