In the first period of last night's first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup, the Washington Capitals completely dominated the seventh-seeded New York Rangers in every category on the ice—except the scoreboard.
Then, after an early second period goal by Tomas Fleischmann, the Eastern Conference's second seed appeared to lose focus, especially much-maligned goalie Jose Theodore, and the New York Rangers stole Game One, 4-3, right out from underneath the Capitals.
Washington out-shot, out-hit, and out-hustled the Rangers in the first. The Caps held a 14-4 shot advantage, and several loud hits by Caps forwards in the New York end made it look like the rout would be on for the home team.
But the Rangers, thanks to goalie Henrik Lundqvist, withstood the early barrage and the teams remained scoreless entering the second period.
That's when things turned sour for the Caps.
After Fleischmann's tally, a redirection originally credited to Alex Ovechkin with a blast from the high slot, Washington stopped skating, starting missing the big hits, and gave the Rangers two late power plays, of which they took full advantage.
And once New York started getting some quality chances, Theodore folded in every conceivable way.
The first New York goal rattled Theodore for the rest of the night. Scott Gomez collected a blocked shot in his own end and raced uncontested up the left wing. At the Caps blue line, Sean Avery came from behind and took the legs out from under defenseman Mike Green, allowing Gomez to move in on Theodore, and the veteran center slid the puck under a laid-out Shaone Morrisonn and beat Theodore low to the glove side.
Green looked dumbfounded with arms raised asking for a tripping penalty on the play. There was no call and the goal stood to tie the game at one goal a piece.
Then came the avalanche.
With John Erskine off for high-sticking, Nik Antropov walked into the right wing circle and lifted a soft wrist shot over Theodore's left shoulder. There was no screen, no distraction, and no excuse. Theodore barely flinched as the puck went past.
Less than two minutes later, Sergei Fedorov was sent off for a delay of the game as he threw the puck needlessly off the ice. The Rangers caught Washington making a line change on the resulting power play, and Gomez dropped a pass for Markus Naslund, who beat Theodore high to the stick side after the goalie had gone down early into a butterfly, reacting to Gomez.
Viktor Kozlov cut the deficit with a tip-in of a Nicklas Backstrom feed with 49 seconds left in the second period, and Alexander Semin tied it at 1:42 in the third, knocking in a bouncing puck on a Caps power play.
But the last goal of the night is all that Caps fans were talking about after the game.
Naslund caught a breakout pass from Antropov and hit Brandon Dubinsky with a pass in the neutral zone. Dubinsky sped down the left wing boards and completely faked out Jeff Schultz with a cross-over move, and as Dubinsky raced past Schultz, the 6' 6" defender fell awkwardly, arms and legs flying.
Dubinsky then walked in alone on Theodore and beat the goalie easily with a wrist shot to the near post; a bad angle for the shooter, were it not for the fact that the goalie was not in position.
Theodore allowed four goals on just 21 shots against one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.
The goalie, and his coach, talked about his poor performance after the game.
"For playoff hockey, obviously, [I was] not good enough," Theodore said, "They only had a couple of shots in the first, and after that, I tried to find a rhythm. I'm not happy with my game. I wasn't good enough. But in the playoffs, you bounce back and that's it—you have to turn the page.
"I've been around long enough that there's really no excuse," he continued, "When you're out there, you have to be ready to make a couple of key saves and key moments, and tonight, that just wasn't the case."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau echoed his goalie's sentiments.
"He's right," Boudreau said when he was told that Theodore accepted the blame for the loss, "You need the save and he didn't make the save. But I'm sure he's going to bounce back. He's a professional. He's played this game long enough, I'm sure he feels bad enough."
Boudreau was asked if a change in goal could come for Game Two.
"There's a chance anything can happen," Boudreau said, "When you lose, you make changes. I'm not saying in goal. But, I mean, there's a chance for changes in a couple of positions."
Alex Ovechkin, the league's leading goal scorer, had two assists and took a game-high 13 shots on goal, with another 10 shots blocked. Rangers goalie Lundqvist robbed Ovechkin early on several point-blank attempts, and finished with 32 saves on 35 shots.
Game Two in the seven-game series is Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. It will be the national broadcast game on NBC.
06:40 Power Play—Tomas Fleischmann (1), Tip-In. Assist: Ovechkin, Green
07:49 Scott Gomez (1), Wrist Shot, Unassisted.
16:49 Power Play—Nik Antropov (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Gomez, Mara
18:28 Power Play—Markus Naslund (1), Snap Shot. Assist: Gomez, Redden
19:11 Viktor Kozlov (1), Tip-In. Assist: Backstrom, Erskine
01:42 Power Play—Alexander Semin (1), Tip-In. Assist: Ovechkin, Green
11:43 Brandon Dubinsky (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Naslund, Antropov
1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 2)
2. S. Gomez - NYR (Goals: 1, Assists: 2)
3. B. Dubinsky - NYR (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
Tom Poti and Boyd Gordon both returned from injuries, but Donald Brashear (knee) was scratched. Brian Pothier was scratched to make room for Poti, but may very well play in Game Two.
Fleischmann's goal was his first NHL playoff point. Kozlov scored his first playoff goal in 25 games.
The Caps won 46 of 56 faceoffs (70 percent) and out-hit the Rangers 35-27.