Rookie's big night gives Caps 3-1 series lead over Rangers
Back when he was 7, Andre Burakovsky tagged along to watch his father play in a professional hockey game in Sweden. The opposing goalie was none other than Henrik Lundqvist.
Burakovsky, now barely 20 and an NHL rookie with the Capitals, found himself facing Lundqvist, now the goalie for the Rangers, and the kid came through in a big way Wednesday night. Burakovsky scored his first two postseason goals and Braden Holtby saved a penalty shot, giving Washington a 2-1 victory over New York for a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Capitals can close out the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers in the best-of-seven series and advance to the conference finals for the first time in Alex Ovechkin's career by taking Game 5 in New York on Friday night.
"There's no shock. It's disappointment," said Lundqvist, who led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals last season. "They're nothing really to figure out. We just need to score."
Burakovsky tied Game 4 in the second period, then put Washington ahead to stay 24 seconds into the third.
"He's been a favorite goalie of (mine) since I grew up," Burakovsky said about his countryman Lundqvist. "I've been watching him my whole life. It's a pretty special moment."
Not bad for a guy who scored only nine goals in the regular season -- and none since Feb. 15 -- and was limited to 53 games with Washington, either because he was scratched or banished to the minors.
Coach Barry Trotz said he told Burakovsky: "I'm not putting you back in the lineup `til you crack a smile again. If I see you moping around the dressing room, moping around because you're not playing, I will not put you in the lineup."
Then, delivering the punch line, Trotz added: "And he's always got a smile on his face now."
Sure did Wednesday, particularly when Burakovsky was asked whether this was the highlight of his nascent career.
"I would say it's up there, for sure," he replied.
When a reporter wanted to know what could possibly beat this night, Burakovsky grinned broadly.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe it is the greatest moment."
Might not have been had the Capitals not had Holtby protecting the net, finishing with 28 saves and lowering his goals-against average to 1.48 in these playoffs.
With 12 minutes left in regulation, Holtby flicked his glove to catch Carl Hagelin's penalty shot and preserve the lead and help the Capitals win a fifth consecutive home game in the same postseason for the first time, according to STATS.
Hagelin broke in alone and Capitals defenseman Mike Green, chasing from behind, first poked at the left wing with his stick, then brought him down. When Holtby snatched the penalty shot, fans responded with earsplitting yells of "Holt-bee! Holt-bee!" and Green skated over from the bench area to give his goalie an appreciative tap with his stick.
"You go in there," Hagelin said, "thinking you're going to score."
As for whether Holtby knew how Hagelin would try to get the puck past him, Holtby said: "Not really. I was just trying to be patient. ... Try not to think too much. Just react."
The only goal allowed by Holtby over the past two games was scored by Derick Brassard a little more than six minutes into the second period Wednesday, making it 1-0 with assists from Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, neither of whom has a goal in this series.
But New York's lead didn't last very long, thanks to Burakovsky, a first-round draft pick in 2013, who joined Evgeny Kuznetsov as a Capitals rookie making his mark on these playoffs. Kuznetsov has four goals, including the go-ahead score in Game 7 against the New York Islanders in the first round.
"We're pretty fortunate," Trotz said. "We've got two young guys that have a lot of ability. They have a lot of confidence in their ability."
NOTES: This was the Rangers' 11th consecutive playoff game decided by one goal, extending an NHL record that dates to last season. ... Late in the first period, Lundqvist took a puck off the collarbone on a shot from Brooks Laich. The goalie missed nearly two months this season after a puck smacked him in the neck. ... Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was announced Wednesday as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL's top coach.