By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009
NEW YORK, Sept. 24 -- While it didn't quite have the pace and intensity of a regular season game, Thursday's exhibition between these two playoff rivals came pretty close.
The Washington Capitals got goals from Alexander Semin and Keith Aucoin, but a pair of defensive breakdowns, including one with 70 seconds remaining, ended up costing them in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"It was the closest to a regular season game that we've had for the tempo and intensity," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "So it was a real good test for us. For our second [game] in two nights, the guys had a pretty good effort."
The teams exchanged goals twice. The goalies came up with big saves at both ends of the ice. And the tough guys scrapped twice.
But it was Brandon Dubinsky and the Rangers who came up with the big play when the game was on the line late. Dubinsky beat Capitals winger Matt Bradley along the boards and took the puck to the net, where he was drilled by defenseman Milan Jurcina. The puck went to Christopher Higgins, who redirected it through David Steckel and goaltender Jos? Theodore (21 saves) to provide the winning margin at 18 minutes 50 seconds.
"I didn't play him properly," said Bradley, who was reunited with Steckel and Brooks Laich, the line that performed so well in the playoffs. "We beat them out last year, so there was a rivalry. They played hard."
The loss dropped the Capitals' record to 3-2 and sets up what could be an entertaining rematch in the preseason finale at Verizon Center on Sunday.
Among the forwards battling for a spot, Aucoin and Quintin Laing helped their causes. In addition to scoring, Aucoin had four shots on goal and won 7 of 12 faceoffs, while Laing had three hits and a blocked shot.
Alexandre Giroux, meantime, did not state a strong case.
"With Alexandre, he's got the puck on his stick in the slot, and he's paid to do those kinds of things, he's got to somehow find out how to do it here," Boudreau said. "Those are the things he has to do to stay here."
After a scoreless first period, the action picked up considerably in the second.
Star winger Marian Gaborik, who signed a five-year, $37.5-million contract with the Rangers in July, opened the scoring 36 seconds in, after an egregious turnover by defenseman John Erskine, whose giveaway in the neutral zone resulted in a short-handed breakaway for Gaborik. The smooth-skating Slovak glided in and coolly beat Theodore between the pads.
About eight minutes later, Semin netted his first goal of the preseason with his trademark wrist shot. After stick-handling around the net, he beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves) over the glove to tie the game 1-1.
Then came the fight that almost seemed inevitable. Brandon Sugden, the only fighter in the Capitals' camp, dropped the gloves at center ice and squared off with Donald Brashear, who was facing the Capitals for the first time since leaving Washington in July.
The bout didn't last long, though. Brashear lost his balance and Sugden threw a couple of haymakers and ended up on top.
The teams traded goals again later in the period. Gaborik scored on a rebound and Aucoin, who was singled out for praise by Boudreau, answered late on a three-on-one with Alex Ovechkin and Semin to send the game into the final frame tied 2-2.
Moments into the third period, Sugden and Brashear squared off again. This encounter, however, lasted about 90 seconds, with Brashear gaining the upper hand late.
From the sounds of it, Brashear hasn't won over all of the Rangers' fans. Although the 37-year-old enforcer signed a two-year, $2.8-million deal to be New York's tough guy, some Garden fans are apparently still bitter about the viscous hit he delivered to former Rangers forward Blair Betts in the playoffs. Brashear received a smattering of boos from the crowd of 9,973 fans.
"Maybe they are," still mad, Brashear said with a smile. "Seems like a tough crowd now, but I'll find a way to win their hearts."