Washington Capitals Exorcise Game 5 Demons Against New York Rangers

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIApril 25, 2011

PHILADELPHIA , PA - APRIL 23: Members of the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers take part in the series ending handshake as the Capitals defeated the Rangers 3-1 in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

I am not sure if this is part of a song but I am going to say it anyway, being so wrong never felt so good.

I certainly do not feel this good when I am wrong in any other facet in life. My wife will tell you I am good at groveling. However, there was no guilt or pain felt by me yesterday after the Washington Capitals became the first Eastern Conference team to close out a playoff series.

The Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday, eliminating the Blueshirts in five games from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

My prediction had the Rangers winning in seven games and I could not have been more wrong. Thank you, Hockey Gods for allowing me penance in this, the most forgiving time of the year.

I will not apologize for my prediction. This is still the Washington Capitals and playoff time.

As a Caps fan, this was as impressive as I have ever seen a Caps team play in the first round.

The Capitals could be home free if they continue to play this way for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers were the one team that mirrored the Capitals style of play and that is what scared me about this series.

The numbers in the series were far closer than the series victory by Washington would indicate. In five games, the Caps only outshot New York by eight, blocked one more shot than they did, and won just five more face offs.

The Rangers out-hit Washington by a wide margin but took four more penalties for doing so. The Caps were 3-for-16 with the extra man while the Rangers power play resembled Washington’s from last year’s first round, converting just once in 20 chances.

Following their series loss, many Rangers commented that they felt as though they did not take advantage of the chances they had in the series.

They may feel frustrated about that but make no mistake, it was the play of the Capitals that not only limited those chances but also prevented New York from doing anything with them.

The Capitals were fundamentally sounder in every aspect of the game than New York.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said in his press conference yesterday, "Either team could have won any of the five games in the series.” That is what you call being a classy winner because only once did the best team not win a game.

The Capitals won this series because they were the better team. Washington rolled out four solid lines and six defenseman that smothered the Rangers every chance they got.

For once, the Capitals were the definition of playoff success. They played great defense, got great goaltending, and scored timely goals.

The Great eight was right when he said before the series that the Caps were a much more mature and much better hockey team than they were last year.

Exactly one calendar year backs up Ovechkin’s claim of maturity and growth. Last year on April 23, the Capitals lost Game 5 at home to the Canadiens by a 2-1 margin. In blowing the game, Washington committed six penalties including a too many men on the ice infraction with just 1:07 remaining in the contest.

Not this year.

After withstanding the 30-second storm following the drop of the opening puck on Saturday by the Rangers, the Capitals took over and seemingly toyed with New York. As was the case for the Rangers in Games one, two and four, only Henrik Lundqvist kept them from being blown out.

The Capitals wanted to finish off the Rangers yesterday and that is exactly what they did. They wanted it so bad they even decided to score the first goal of the game. That was something Washington had done just one other time in the previous four games.

While the shot totals would imply the Rangers had their chances, they really did not. On many occasions, the Capitals and their rookie goalie kept the Rangers to one chance in close. Neuvirth’s glove and body control kept rebounds to almost none.

Many of the shots outside of the slot area came from bad angles or were blocked by Washington.

Neuvirth was spectacular when he needed to be for his team. Many thought trouble was on the horizon for Washington following the soft goal Neuvirth allowed in the Game three loss in New York.

Far from it.

Neuvirth was not rattled in the five game series and out dueled King Henrik. Before the series began, many did not know which young net minder Caps coach Bruce Boudreau would start in the series.

After posting a .946 save percentage and 1.38 goals against average in round one, Neuvirth enters the second round solidly entrenched as the starter.

He is ranked No. 1 in most of the major goaltending categories amongst goalies that have played three or more games in the post season. Only a cheap garbage goal by the Rangers late in Saturday’s game prevented the 23-year-old Czech native from posting two first round shutouts.

The Washington defense was stellar in front of their young goalie. The Rangers had four players in the series that scored 20 or more goals during the regular season. Those same four combined to score just three goals on 56 shots in the five game set.

Even more impressive was how long during the series the Rangers were held without goals. New York twice went 85-plus minutes, spaning two games between markers. Their last draught extended 118 minutes and 17 seconds.

Unlike last postseason, the stars showed up for Washington on offense. Alex Ovechkin's series winning goal was a thing of beauty as he beat two All-Stars (Marc Staal and Lundqvist) soundly for his third goal of the series.

Ovechkin averaged more than a point per game with three goals and three assists in five games and now has 46 career playoffs points (23, 23) in only 33 career playoff games.

Alexander Semin's three goals were critical in the Caps' success. His overtime winner in Game 1 was huge for the Caps' psyche moving forward in the series.

Even after disappearing a bit in Games two and three, Semin reappeared to score the first goal in Game four and his goal yesterday forced the Rangers to pull Lundqvist with over three minutes remaining in the game.

Mike Green was the only player in the series to record a point in every game. Green's health, as it always is, remains a big concern but all reports indicate he will be ready to play in the next series.

I did not think I would say this but the Capitals were a noticably better team with Green on the ice.

Nicklas Backstrom was money in the faceoff circle and his play on the penalty kill was flawless as the Caps were almost perfect for the series.

Washington also had secondary scoring from their other three lines. Marcus Johansson was the unsung hero in the series, Jason Chimera's overtime winner in Game 4 was the dagger in the Rangers heart, and Jason Arnott did exactly what he was brought to Washington to do.

Arnott was vocal on the bench, in the locker room and on the ice. He backed up his mouth with his play. Arnott had a goal and two assists in the series and all three points came at crucial times.

Even the coaching was impeccable from behind the Washington bench. Boudreau managed his players' ice time to perfection in the series. The Capitals never appeared tired in any third period or both overtimes during the series.

Boudreau, who took criticism during the regular season for his lack of stability with his line changes and combinations, was right on the money with his pairings and combinations in the first round series. He made only minimal changes and they worked almost immediately.

Remember back in Game 1 when he paired Alex Semin with Ovechkin and Backstrom. It took just two shifts to produce a goal.

There was also the promotion of Jason Chimera to the first line when heart and soul player Mike Knuble went down. Was it irony or pure intelligence that Chimera's OT goal came from the area Knuble scores most of his goals? 

Everything Boudreau did worked to perfection for him and his team.

It was the tiredness and lack of properly managing his team's ice time that may have cost Rangers coach John Tortorella a game or even two in the series. After all, the Rangers did lead three times in the third period during the series.

The Capitals buried a few Game 5 franchise demons with this series win. The Caps never had much success with them. Washington’s Game 5 ouster of the Rangers marks just the second time in franchise history the Caps have bounced a team in a five-game series as they have yet to sweep a best-of-seven series.

Washington is now 9-19 all-time in Game 5 and is 3-7 in games in which it had a chance to end a series in Game 5. The last time the Capitals won a series in five games was the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Ottawa Senators.

All the Capitals did that year was play in the Stanley Cup Finals.

For years as a Caps fan, I have always been cautiously optimistic about their opponents come playoff time. It was in the first round of this year’s playoffs and felt like the Rangers were the one team the Caps would not beat in a seven game series. 

The Rangers owned Washington during the regular season, outscoring the Caps 15-1 in the final three games.

However, after their performance to close out the season and in the first round of the playoffs, no longer does it matters who the Caps play in the next round.

That is just how good the Washington Capitals are playing. Whether it's Ryan Miller and the Sabres I say bring them on. The dreaded black and gold from Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, or even the lucky Montreal Canadiens from last year, who cares, bring them on.

Although, I am very superstitious, so I do feel the need to also say this, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay or Montreal in seven games. Let’s Go Caps, please make me wrong again. 


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