The Tuesday night clash between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers featured just about everything a hockey fan could ask for. But unfortunately for Rangers fans, the one thing it lacked was a Rangers win. A game-winning goal from Caps grinder Matt Hendricks and an empty-netter by Brooks Laich clinched the W for Washington, 5-3, and dropped the Blueshirts' home record to just 2-5-1 in 2010-11.
Here's the Rapid Reaction of how it all went down:
Discipline was a foreign word in the first period, as the Rangers and Caps combined for 11 penalties (including a double-minor for Mike Sauer). The Caps have made a habit of giving up the first goal this season, and they did so again, to surprising early scoring star Brian Boyle (career-high seven goals), who notched a pair in the first period Tuesday night.
The first 20 minutes also saw a pair of fights (see more on the fisticuffs below), three total goals, 25 total shots and a slew of heavy hits by both teams, including a crushing blow by Ryan Callahan against Alexander Semin deep in the Caps' corner that brought the Garden to its feet a minute or so into the action. Leave it to Callahan to provide the spark.
Patience also paid off for the Blueshirts, who at one point faced a 11-2 shot deficit and finished the period trailing just 14-11, and owning a 2-1 lead. Holding it would be a different story.
The Fight Card
In a game where both Derek Boogaard and D.J. King get sweaters (just King's sixth game of the season) who would have guessed the first scrap would belong to Brandon Dubinsky and Mike Green? The unexpected undercard brought fans out of their seats, but neither fighter really scored any points, as both were a little too good with their left-handed jersey grabs to do any damage -- which is probably just fine by both teams' GMs.
Sauer and Hendricks also squared off after Steve Eminger got clipped/killed at the blue line. Again, more of a wrestling match than a fight. Still, great action in the first period.
Penalty Problems (Again)
Midway through the first period, the Caps scored their first goal on a 4-on-3 after coincidental minors sent Jason Chimera and Boyle to the box for roughing. A tripping call on Erik Christensen then provided the PP, with extra open ice for the Caps, one of the most skillful teams in the NHL. With four forwards on the ice for Washington, it took only 24 seconds for Laich to deposit the puck past Henrik Lundqvist and knot the score. Some chirping from the Rangers' bench gave the Caps another man-advantage, but the Rangers weathered that storm admirably until Washington tripped themselves up with a too-many-men penalty.
Wait, Who Just Scored?
With Boyle now just one goal shy of doubling his career high, the scoring ledger featured a few other unlikely names.
Just two and a half minutes into the second period, the Caps’ John Erskine -- whose yearly offensive contribution can be counted by most preschoolers -- lit the lamp for the first time this season, on a slap shot past Lundqvist.
A more stunning goal came about a minute later when Boogaard -- I'll type that again, Boogaard -- blasted a slapper from the top of the left circle over the stick-shoulder of Michal Neuvirth. It should be noted that this paragraph previously read: "gahgjkhdafgjlkhf" as a result of my jaw hitting the keyboard. The goal was Boogaard's first in the past four (yes, four) seasons. I feel like I just watched Luis Sojo hit for the cycle. Save your ticket stubs, ladies and gentlemen. It's that rare.
Don't Hate Him Because It's Beautiful
Midway through the second period, Alex Ovechkin again showed he's one of the NHL's top talents, threading through the Rangers' forwards, defensemen and a barricade of NYPD mounted police to set up the Caps' third and game-tying goal, a rebound slammed home by Mike Knuble. Even if you're a Rangers fan, you have to appreciate the exhibition of talent. I'll try to track down the highlight clip as soon as I can.
Give 'Em An Inch
Matt Hendricks and the Washington grind line put the Caps up 4-3 eight minutes into the third period after the Blueshirts failed to clear the zone and lost the puck behind Lundqvist's net. By my estimation, it was the first and only shift the Caps outplayed the Rangers in during the third period. But for the Caps, who have claimed six of their 11 wins by one-goal margins this season, sometimes one shift is all they need.
The Rangers outshot the Caps (28-23) -- only Minnesota held Washington to a lower total this season -- but the Blueshirts couldn't cash in a number of great scoring chances, either because of the stellar saves of Neuvirth (particularly the first-period stops alluded to above), the post, or just bad luck. In the early minutes of the third period, the best scoring chances belonged to the Rangers. They just couldn't convert.
A case in point: Midway through the third, with the Rangers trailing 4-3, Ruslan Fedotenko broke in all alone on the right wing, only to fire it over the Washington cage.
With 7:35 remaining, the Rangers earned a power play after another great shift cycling in the Caps' zone produced a hooking call to Karl Alzner. Michael Del Zotto was stoned by Neuvirth from the right faceoff dot and Dubinsky hit the side of an open net just as the penalty expired. That was the last good chance the Rangers mustered in the game.