It took a while, but the Washington Capitals found a way to beat the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist in Game 1.
When the Capitals were pitted against the Rangers in the first round, the obvious marquee matchup of the series was Alex Ovechkin vs. Henrik Lundqvist. In Game 1 on Wednesday night at Verizon Center, the two stars indeed played a prominent part in the outcome, but it was Ovechkin’s Russian counterpart Alexander Semin who stole the show.
Semin’s overtime goal lifted the Capitals to a 2-1 win over the Rangers to give the No. 1 seed a 1-0 series edge. With 1:36 remaining in OT, Jason Arnott kept in a clearing attempt at the blue line and sent the puck to Semin at the top of the right circle for the one-timer which beat Lundqvist top shelf.
“Arnott made a good play, and the shot was just a rocket,” Lundqvist said. “I tried to be square, but I didn’t have time to react.”
For a while, it looked like Lundqvist might skate away with his third consecutive shutout over the Caps. He stonewalled the home team in the first period, turning away nine shots, many of which were high-quality chances. The scoreboard remained blank until Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy buried a close-range one-timer to put the visitors ahead 1-0 early in the third.
The Rangers put a stranglehold on the game for the better part of the next 12 minutes, but at 13:44 in the third Ovechkin hacked away at a loose puck under Lundqvist’s pads and managed to push the puck across the goal line.
“I was pleased we got a goal,” Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “At one point, I didn’t know if there was ever going to be a way to beat [Lundqvist]. Sometimes you need a greasy goal like that to spark your team.”
Even though the horn never blew, Ovechkin and Semin started celebrating wildly, prompting the crowd to do the same. The referees took it to a video review. The fans again erupted in cheers when the goal was confirmed.
“I thought we were doing a lot of good things.” Capitals winger Mike Knuble said. “It was a big relief when Alex [Ovechkin] scored to tie it up.”
After that, New York seemed unable to generate sustained offensive pressure, making life relatively easy for first-time playoff starter Michal Neuvirth at the other end of the ice.
The Rangers had two quality shots on Neuvirth to begin overtime, but once things settled down, the Capitals controlled the puck consistently and finally beat Lundqvist a second time.
If Game 1 was any indication, this is going to be a highly competitive series that features a lot of one-goal games. Still, the Rangers may need to come up with a better strategy than to pray that Lundqvist can stick his finger in the dyke until his teammates can pounce on a turnover. It’s too tough to win four games like that against this version of the Capitals, who are too careful with the puck and too offensively skilled.