Throughout the playoffs we’ll boil down each Capitals game to the highlight-worthy moments on their quest for the Stanley Cup.
We begin tonight with the Capitals’ 3-1 win over the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Game Changer: Despite dominating on scoring chances and possession early, the Caps were rewarded with a 1-0 deficit at the end of the opening period. After climbing back into things by finally cashing in on their fourth power play opportunity in the second, the Caps were slapped with a pair of minors that sent Eric Fehr to the box just over a minute into their kill on Martin Erat’s boarding penalty. The Capitals’ trio of Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Karl Alzner dug in to thwart the Rangers’ onslaught and preserve the 1-1 tie. The kill proved to be the turning point that paved the way to victory. Minutes later the Caps scored two more unanswered goals as the Capitals took a lead they would not relinquish.
“It's one of the most important things in this game. You get a 5 on 3 you gotta score on it,” said Fehr. “If we get it and don't score on it you can just feel the momentum shift, it's a heartbreaker. The guys did a good job killing it and we scored right after it. That seems to be the way it goes.”
Top Goal: When besting the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, any goal is highlight reel worthy. Tonight’s honors go to the game-winner scored by a somewhat unlikely duo of Marcus Johansson and Steve Oleksy. After hustling back to collect a puck that skipped over his stick, Oleksy sent a perfect loft to Johansson, who was waiting at the Rangers’ blue line, a step behind their blueliners. The swift center gathered the pass in stride and his quick wrister found the gap between Lundqvist’s glove and left pad to put the Caps up 2-1.
Top Save: With time ticking down in the Rangers’ two-man advantage, Braden Holtby was peppered by the power play unit of Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan while Derick Brassard sat in the crease screening Holtby. With seconds to spare Nash sent one in to Stepan in hopes of grabbing a greasy lead. The pass found Stepan, flipped up into the air and -as the Verizon Center held its collective breath- Holtby snagged the loose puck before Stepan could take another whack at it. The flashy glove save marked the end of the 5 on 3 and sent the crowd to their feet as chants of “Holt-by!” rained down on the ice.
Tough guy: No contest: Steve Oleksy. In the first playoff game of his career, Oleksy not only set up the game-winner, but three minutes later took a close-range puck between his jaw and cheekbone that left him plenty swollen, yet could not knock the defenseman out of the game.
“It's been a lot worse. I skated away pretty fast, I was excited,” said Oleksy, who sported a large lump along his right jaw after the win. “I thought I was in for about 20 stitches. It kind of hit me flush. It's part of the game … Teeth were good. I've got the mouth guard in so luckily it hit me just high enough and didn't take out any bottoms.”
“I don't think I've ever seen him without scars or stitches of some sort,” said Holtby.
“He's a tough kid and you wouldn't expect anything less from him,” said Jason Chimera who scored 46 seconds after Johansson. “It's one of those things that if it happens to another guy maybe they're out for the game but he's back next shift.”
Key stat: Despite the Caps’ less-than-stellar regular season penalty kill, the Rangers could not break through the league’s 27th ranked unit, though not for lack of opportunity. The Rangers spent more than seven minutes on the power play, including 56 seconds with two extra men. The Caps’ PK unit allowed just eight shots on goal and won 64-percent of faceoffs in their perfect performance.
Players’ MVP: With his 35 saves, the Caps overwhelmingly named Holtby their MVP of the night. Giving up just one goal on Carl Hagelin’s strike that took a deflection off John Erskine’s skate, Holtby was neither rattled by the Rangers’ early lead nor Hagelin’s subsequent breakaway, nor New York’s attempts to create chaos in his crease throughout the night. Here’s a sampling of what the Caps had to say on tonight’s heroes:
Joel Ward: “You gotta give it to Holts for stepping up huge. Even though we were down by one he still made some huge saves that could have turned it around. He stopped the breakaway on Hagelin there that could have been a difference-maker as well. Hats off to Holts.”
Karl Alzner: “I'd probably say Holtsy. I liked Fehrsy's game a lot. But Holts, he made the big saves when he had to, played the puck well, came up huge at the end there. He and Ovi have been our MVPs all season long and tonight he showed why he's been our MVP.”
And the ever-humble netminder: “In my mind there's never an individual hero in the playoffs. You win as a team no matter what.”
And finally, your moment of Tort: