If this Eastern Conference quarterfinal was a Grand Slam tennis match we’d be on our way to a 12-point tiebreaker. Both the Capitals and Rangers have “held serve” in their two home games, and now their best-of-seven series has been reduced to a best-of-three with New York squeaking out a 4-3 win Wednesday night.
The Rangers would strike first in the game as the direct result of a risky clearing pass from Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. Holtby came out of his net to play the puck away from fore-checker Carl Hagelin. As Hagelin spun away from the cage, Braden tried to sail a high pass out of the zone through the middle of the ice. That feed was batted down by Taylor Pyatt, who then had Holtby trapped out of the net. An initial blast from Hagelin was stopped by John Carlson protecting the empty net. The rebound went to Brad Richards who tapped the puck into a still-open goal with Holtby scrambling to get back into position.
The home team made it a two-goal lead near the midway mark of the second period. Hagelin took a pass from Derick Brassard and rifled a slapshot over the catching glove of Holtby at 10:13 of the frame.
Cue the comeback for the Capitals.
Joel Ward made a strong move to the net down his off-wing side, beat his defender, and while Ranger goalie Henrik Lundquist was sprawled to stop him he could not keep Mathieu Perreault from stashing a shot from inside the blue paint.
Washington tied it up late in the second period thanks to nice work from Mike Green and Troy Brouwer. Green kept the puck in the offensive zone by the slightest little sliver and fed Brouwer turning in off the boards. Brouwer avoided two Ranger defenders and beat Lundquist with a beautifully-placed backhand shot under the blocker of the New York goalie.
There were an abundance of questionable calls in this hockey game (don’t get me started on the one against Alex Ovechkin for charging in the first period). Jason Chimera was whistled for a mild interference call at the 20:00 mark of the second period.
The Rangers struck quickly to open period three. Dan Girardi hammered a one-time slapper past a screened Holtby on the power-play 59 seconds into the stanza.
The Rangers bumped the lead again when Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Hagelin put on a pretty passing sequence. The Caps failed to clear their D-zone twice before Hagelin and Stepan turned Holtby inside-out with passing around the crease. Stepan slipped his second of the series (and fifth against Washington this year) into a wide-open goal.
The Caps once again mounted a rally after falling behind by two. A long-range Karl Alzner wrist shot grazed off of Mathieu Perreault and out of the reach of Lundquist with 12:29 still left in regulation.
Neither team would get on the scoreboard again. Nicklas Backstrom had a “grade A” chance with time dwindling in the third period, only to be turned back by his Swedish countryman in the Ranger goal.
The Caps lost the services of Martin Erat to an upper-body injury late in the first period when he was involved in a fierce collision with Alex Ovechkin and Stepan. Both of the Caps were flagged for penalties on the play, another of the dubious decisions made by the refs this night.
Game 5 of this series comes Friday night at Verizon Center and will be all yours at 7:30 on Comcast SportsNet.