NEW YORK — A brutal change by Scott Hannan altered the course of the playoffs for the Washington Capitals a year ago. It led to a Tampa Bay Lightning overtime goal on the way to a sweep.
Mike Green’s brutal hesitation to get off the ice already cost them Game 1 at Madison Square Garden in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon. The Caps sure hope this change doesn’t portend the same bad things in this second-round series.
“Every game is a game of mistakes out there,” coach Dale Hunter said. “Just part of hockey.”
The Caps had the Rangers playing their style: low-scoring, tight-checking and the score tied up well into the third period.
Then Green and Roman Hamrlik got crossed up. Green started to shade toward the bench for a change as the Rangers carried the puck up the nice. The defenseman saw rookie Chris Kreider streaking down the right wing and tried to get back, as his 38-year-old partner tried desperately to get back into the play.
He couldn’t. Green was already late. Kreider got plenty of open ice and blasted a shot past Braden Holtby to ignite a nervous Garden crowd.
“Yeah, I was going to the bench and nobody jumped, so I had to go back and he had a step on [Hamrlik],” Green said. “He made a great shot from just over the blue line.”
Dennis Wideman was waiting on the top of the bench. Hunter explained that he thought the Capitals would keep the puck in the offensive zone and were safe to change. Not doing so meant a different direction of the play.
Hunter put some of the blame on Hamrlik getting caught up ice, and the veteran defenseman shouldered some of it himself.
“We kind of switched the sides; I end up on the right side and I was a little bit confused. My bad,” Hamrlik said. “I have to stay back and take the guy and he had lots of speed and just make a good play. That’s the mistakes that cost us, and we have to be better.”
At that point, New York pounced. Leaving Brad Richards wide open at the side of the net is usually a bad idea, and the star center took his time finding a hole to put one past Holtby, who allowed three goals on 14 shots.
“Obviously, I wasn’t real happy with [my game],” the young goaltender said. “It’s a tough game to stay into it, mentally-wise, and I didn’t do a good enough job.”
This was not Green’s finest performance. He couldn’t hit the net as Washington was desperately trying to put pucks on Henrik Lundqvist in the final minutes, and he was outmuscled badly by Artem Anisimov on the first goal of the game.
“Just got the net and it was either haul him down; [I] wasn’t able too and he just spun through it and I couldn’t see where it went from there,” Green said.
It went right under Holtby’s arm at 12:38 of the second. But Jason Chimera was able to net the equalizer with 3.5 seconds left in the second period.
From there, the Caps seemed to have the Rangers right where they wanted them. Hunter’s team likes living on the edge, using that to beat the Boston Bruins in the opening round.
Saturday provided yet another example of how one blunder can be disastrous.
“They’re a good defensive team and when we had guys jump up in the play and we turned it over, then they had guys going the other way,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Then they were able to get the puck in our zone and cycle it around. Sometimes, when you’re taking chances, it’s going to bite you.”