Playoffs or regular season, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been absolutely perfect the past three times he has faced Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
So what if the Rangers were struggling under first-year coach Alain Vigneault? Lundqvist felt good about his team’s chances Wednesday night, then backed that up with his 46th NHL shutout in New York’s 2-0 victory over Washington.
”I felt like we came in here with a lot of confidence that we can beat them,” the Swedish goalie said, ”even though we’ve had a rough start.”
It was his third shutout in a row against familiar postseason foe Washington, including Games 6 and 7 of the teams’ first-round playoff series in May. New York and Washington have met in the playoffs four times in five years, splitting those series.
”The games against the Rangers are always tight,” Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. ”We knew that going in. We knew it wasn’t going to be a shootout.”
Lundqvist only needed to make 22 saves, thanks in part to 22 blocked shots by his teammates. By the end, Rangers fans in the crowd were chanting, ”Hen-reek! Hen-reek!”
”Tonight Hank was on, and we didn’t give them a whole lot,” said Brad Richards, who assisted on goals by Ryan Callahan and John Moore less than two minutes apart in the second period.
One key sequence both teams pointed to came in the first period, when the Capitals had a 5-on-3 advantage for 55 seconds after hooking calls on Anton Stralman and Taylor Pyatt. One chance went awry when Ovechkin snapped his stick in two while trying to get off a shot. Another was wasted when some tic-tac-toe passing set up Joel Ward for a close-range, backdoor try, but he pushed the puck against the side of the net.
”We had an empty net on the 5-on-3. We didn’t bury it,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. ”It’s a different ballgame if Wardo puts that in.”
Vigneault chose to credit his goalie after the Rangers won for only the second time in six games this season. Their season-opening road swing still has three more stops.
”To go down 5-on-3 and get a couple of nice saves from Hank — that sort of helped us get a little momentum,” Vigneault said.
Unable to generate much offense, even with their formidable power play, three-time NHL MVP Ovechkin and the Capitals fell to 2-5.
The Capitals entered the night second in the NHL on the power play, at better than 35 percent, but went 0 for 4.
Ovechkin was credited with more than a third of his team’s shots — a game-high eight — but didn’t add to his goal total of six.
”We have our chances out there and we just, to be honest with you, can’t score,” Ovechkin said.
New York dominated the second period, outshooting Washington 21-6 and getting the puck past Braden Holtby.
Moore scored his first goal of the season 12:05 into that period during 4-on-4 play, after Ovechkin was sent to the penalty box for slashing Derek Stepan during a short-handed breakaway. Callahan then knocked in his third of the season — and third in two games — by cutting across the crease to beat Ovechkin and defenseman John Carlson to Richards’ centering pass.
”Our (defensive) zone, our neutral zone, everything was a lot more in sync,” said Richards, who has four goals and three assists the past five games. ”You could tell we were on the same page a lot more.”
Notes: New York lost its preceding three games by a combined 20-5. … Rangers D Michael del Zotto was scratched because of illness. … The Rangers won’t play their first home game until Oct. 28 against the Montreal Canadiens, New York’s latest home opener in a non-lockout season since 1947. … New York LW Rick Nash missed a third consecutive game because of a head injury from a hit by San Jose’s Brad Stuart last week. Stuart was given a three-game suspension by the NHL. … Washington D John Erskine sat out for a third game in a row, too.