The applause poured in steadily after the game, teammates lauding everyman Jay Beagle for an honest day’s work. The Washington Capitals’ third-line center snapped a postseason-long scoring drought with the only goal Monday night, and there could be no one better to relish that moment at such a critical time than their jack-of-all-trades.
Playoff games, or even a playoff series, can be defined by the most fortunate of bounces, and it’s up to an individual to take advantage of them. Beagle did just that, with his second-period goal standing up and providing the winning margin in a 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Beagle’s tally was met on the other side of the ice by 30 saves from Braden Holtby, whose second career playoff shutout came exactly two years to the day after his first. The circumstances were eerily similar — he had 24 saves in that game, also a 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers, albeit in overtime of Game 2.
Washington’s victory snapped a remarkable streak for the Rangers, who had won each of the previous 11 times they played a Game 3 on the road, dating back to 1992. More presently, it gave the Capitals a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 looming on Wednesday night.
The Capitals’ three previous goals in the series had been scored by top-six forwards, and Beagle’s line, put together for Game 4 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders in the wake of Eric Fehr’s injury, had picked up a combined four assists.
Beagle, who had career highs of 10 goals and 10 assists during the regular season, never grew impatient. He took solace in the fact that his line had generated plenty of quality scoring chances — a two-on-one with Burakovsky midway through the first period in Game 2, as well as a shot that clanged off the crossbar in Game 6 against the Islanders — and figured things were bound to turn in his favor.
“I’ve always said when you’re getting chances you’re doing the right things,” Beagle said. “It’s when you’re not getting the chances that you have to tweak something. Finally I got a nice bounce to go in, and it felt nice.”
Troy Brouwer had chased the puck into the Rangers’ zone, but was prevented from reaching it by Martin St. Louis. Dan Girardi snagged it near the left corner, but Capitals rookie Andre Burakovsky broke up Girardi’s clear attempt, pulling the puck and turning around just in time to see Beagle screaming in from the bench.
While Beagle missed with his one-timer attempt from 30 feet, the shot deflected by Henrik Lundqvist back to the end boards, with the center circling around to collect it behind the cage. He continued on his path, then pivoted at the right post, where his shot appeared to glance off Yandle’s stick, and then the bottom of Lundqvist’s left skate, from the sharpest of angles and into the net.
“He works and works and works and never asks questions and never complains,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “I thought he was going to score on the shot initially from the slot there, and good instincts there to hunt down that puck and try to wrap around. He got a lucky bounce, for sure, but he deserved it.”
Holtby, who had nine shutouts during the regular season, has now allowed one goal or fewer in each of his last nine playoff victories.
Again tasked with stepping up early — he faced six shots over the first six minutes, including three in the first 1:08 alone — he withstood the push of a crushing scrum at 12:25 of the second period, a breakaway by St. Louis a minute later and a sustained opportunity by the Rangers at roughly the same point in the third period.
“He’s a workhorse,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He prepares. He’s focused. We’ve asked our players from day one to come prepared and get better every day, and he’s done that. He’s no different from anybody else — a lot of players have gotten better because of the commitment he made, and he’s one of them. He’s a talented young man.”
The Capitals again killed off a pair of power plays, pushing their postseason mark to a remarkable 21-for-22 conversion rate, and won 69 percent of their faceoffs.
A large part of that was due to Beagle, who went 10-for-12 in the circle. Entrusted for much of the season to do the dirty work, the goal finally allowed the center to step into the spotlight.
“It’s always great to see a hard-working guy like that come through,” Brouwer said. “He prides himself on more than scoring goals. He’s great on the P.K. He’s good on his faceoffs, but for him to break through and get a goal and get us a win tonight, you know, it’s a good feeling for him and for the rest of us.”