Commentary

Rangers allow sleeping giant to stir

To err is human, but letting Caps star Ovechkin heat up could be unforgivable

Updated: May 1, 2012, 2:54 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Of all the mistakes that cost them Game 2 -- the turnover by Stu Bickel that led to a 3-on-2 first-period rush the other way, the sight of Henrik Lundqvist being caught out of the net for Washington's second goal just five minutes later -- the harder-to-correct worry the New York Rangers have to carry forward is seeing Capitals star Alex Ovechkin stir like this.

Because he's the scariest offensive player in this suffocating defensive series that both teams are playing. And the Rangers' offense? It isn't scary at all.

"You can't give things for free. We gave too many things for free tonight," Rangers coach John Tortorella fumed after his team made a few clanking mistakes and clanged a few shots off the post on the way to their 3-2 loss at Madison Square Garden that evened this second-round playoff series at a game apiece.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesHenrik Lundqvist and the Rangers will go back to the drawing board before Game 3.

Even for Tortorella, a noted crank, this was a virtuoso postgame performance -- a 1-minute, 11-second cameo in which he snapped off answers as if he was breaking kindling over his knee. And no wonder. Earlier in the day, Tortorella found out that he was among three finalists for NHL Coach of the Year. Then his team went out and suffered some uncharacteristic breakdowns that he promised will be addressed.

What exactly? "That's between the team and I," Tortorella snapped.

Asked now about Brad Richards' excuse-me holding penalty against John Carlson that set up the Capitals' winning power-play goal with just over eight minutes left, Tortorella blinked as if he was struggling to stay civil.

"When you battle back as hard as we did," Tortorella said, "you can't take four minutes in [third period] penalties."

Richards agreed. Just 36 seconds after the Rangers had just killed off a penalty to Brian Boyle, Richards was sent to the penalty box when he and the Capitals' Carlson got tangled up near the blue line.

Ovechkin was held to a bit of a cameo role himself through the first two periods by his own coach, Dale Hunter, who stingily parsed out his playing time. But now Ovechkin needed only four seconds to slam in the game winner from about 45 feet out after the Capitals created some traffic in front of Lundqvist's net.

"I saw it when he was about to shoot, the I lost it, then I saw it again," Lundqvist shrugged. "It was a hard shot. It was a good shot.

"It's the wrong guy to get that opportunity."

No kidding. One of the stories of the Rangers' Game 1 win was their ability to hold Ovechkin to just one shot the entire game. He promised to do better in Game 2, and was expansive at both Sunday's practice and Monday's morning skate about saying he knew exactly what he had to do.

Then the game began, and the Caps' Hunter gave Ovechkin only 3 minutes, 33 seconds of ice time in the first period.

Through two periods, Ovechkin had still managed a total of three shots.

But he already had four chances in the third period alone before he scored the game-winner. And you can bet that will be one of the things Tortorella addresses before Game 3 is stopping Ovechkin again.

The Rangers don't have the firepower to match Ovechkin if he really gets rolling in this series. Richards and Martin Gaborik showed some signs of stirring and finally created some strong chances for themselves. But like teammate Michael Del Zotto (two assists), who played a terrific game but didn't have a goal to show for it, their shots still aren't finding the back of the net as often as they'd like.

Gaborik still has only one goal in the entire playoffs. But Richards did stuff a beautiful cross-ice pass from Gaborik into the short side of the net with 42.4 seconds left in the first period to pull the Rangers within 2-1. They finally tied the game at 2 with less than seven minutes to play when captain Ryan Callahan, scrambling hard, drew a high-sticking penalty by Mike Knuble, then scored 56 seconds later on a play in which Callahan was buzzing around the front of the net as Del Zotto uncorked a shot. The puck appeared to tick off Carlson's skate on its way past Capitals rookie goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Rangers know dumb penalties, Lundqvist's turnover after he was caught out of the net -- all that is correctable. But nobody would dare call that power-play goal by Ovechkin a fluke.

Not so long ago, the Russian star was giving Sidney Crosby a run for the title of best player in the world. He's still the most explosive offensive player in this series. The way the Rangers' offense is going, a rolling Ovechkin is not something they want to see. Even charmed rookie Chris Kreider, who notched game-winners in two of the Rangers' three previous wins, was stoned on a breakaway by Holtby on Monday.

"They played a hard, pretty suffocating defensive style tonight," Kreider said.

"They're pretty skilled," Lundqvist sighed.

"We just have to keep throwing pucks to the net, creating traffic, banging away rebounds -- things like that," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal insisted.

Then Ovechkin went bang. Ovechkin has life.

No wonder Tortorella fumed.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NHL HEADLINES