A year ago against the Rangers the Caps handled leads as if they were tarantulas.
They would allow teams to crawl all over them, tensing up in hopes they didn’t fall victim to a poisonous bite.
Not these Capitals.
After Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera scored goals a little more than 8 minutes apart in the second period, the Caps kept pressuring the Rangers, literally skating away with a convincing 3-1 win in Thursday night’s opener of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
"We try to push the pace this year,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Last year, we sat back a little bit, tried to block shots, just kind of weather the storm.”
Like they had throughout the final 25 games of the season, the Caps did enough little things right to win Game 1.
--They forced the Rangers into taking six minor penalties – two of them drawn by rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy – and scored on one of their power plays.
“We can’t take that many penalties in the game,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said in a news conference that last about 90 seconds. “…Hopefully, we will discipline ourselves next game.”
Said Johansson: “We were working hard and sometimes they had no choice but to take penalties.”
--Shortly after Ovechkin tied the score at 1-1, they killed off a crucial 5-on-3 power play midway through the second period, getting three key saves from Braden Holtby.
“Big kill,” said Capitals coach Adam Oates after earning his first career playoff victory.
--They received some key saves from Holtby – a breakaway stop on Carl Hagelin followed by a 2-on-1 stop on Rick Nash – along with a dead ringer off the post from Hagelin on another 2-on-1.
“That was a nice break,” said Holtby, who finished with 23 saves. “I thought it was in for sure.”
--And they had a little luck of their own, with Jason Chimera’s no-look turnaround shot sneaking past an unsuspecting Henrik Lundqvist.
“I have to be more solid on the ice there,” said Lundqvist, who allowed three goals on 23 shots. “I probably expected a pass and maybe I was a little slow to react, but it doesn’t matter. I have to stop that.”
The goal was Chimera's eighth of his playoff career; six of them coming against the Rangers. Not a bad night for the birthday boy, who turned 34 on Thursday.
But in the end, the Capitals beat the Rangers in Game 1 because they controlled the pace, which is something they had no interest in doing last season under Dale Hunter.
“It’s more wide open,” Holtby said. “We knew that was going to happen. It’s just more of the game we play. Last year both teams were defense first and now it’s the whole game. It’s fun hockey. It’s faster.”
And that’s coming from a goalie.
But if you think the Capitals have an air of overconfidence heading into Saturday’s Game 2, think again.
“It’s a win,” Holtby said. “Move on. Simple as that.”