- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

NEW YORK | Thousands of blue-and-white-clad fans lingered in the stands several minutes after Game 4 at Madison Square Garden to serenade the man who has the Washington Capitals one loss from another early postseason exit.

If the Caps don’t prevail Friday night at Verizon Center, those same New York Rangers fans will next chant, “Hen-rik, Hen-rik,” during Game 3 of a second-round playoff series.

Despite a spectacular third period from Alex Ovechkin and a pair of dumb penalties from Sean Avery, the second-seeded Caps were unable to rally from a two-goal deficit because of a 38-save night from Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The seventh-seeded Rangers now lead this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series 3-1.

“Their goaltender stood on his head again,” defenseman Mike Green said. “It seems like we’re throwing everything at him. He is playing really well, but this series isn’t over.”

Ovechkin cut the lead to one goal early in the third period. He collected the puck at the top of his own zone and skated in one-on-two. He ripped a shot through Derek Morris’ legs and off the inside of the right post for his first goal of this series.

Before the third period began, Ovechkin implored his teammates with fiery rhetoric at the Caps’ bench, then nearly willed his team back into the contest. He logged 28:47 of ice time and fired 11 shots on Lundqvist, and that doesn’t count his blast off the far post with his team on the power play late in the third.

“He’s our best, he’s the best player in the league and the best player on the planet,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “That’s what we expect from him, and that’s just another night for Alex.”

Added Ovechkin: “It’s not done yet. We were in this situation last year, and we came back. We have that experience, and it was good experience. We know how to come back. We’ll go back to our home and our fans and go back and win that game.”

Avery took a penalty for hitting Milan Jurcina with the knob of his stick midway through the final period, and the Caps spent the entire two minutes in the Rangers’ zone. Ovechkin nearly tied it, but they couldn’t score and Alexander Semin tripped Avery while on his knees to give New York a man advantage.

Avery took another penalty when he swung his stick and hit Pothier in the face with 3:04 left, but again Washington could not take advantage.

“I think we waited until the third to really bring it,” Pothier said. “We were real loose in the neutral zone, trying to be too cute, and that allowed them to possess the puck. Then it comes down to power plays to win the game in the third, and unfortunately we didn’t have enough firepower in the end.”

Rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 19 saves in his third start of the series but was victimized by an unfortunate bounce and his own trouble handling the puck in another tough-luck loss.

Brandon Dubinsky won a faceoff in the left circle back to defenseman Paul Mara. Mara fired a shot that was going to miss the net wide left by several feet, but it deflected off John Erskine and veered sharply to the right behind Varlamov at 13:55 of the opening period.

“You can call it lucky, but they won most of the faceoffs tonight [67 percent],” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s what happens when you win faceoffs.”

Seconds after Varlamov put the puck off the side of his net when he tried to backhand it around the wall, Chris Drury lofted a wrist shot at the goalie that he failed to handle. Lauri Korpikoski was able to nudge it back to Drury as he crashed the net, and the New York captain tucked a shot just under the crossbar at 2:23 of the second period.

“I tried twice to squeeze it and fix it, but I couldn’t do it and dropped it,” Varlamov said through an interpreter. “If it were to haunt me, I would have [allowed] a third and fourth goal. Hockey is such a game that if you make a mistake you have to forget about it and move on.”

Drury has been bothered by what is believed to be a hand or wrist injury the entire series. He missed Game 1 and had only two shifts in the third period of Game 3 because of it. Drury ranks fifth in NHL history with 17 game-winning goals in the postseason.

After the Rangers carried the play for most of the first period, the Caps proceeded to outshoot them 30-10 in the final 40 minutes. Lundqvist robbed Semin on a blistering shot from the top of the right circle late in the second period, and then made sure Ovechkin’s goal was his only blemish in the final 20 minutes.

“Somebody’s going to have to score on this guy,” Boudreau said. “We’re not looking for secondary scoring - we need everybody to step up to try and score on this guy.”

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