Now they head north for Game 3 as the Caps look to keep frustrating the Rangers and maybe even make this a short series if the trend from Friday continues.
The idea that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey need not apply on Friday night. By the time the Capitals took that advantage on the Rangers, it might as well have been 5-0. It wound up just 2-0, but New York was clearly a frustrated team.
“They couldn’t score and it’s hard,” Caps center Marcus Johansson said. “I think we made it hard for them and that’s always frustrating for the other team.”
Even worse for John Tortorella’s group – they looked defeated. It was in their body language at the end of the second period as players slammed their sticks and slumped their shoulders while going to the locker room.
Sure, the Rangers had chances in the third period but they never seemed poised to take over the game. Coach Bruce Boudreau said his team was “hanging on” and Jason Arnott called the third “lackadaisical.”
But still, the Caps allowed only six shots in the third and only a couple were quality chances.
“I think we still played good. We kept them out of in front of the net, didn’t let up too many chances there,” Johansson said. “Maybe we gotta keep playing a little more than we did last period, but still we did what we were supposed to do and kept them out of our own end.”
Neuvirth made a few big saves to keep them off the board, and they started to show the frustration on the ice too, starting some scrums around the nets.
“The scrums come because they’re putting all five guys in and crashing the net, and that’s gonna happen,” Boudreau said.
But by that time, the Caps just about had this one wrapped up. Jason Chimera’s quick shot from the slot (courtesy of a gorgeous Marcus Johansson pass) was soon followed by Jason Arnott’s blast on the power play. The Verizon Center crowd serenaded Henrik Lundqvist, who was good despite those goals, and later got on Sean Avery for, well, being Sean Avery.
“Well he probably wasn’t [up to any good]. But that’s what he does,” Boudreau said. “He tried to get things stirred up, and in the third period he did a really good job I thought of getting in there and getting the forecheck going and that’s how he plays. I thought we did a really good job of staying out of it.”
Avery’s insertion into the lineup was meant to spark the Rangers, who despite having a late lead in Game 1 were clearly outplayed in the season opener. All Avery managed to do in the third period was go after Alexander Semin (holding him on the ice after the whistle) and slash John Erskine.
After playing just 4:36 in the first two periods, Avery’s increased ice time in the third was a sign of a team pressing the panic button – uncertain of what to do next. What they couldn’t do was score, so now the Rangers must see what else they can adjust moving forward.
With the Caps, it’s possible nothing changes. And why should it? Boudreau put out the same lines and defense pairings again in Game 2 that worked so well two nights before and it didn’t backfire. And Neuvirth was solid in picking up his first playoff shutout at the NHL level in just his second career start.
But after what appeared to be a convincing victory several veteran players expressed concern. And just about everyone in the Caps locker room had the same mantra.
“Nothing’s anywhere near over. We like the position that we’re in, but there’s still room for improvement,” forward Brooks Laich said.