The 46 seconds that ultimately cost the New York Rangers on Thursday night happened so fast they were still a blur more than an hour later.
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi admitted the feed from Capitals blue-liner Steve Oleksy that set up Washington’s game-winning goal “wasn’t the best pass I’ve ever seen.” He just got caught looking up ice for a moment when Capitals forward Marcus Johansson streaked past him and scored a goal with under six minutes remaining in the second period.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist thought he had his pad ready to block Jason Chimera’s turnaround shot 46 seconds later, until the puck trickled through and into the back of the net, the sort of soft goal he rarely allows. Center Brad Richards said Chimera simply “got lucky.”
But there was no doubt that on a night when the Rangers out-shot and out-hit the Capitals, a disastrous two-goals-in-two-shifts sequence late in the second period catapulted Washington past New York for a 3-1 victory in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.
“That’s what the playoffs is about: Momentum swings and trying not to get hurt when you lose the momentum,” said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who was on the ice when Oleksy hit Johansson with a stretch pass for the go-ahead goal. “I thought tonight we got hurt when we lost it.”
All around the losing locker room, though, the sense was Game 1 shifted for good before those eventful 46 seconds. Midway through the second period with the score tied at 1, Washington forward Eric Fehr was whistled for roughing and interference. Combined with an earlier boarding penalty on Capitals winger Martin Erat, it gave New York a 5-on-3 power play for nearly a minute.
But the Rangers failed to capitalize against Washington’s 27th-ranked penalty kill, managing just one shot with the two-man advantage. Looking back after the loss, New York couldn’t help but wonder how different Thursday — or those 46 seconds — would have been had it not mismanaged the situation.
“We didn’t score on the power play, and that’s basically what the game came down to,” Richards said. “We didn’t score and they came down and scored two goals. That ended up being the game.”
There was more to New York’s downfall than one bad sequence. Coach John Tortorella said his team needs to be more disciplined after committing six penalties, including one for too many men on the ice 34 seconds into the first period. The Rangers also watched forward Carl Hagelin miss on a shorthanded breakaway in the first period and hit the crossbar on another two-on-one break in the third period.