Eric Fehr abandoned his stick after a hit in the corner and put his body in front of slap shots on the Washington Capitals’ penalty kill because that was his job. New York Rangers shooters knew he was empty-handed and launched pucks at him.
“There’s not much you can do,” Fehr said. “It’s a pretty hopeless feeling.”
When one got past him, Fehr leapt at Ryan Callahan to clear the Rangers captain out from the front of the net. It was what he had to do to save a goal, but that also put the Caps down two men in a tie game.
“Those are some real tough minutes,” he said. “Four minutes probably felt like a half-hour in there.”
By the time his teammates killed off all the penalties, Verizon Center was loud and just about shaking. Minutes later the Caps harnessed that energy and scored twice in 46 seconds to beat the Rangers 3-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
“Anytime you kill a five-on-three, especially in playoffs, the momentum goes the other way, for sure,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “If they get a goal, they’re feeling it. If we get a kill, obviously the crowd gets into it or we get into it. Everyone’s pumped up. It’s a good way to create momentum for us.”
Going into the playoffs, the Caps’ league-leading power play figured to be their biggest weapon and best opportunity to create momentum.
The power play did yield a goal by Alex Ovechkin that tied the score in the second period, but it was a gritty 3-minute, 4-second penalty kill that turned things around and gave the Caps the series lead over the Rangers.
When left wing Martin Erat went to the box for boarding 9:40 into the second period, the Caps’ penalty kill was tasked with keeping it tied shortly after Ovechkin scored to become No. 1 on the franchise’s playoff goals list. Fehr did his part by blocking a shot with his body, and charged toward Callahan to help goaltender Braden Holtby.
Fans booed as Fehr was given an extra minor penalty after some pushing and shoving because Washington went down five-on-three for 56 seconds. But Alzner, John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom, held the Rangers to just one shot, and the second wave of penalty-killers made a sellout crowd roar when Fehr stepped back onto the ice.
“Any time you can kill it, first off good for the team,” Carlson said. “It recharges everyone’s batteries I think. I don’t really get too much more nervous, you’re decently nervous at all points of the game I’m sure. Just try to do whatever it takes to get the puck down the ice and hopefully that clock starts running out.”
The Rangers‘ inability to score for over three minutes on the power play clearly had them out of sorts.
“We had a couple of good looks,” Callahan said. “Obviously you want to score on that opportunity, in that chance, and after that it seemed to swing a little bit their way, the momentum. But we had some chances on it. It’s just a matter of putting it in.”
Suddenly, the Caps controlled the game. “You can feel the winds change a little bit,” Fehr said.
And it took just 1:37 for momentum to crystallize.