This was a battle of wills - the will of offense vs. the will of defense. Typically in postseason play, the will of defense wins - except when you have too many offensive wills to fight.
The Washington Capitals figured their sheer number of offensive wills - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and the rest of their army of scorers - would be enough to defeat the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup quarterfinal series.
Score this one, though, for the will of defense - and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who withstood the pressure of the Caps and led New York to a 4-3 win at Verizon Center.
Lundqvist has been at the heart of the Rangers’ resurgence near the end of the season, and he was up to the task Wednesday night. The Caps had 35 shots on goal and managed just three goals.
“It could have gone both ways, but you need a little luck, and we had that tonight,” Lundqvist said. “We worked really hard for it, though. It’s not just going to come. You have to earn it.”
His counterpart, Jose Theodore, couldn’t hold one of the worst offensive teams in the league - just 21 shots on goal Wednesday night - off the board, though. Allowing four goals probably will raise questions about whether Theodore is good enough to get the Caps deep into the playoffs - or, at this point, beyond the first round.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t sound as though he thought his goalie “earned” it like Lundqvist.
“He didn’t make the saves when we needed it,” Boudreau said. “But I am sure he is going to bounce back. He is a professional and has played this game long enough. I am sure he feels bad enough.”
Boudreau, though did not rule out a change in net for Saturday’s Game 2.
Washington had won Game 1 in 19 of its 29 previous playoff series and has been dominant particularly at home with a 12-4 mark in opening games. Last year, the Caps won Game 1 at home 5-4 against the Philadelphia Flyers only to lose the next three and eventually the series in seven games.
Maybe a Game 1 loss will deliver a different final result this year.
“You always have the desire to win the first game,” Boudreau said. “We won the first game last year, and it didn’t do us any good. So we’ll just have to go a different route.”
Washington got on the board first with a power-play goal by Ovechkin at 6:40 of the second period. But New York responded a little more than a minute later with a goal by Scott Gomez. The Rangers then took advantage of penalties by John Erskine and Sergei Fedorov to score two power-plays goals, one by Nik Antropov and another by Markus Naslund, to take a 3-1 lead at 18:28 of the second period.
The air had gone out of Verizon Center and the sellout crowd, but Viktor Kozlov inflated the arena with a score with less than a minute left in the period to cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-2. And early in the third period, a power-play goal by Semin tied the game, and it seemed inevitable that the Caps’ force of offensive wills would prevail.
Not with Lundqvist in the net. He held firm as New York’s Brandon Dubinsky got the game-winning goal at 11:43 of the final period - just five seconds after the Rangers killed yet another penalty.
The contrasts between the two teams could not be greater. The Caps ranked third in the league with 268 goals this season, while the Rangers finished third-worst at just 200 goals.
But New York’s game is defense; led by Lundqvist, it allowed the sixth-fewest goals this season. The Caps, meanwhile, ranked 19th on defense. In other words, down the line, it is two opposed forces vying against each other. The Caps’ second-ranked power play - a club record 25.2 percent - are facing the best penalty-killing team in the league.