The Washington Capitals entered the sixth game of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series with the New York Rangers knowing that a victory was necessary to extend their 2012 season. With the pressure coming to a boil over the past two days with chatter of Joel Ward’s untimely penalty and the Rangers’ suddenly clicking power play the Capitals skated onto home ice preparing to fend off an impending storm. The team responded after their three to two collapse in game five with a full sixty minutes of hockey, hemming the Rangers in their defensive zone and riding strong play from their goaltender Braden Holtby to a thrilling two to one must-win game.
The first five minutes of game six had all Capitals fans sitting on their hands, the Red Rocking faithful unaware of how their team would react to the late game meltdown last Monday in New York. The hometown crowd did not need to wait long to get off their hands, all arms raised less than ninety seconds into the contest off of an Alexander Ovechkin power play tally. With Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman off the ice on a Hooking call the Capitals’ Captain made good on strong puck movement from fellow Young Guns Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin’s shot was hardly given his all, the puck seeming to flutter off of his stick blade from the slot. Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist was already overcommitted to his blocker side, however, and the gyrating puck escaped the King’s reach on his glove side. The roof was blown off of the Verizon Center for their Captain, his team praised with a standing ovation (theme of the night). New York would outshoot the Capitals throughout the rest of the first period but ran into a red hot Holtby, the young goaltender perfect (5-0) in games immediately following losses entering tonight’s contest. Lundqvist had to find his game quickly after the early Washington goal, Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera getting good looks at the Ranger net in the opening period. Late in the frame Washington was forced to kill off two tough penalties, Brooks Laich and Roman Hamrlik each guilty of minors. The first period would come to its conclusion with the home team still ahead by one, the eighteen-thousand fans sending their boys to the locker room with a well deserved standing ovation.
Hamrlik’s Interference call was successfully killed for its remaining forty nine seconds to begin the middle period and Washington looked to reestablish its dominance in the Rangers’ zone. The Rangers’ All-Star goaltender picked up exactly where he left off, fending off a John Carlson point shot he had no business seeing and killing off a Ryan Callahan tripping call that occurred two full zones from his team’s net. Capitals’ power forward Chimera would make good on his next look at New York’s net, the winger burying a deflected pass that gave him a wide open net to shoot at. Chimera made no mistake with the puck, Washington’s bench relieved to have captured a two goal lead. The goal would not have been possible without some strong work from Semin, the (enigmatic, withdrawn, shy) import fighting through two checks in the corner to assist the puck into open ice. Carlson and Backstrom did them rest of the work from there, Chimera simply the beneficial recipient (and in perfect position). The second frame would wind its way down quickly after the tally as Washington rode solid play from Holtby to end the twenty minutes. The Rangers were able to outshoot the Capitals for the second straight period but still faced a two goal deficit, Capitals fans warmly acknowledging this fact with yet another raucous standing ovation.
Washington would make their fans nervous early in the third period, Green called for a Delay of Game penalty after shooting the puck off the ice surface from his team’s defensive zone. The Rangers’ best look on the power play would be a soft shot from sniper Marian Gaborik from far out, the Capitals having the two minutes’ best opportunity off of a Carlson shorthanded two on one. Lundqvist would do his best to keep his team close continually throughout the final frame, Ovechkin taking a one touch shot on net from five feet out that was unbelievably grabbed by the goaltender’s glove hand (the period’s best chance by far). A fair portion of Verizon Center rose to cheer when winger Joel Ward’s hands went up in celebration but the New York netminder proved everyone wrong when the biscuit bounced out of his mitt. Hotlby’s look at a playoff shutout came crashing down in the third period’s final minute, a Gaborik slap shot caroming in off of Carlson’s rear from the top of the crease. The game clock showed fifty one seconds and put everyone’s hands back under their butts for the frame’s finale. Strong play from the line of Matt Hendricks, Troy Brouwer, and Ward (imagine that!) would close out the Rangers’ final gasp for air, the home team celebrating with their fans and preparing to head north to New York.
The Washington Capitals team that took the ice at Verizon Center Wednesday night played a full sixty minutes of hockey, and did they ever need to. Gaborik’s late goal fueled fears of a game five repeat, Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter even returning Joel Ward to the ice in the game’s last critical moments. The winger would not disappoint this time around, however, rewarding the coach’s confidence in him by shutting the Ranger snipers out the rest of the way. Braden Holtby had an especially excellent game, this one just a half step above his previous (great) dozen playoff performances. With the win Washington has shifted the series’ pressure back to the Rangers, the Eastern Conference’s number one seed now needing seven games to dispatch the Capitals, and there’s no guarantee they will. See you all Saturday.