Controversy, collisions, passion and a dramatic finish that will keep the Rangers faithful clamoring all the way to Wednesday. Game 3 between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals had all of it and then some. Here's how it all went down at the Garden on Sunday afternoon.
What it means
With New York's win, the series now stands at 2-1 and gives the Rangers a chance to pull even Wednesday. The Caps are far from immune when it comes to refunding a series lead. In fact, in the franchise's history, the Caps have lost four of five series after leading 2-0.
Using a raucous home crowd to their advantage the Rangers came out skating hard and hitting everything that moved in the first. As you’d expect, the Sean Avery-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust line was leading the charge and midway through the first 20 minutes started generating some heat on the Caps’ net. But the shift was something of a Storm Trooper shooting gallery. There were a lot of shots fired, but none of them seemed to hit anything. The Blueshirts' best chance came earlier when Matt Gilroy broke in on a 2-on-1 after Mike Green pinched and the puck bounced past him and rattled around the Rangers' blue line before Gilroy took it the other way. But the Caps’ D recovered to defend the pass and Michal Neuvirth corralled Gilroy's shot off his right shoulder.
It could have been the pivotal point in the series for the Rangers, but thanks to their late-game effort they'll be able to live it down. With 2:40 remaining in the first period the Caps’ Matt Hendricks went to the box for interference. Just 35 seconds later Mike Knuble sent the puck over the boards to earn a delay of game penalty and give the Rangers a 5-on-3 power play for 1:23. The crowd roared. The power play fizzled. The Rangers overhandled the puck and point men Bryan McCabe and Marian Gaborik each seemed unwilling to pull the trigger or slide the puck elsewhere for a better look. To top off the debacle, Erik Christensen took an interference penalty with 17 seconds remaining in the period to kill off the Rangers’ remaining power play and give the Caps a man advantage to start the second period. Of course, he'd redeem himself later.
Just under five minutes into the second period the Rangers went up a man with John Carlson sent off for crosschecking and the Blueshirts finally ended their futility with the man advantage. Christensen ripped a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle over Neuvirth. The puck screamed into and out of the net in a blink of an eye, but the crowd saw it instantly and jumped to their feet. Suddenly the Rangers were very much alive in this series. It was just the second power-play goal in the past 35 chances. Better late than never.
A minute to win it
A goal by Alex Ovechkin just under the one-minute mark of the second period knotted the score at 1 and was just the first phase of a drama-laden final 60 seconds.
With the clock winding down under three seconds Ruslan Fedotenko threw the puck into the crease from behind the goal line and somehow it slid to the far side of the crease where it coasted over the goal line. The referee immediately pointed to the goal and the crowd went ballistic. But the frenzy turned angry after a review in the NHL’s nerve center in Toronto showed the puck was not fully over the goal line before the official game clock hit all zeroes. That left the Caps happily skating to their locker room and a capacity crowd at MSG booing mercilessly and screaming that the fix was in from the NHL.
By any means necessary
The Rangers left everything on the ice Sunday. Even when the Caps were clogging the neutral zone and frustrating the Rangers early, the Blueshirts gritted it out, dumped it deep and played the body. The grind was represented by the 6-2 edge in penalties through the first two periods. At the other end of the ice, bodies dropped to absorb slap shots and despite some big bruises, like the Marcus Johansson shot Dan Girardi absorbed in the middle of the second period, shifts were not missed. 5:30 into the third, Fedotenko laid out to break up a 2-on-1 between Ovechkin and Carlson, chipping the pass off his stick shaft and softly into Henrik Lundqvist's chest.
Throw it at the net
The Rangers have been looking for loose change all series and at the eight-minute mark of the third period Vinny Prospal found a juicy rebound off a Marc Staal slap shot and deposited it in the back of the net. Of course, the Caps countered in a similar fashion a short time later.
With the penalty ledger at 7-2 you had to figure the Caps would earn a power play at some point in the third. They did. And they made it count. Gaborik was called for crosschecking and Washington scored its own dirty goal at the front of the crease when Knuble potted a shot by Nicklas Backstrom to tie the game at 2. But the Rangers found a way.
Timing is everything
With the teams skating four a side, Brandon Dubinsky, who had yet to make much noise in the series to date, picked a tremendous time to announce himself. With 90 seconds remaining in the game, Dubinsky took the puck to the net and again simply threw it at the crease. It bounced around, up and over Neuvirth. Just a few desperate moments later, it stood up as the game-winning goal.
The Rangers and Caps get an extra respite before the series resumes Wednesday at MSG. When it does the Blueshirts will get an opportunity to turn the tables on the Caps and put the pressure back on the No. 1 seed by evening the series at two games apiece.