Deuces are wild in the Nation’s Capital these days. In Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley cup Playoffs, it was the Washington Capitals' two Alex's, Ovechkin and Semin, that propelled the Capitals to a 2-1 victory.
In Game 2, Washington dealt the New York Rangers a pair of Jason’s, as Chimera and Arnott scored for the Capitals, leading Washington to a 2-0 shutout victory and a 2-0 series lead over the bullies from Broadway.
Much of the talk before the series began, centered on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and how he led the NHL with 11 shutouts during the regular season.
The Capitals were not even sure which one of their early twenty-something goalies they were going to roll out to face the Rangers. In the end, Caps coach, Bruce Boudreau, decided on the 23-year-old Czech native, Michael Neuvirth.
Boudreau looks like a prophet by choosing Neuvirth, who had never started in the NHL playoffs before Wednesday.
After recording his first career NHL playoff win on Wednesday night, Neuvirth followed up with his first NHL playoff shutout last evening. Neuvirth remained calm, cool, and collected in making 22 saves for his second straight postseason win.
The Rangers have seen this before from Washington. This is the second time in as many playoff series that the Capitals have thrown a rookie goalie at New York.
Both Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have now posted identical results through their first two NHL playoff starts—both against the Blushirts.
In 2009, Varlamov came on to play and start Game 2 after Jose Theodore lost Game 1. Like Neuvy did, Varly allowed just one goal in his first start, but Lundqvist did not allow any as the Rangers took a 2-0 series lead.
In his second start, which was Game 3, Varlamov earned his first playoff shutout as the Capitals beat the Rangers 4-0 in New York. Varly would also show a cool demeanor in leading the Caps back from a 3-1 series deficit in beating New York in seven games.
Neuvirth, again, had a lot of help in front of him last evening. The Caps defense covered the Rangers offense like a blanket on a newborn baby. The Rangers had problems, all night long, trying to establish a consistent charge against the Capitals D.
The Rangers, who came out and recorded the first four shots of the game on their way to an 11-shot first period, could not solve Neuvirth or the Washington trap. The Caps held New York to just three second-period shots and six in the final frame.
The Capitals blocked 32 shots in Game 1 and 21 more last night in helping their young goalie with his shutout bid.
The Caps continued to win important face-off battles in their own zone. While the big names like Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott are playing well, gritty third and fourth line players like Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson and Boyd Gordon are in the trenches, out muscling the Rangers.
Laich, Johansson and Gordon were phenomenal on the red dot, combining to win 19 out of 29 face-offs (65 percent), and their play in the corners have been invaluable.
Laich and Johansson also jumped onto the playoff score sheet, as their hard work led to the Capitals first goal.
The play actually started at the point, when defenseman Scott Hannan kept the puck in at the blue line and fired it back in, where Brooks Laich fought the Rangers Matt Gilroy for the puck. Laich made a beautiful one-handed pass around the net while falling down to Marcus Johansson.
The rookie center immediately passed the puck into the slot, where Jason Chimera's one-timer beat Henrik Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Chimera's second of his playoff career.
Bruce Boudreau speaking to the media following the game said about Chimera, “He’s heating up and it's playoff time. Sometimes through history, there’s been guys who have played and raised their level of play at playoff time. I thought he’s had two really good games.”
The Rangers frustration was immediate as Ryan McDonagh committed a roughing penalty just .48 seconds following Chimera's goal.
Teams that are playing well always seem to catch the lucky breaks and find the lucky bounces. In this case, having rebounds end up on your stick with an empty net in front. The capitals are no exception, as the third power play opportunity of the series for Washington would be the charm.
Jason Arnott made it 2-0 when he was the recipient of a Mike Green shot that bounced off the Rangers Matt Gilroy. Green blasted a shot from the top of the right face-off circle that hit Gilroy and bounced right on to the stick of Arnott. The cage was wide open and Arnott did not miss, as he buried his 31st career playoff marker.
“Special teams are going to win you games all the time,” says Boudreau in his post game press conference. “We got a lucky break. It was a great shot and we deserved to score.”
Rangers forward Sean Avery, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1, was called upon in Game 2 to try to agitate the Capitals and disrupt Neuvirth's rhythm in the crease. Avery was not effective. The Caps treated him like an annoying fly at a summer picnic—they simply waved him away.
Of course, Bruce Boudreau wanted to be sure that should it become necessary to control Avery from a physical standpoint he was prepared. John Erskine, Matt Bradley, Matt Hendricks, and Jason Chimera all had an eye on Avery while they were on the ice with him at different times.
Game 2 resembled many Capitals games from the regular season. Washington was out-shot 22-18 in the contest but were meticulous in keeping New York to the outside with their shots. They controlled the front of the net and made sure clearing attempts were done so along the sides and not up the middle.
Neuvirth had to make just a few great saves, and as he did in Game 1, made one on Marian Gaborik down in close. The Rangers sniper has now gone 11 games without a goal.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella moved Gaborik to a line with Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen for Game 2 but Gaborik could only muster four shots. The Rangers out hit Washington 38-35 but the Caps were smart last evening.
They did not fall into the typical rough stuff that comes at the end of a playoff game when the other team wants to set a tone for the next contest. The Caps took just two penalties in the contest and have taken only four in the first two games
Bruce Boudreau continued to manage his team’s ice time to near perfection. No Washington forward played more than 20 minutes, as Ovechkin logged the most ice time amongst Caps forwards with 19:51.
As he did in Game 1, Scott Hannan led the defenseman with 21:34. Mike Green, who logged almost 27 minutes in his return on Wednesday after missing the last 20 games, played 10 minutes less in Game 2, with 16:27 of ice time.
The Caps now lead a playoff series 2-0 for the eighth time in franchise history and are 3-5 in closing a series out when winning the first two games. The last time the Capitals led a series 2-0 was in 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals would lose that series in seven games.
That is the bad news—the good news is, since 2006 teams that win Game 2 have gone on to win the series 70 percent (28-40) of the time.
More good news for caps fans, of the 307 teams in NHL history that have fallen behind 2-0 in a series, only 41 (13.4 percent) have come back to win the series.
The series now shifts to New York for Game 3 on Sunday where many from this current team won two playoff games back in 2009.