NEW YORK – The counterattacks arrived in a flash, as pairs and trios of New York Rangers skaters would back up outmanned Washington Capitals defenders.
The Rangers only managed 21 shots on goal on Tuesday night, but many of those opportunities were golden in their 5-2 victory over the Capitals.
“They’re a team that thrives off odd-man stuff. They wait for it. We knew that last year,” said goalie Braden Holtby, whose team was eliminated from the postseason by the Rangers last April. “And I think it took us a few games last year to adjust to it, too.”
There were times when the Capitals' breakdowns were systemic, when Holtby was left out to dry. But he said it’s on him to make some of the stops he didn’t make in the loss, taking responsibility as the last line of defense facing those odd-man rushes.
“If you’re going to beat them, you have to shut it down. Either by goaltending or by system,” he said. “You get those chances, you have to keep making them until you kill their will. I didn’t do that tonight.”
The game was a shambling mess of turnovers and miscues.
It began with a lazy Brooks Orpik pass that turned into a Kevin Hayes feed in front, finally banged home by Oscar Lindberg at 7:59 for the rookie’s sixth of the season. It continued when Alex Ovechkin tied the game on a 2-on-1 for the Capitals that wouldn’t have happened were it not for Chris Kreider’s failure to backcheck.
After Hayes gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 17:46 of the first – a patient play down the wing, holding the puck despite having a pass option – Derick Brassard converted an Ovechkin turnover at the point at 1:53 into a Kevin Klein goal to make it 3-1.
Then it was 4-1 for the Rangers as Marcus Johansson turned the puck over and Brassard banked it off a Capitals defender at 6:59 of the second.
The Capitals cut the lead to 4-2 at 18:53, as Johansson was left wide open in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist for a tip-in of a Karl Alzner shot. It was Washington’s only goal in a period that saw them outshoot the Rangers 14-2 – out-possessing them to the tune of 80-percent Corsi 5v5.
But Jarret Stoll’s first goal as a Ranger at 10:53 of the third period was the backbreaker, and Lundqvist turned back 12 Washington shots in the third to end it at 5-2.
“Holtby’s been the eraser for us on many nights when we haven’t been as good, and Lundqvist is the eraser for them when they’re not as good as they can be,” said coach Barry Trotz.
The Capitals, outside of the second period, weren’t all that good. Orpik finished at a minus-4. John Carlson, is partner on defense, was a minus-3, as were Jason Chimera and Andre Burakovsky.
“We had points in the game were we didn’t play the right way, and we got burned,” said Trotz, “At the same time, they didn’t play the right way either, but they didn’t get burned by it.”
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