The Washington Capitals proved they can score goals against one of the league’s stingiest teams in their postseason opener.
They didn’t ease the concerns about their ability to prevent them, however, and lost home-ice advantage in the process.
Brandon Dubinsky scored midway through the final period, and the seventh-seeded New York Rangers upended the second-seeded Caps with a 4-3 victory Wednesday night at Verizon Center in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
It was not the opening performance Caps goaltender Jose Theodore was hoping for: he yielded four goals on 21 shots.
“For playoff hockey, that wasn’t good enough,” Theodore said. “I think I’m going to have to look at my game. This wasn’t good enough, but in the playoffs you forget about it, bounce back and turn the page.”
Washington fell behind by two goals, but a late tally in the second period and Alexander Semin’s goal early in the third knotted the score at 3-3. With the Caps on the power play, Mike Green’s blast from the top of the zone went wide, and Alex Ovechkin backhanded it from a bad angle at Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The goalie couldn’t handle it, and Semin was there to bang home the loose puck at 1:42.
Dubinsky put the Rangers back in front at 11:43. He skated down the left wing, cut past Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz, who fell to the ice on the play, went in alone on Theodore and beat him above his glove.
“There are times when you need the save, and he didn’t make the save we needed,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of his goaltender.
Boudreau hinted there could be changes in the lineup for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon but said it wouldn’t necessarily be in net. The coach also didn’t absolve Schultz from blame on the final goal.
“This is the NHL: If you get beat one-on-one and give the guy a breakaway, you can’t hide from that,” he said.
The Caps dominated play in the opening 20 minutes but were unable to solve Lundqvist. Washington outshot New York 14-4 and Ovechkin had a six-pack of shots and hits, but the Caps failed to take advantage of a pair of power-play opportunities and went to the dressing room in a scoreless tie.
Lundqvist finished the game with 32 saves, including 13 on Ovechkin.
“I thought we played all right,” said Green, who pointed out that two of the Rangers’ four goals came on bad line changes by the Caps. “We played a tough game, and we were physical. As long as we keep that part up, the goals will come. I thought their goalie played really well tonight and won the game for them.
“I think we can still win the series. Nothing has changed.”
In the second period, the Caps went ahead with a power-play goal. Ovechkin and Green worked a give-and-go at the points, and after Ovechkin kicked the puck to his stick, his quick shot was redirected by Tomas Fleischmann past Lundqvist at 6:40 of the second.
New York responded with a trio of tallies to forge a two-goal advantage. Scott Gomez broke in alone on goaltender Jose Theodore, with an assist from Sean Avery colliding with Green near the blue line [-] and leveled the score 69 seconds after Fleischmann’s goal.
“I was surprised [there wasn’t a penalty called],” Boudreau said.
“The Rangers had the second-worst power play in the NHL this season, but they converted two chances in the middle period. Nik Antropov faked a shot from the outside of the right circle, then took one more stride toward the net before ripping a shot into the top left corner of the net at 16:49.
Sergei Fedorov went into the box for Washington’s second puck-over-the-glass infraction, and Markus Naslund took a drop pass from Gomez and snapped a shot just under the crossbar at 18:28 of the period.
Viktor Kozlov netted his first career playoff goal in 22 contests late in the period to cut the deficit in half. Nicklas Backstrom sent a perfect pass from the left wing in front to Kozlov, who redirected it past Lundqvist with 48.9 seconds remaining.
Now the Caps will try to salvage a split at home Saturday afternoon before the series shifts north to Madison Square Garden.
When you outplay the team and lose, it is very similar to outplaying them in the first period and being down,’ Boudreau said. ‘The other team is going to play better. New York is going to play better on Saturday with the idea that ‘Hey, if we come in here and play, we can sweep.’ That is a big motivating factor, so we’ll have to play better.?