Some nights aren’t always how you draw it up. For the Rangers, it wasn’t a Picasso by any stretch. But they were opportunistic getting the job done in a 5-2 win at MSG over the Caps. It marked the first of five regular season meetings between the two old Patrick Division rivals.
The third line starred in this one. Rookie Oscar Lindberg and Kevin Hayes each had a goal and assist. Viktor Stalberg notched a helper in his return from a concussion. Derick Brassard also added a goal and assist while setting up Kevin Klein for a key one that made it 3-1 in a unpredictable second period. Jarret Stoll also scored his first as a Blueshirt.
Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant turning aside a strong Caps attack in improving to 6-2-2. Unlike younger counterpart Braden Holtby, who had an uneven performance in the second round rematch, the elder statesman made big stops when the Caps applied the pressure. They out-shot the Rangers 14-2 in a lopsided second yet were outscored 2-1 with the opportunistic Garden hosts scoring on both shots. Lundqvist finished 31 saves.
From the start, it was fast and furious. Alex Ovechkin laid a big hit on Marc Staal forcing a turnover and getting a backhand wrap on Lundqvist who smothered it. That was the kind of timely stops the Swedish King made. Staal hit back in the first when he got away with spearing Ovechkin prior to Lindberg scoring the game’s first goal.
Hayes made a strong move to the net forcing Holtby into a difficult save. The rebound came right to Lindberg who beat Evgeny Kuznetsov for his sixth at 7:59. In a entertaining period that featured a combined 17 shots along with some edginess and physicality, the rivals renewed acquaintances. Ovechkin fumed at the refs following the non-call and made sure to jaw at Staal after he tied the game with a sweet finish off a 2-on-1 feed from Nate Schmidt.
Prior to Ovechkin’s sixth, Dan Girardi nearly made it 2-0. The defensive defenseman made a great move into the slot and had Holtby beat but his shot clanged off the far post. It immediately led to an easy Caps transition with Schmidt threading the needle to Ovechkin who shouted at Staal.
Staal had a interesting night. A big defensive play set up the Rangers’ second goal 2:01 later. His clear allowed Lindberg to spring Hayes for a 2-on-1. Hayes looked pass but shot past a fooled Holtby for his third at with 2:14 remaining.
The second was more lopsided. The Caps came with tons of pressure. Using a strong cycle similar to Game 6, they were relentless. But committed huge mistakes. The first came from an over aggressive Ovechkin who overstayed a shift. He got trapped inside the Rangers blueline after trying to keep a puck in. Instead, Brassard came the other way on a 3-on-1 and made a perfect drop for Klein who whistled his third upstairs for a 3-1 lead.
Brassard wasn’t done. On a Holtby turnover behind his net, his centering feed for an open Rick Nash banked in off Marcus Johansson’s stick. Mats Zuccarello made the play feeding Brassard who had Nash wide open in front. Somewhat mysteriously, Zuccarello wasn’t credited with an assist. He deserves to be.
The rest of the second was total domination by the Caps. They kept the Rangers pinned in for long stretches. One such instance saw them trap the fourth line and the third pair of Keith Yandle and Dylan McIlrath for almost 90 seconds. J.T. Miller made two great defensive plays blocking shots which led to icings. Alain Vigneault was forced to use his timeout. Derek Stepan won a big defensive draw after changing and made a huge clear.
As Lundqvist continued to make saves, the play was alarming. The Caps kept coming. Eventually, their relentless attack led to Karl Alzner setting up a wide open Johansson for a nice deflection that beat Lundqvist cutting it to 4-2 with 1:07 left. Justin Williams added a secondary helper.
But it was as close as they came. The Caps continued to come in the third but Lundqvist held his ground. Eventually, another Caps mistake wound up in the back of their net with Klein and Yandle transitioning to Stoll who wired a slap shot from way out past a confused Holtby with 9:07 remaining. That put it away.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Derick Brassard, NYR (goal, assist, +2 in 14:17-Brass is back)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (31 saves incl. 13/14 in huge 2nd-amazingly consistent)
1st Star-Hayes/Lindberg, NYR (2 goals, 2 assists, +4 rating-dominant)