The No. 8 seed New York Rangers came into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals fully aware of their offensive deficiencies. Not only had they been shut out twice in their final nine games and tallied two goals or fewer four other times, but they were without right wing Ryan Callahan, whose 48 points and 23 goals, both career highs, were second on the team.
So it’s no wonder players in the dressing room following a 2-1 road loss to top-seeded Washington last night reiterated the imperative to convert scoring chances at every opportunity if they are to knot this series at one game.
“We just have to prepare for a great start for Friday’s game and just make sure we’re prepared right from the get-go,” said center Brandon Dubinsky, whose 54 points led the team in the regular season. “I think we will be. I thought we just continued to get better as the game wore on. We know how to be successful against this team. We just got to get it done.”
At the top of that list is applying more pressure on goalie Michal Neuvirth, who faced 25 shots. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, meantime, faced 33 shots, including nine in overtime before Alexander Semin blasted in a one-timer for the winner with 1 minute 36 seconds to go.
New York managed six shots against Neuvirth in overtime, and the Rangers conceded they certainly could have pressed the rookie making his first NHL playoff start work harder for the victory.
The Rangers’ only goal came 1:56 into the third period, and from a most unlikely source at that. That would be second-year player Matt Gilroy, normally a defenseman who has skated at forward in spots during Callahan’s absence because of a broken ankle. Gilroy beat Neuvirth after taking a feed from left wing Wojtek Wolski, and it appeared the Rangers were on their way to a victory based on the way Lundqvist was playing.
But New York’s first defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal was unable to clear the puck with 6:16 left in regulation, and Alex Ovechkin forced in the puck from just in front of Lundqvist for the equalizer.
“I was hoping for a whistle there,” Lundqvist said. “The puck was there for a long time, but they never blew the whistle, and finally it just bounced in. It was tough. It felt like we were playing them really well after we scored the goal there.”
Lundqvist finished with 31 saves, and he was hardly the problem. Creating more viable scoring chances now becomes the focus again for the Rangers, who can’t rely on perfection every game from Lundqvist despite his league-high 11 shutouts.
“We had our moments,” Rangers Coach John Tortorella said. “You play a few more minutes along the way, and you find a way to score another goal.”