Caps try to beat Rangers at their own game
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
John Tortorella was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy Monday, awarded to the NHL's coach of the year, and it certainly wasn't for his sunny disposition or expansive quotes, such as the one he gave Monday morning when asked about needing his top players to play better.
"We win as a team and we lose as a team," the Rangers' coach said before disappearing for the day.
Tortorella has molded this Rangers team in his own ideal, one that has to be good from front to back to win games. The Capitals, long considered the opposite of that Tortorellian philosophy, evened up this second-round series Monday night with a game that would have made the Rangers' coach proud, if he hadn't been lamenting the two ugly breakdowns that led to the Caps' first-period goals.
"You can't give things for free," Tortorella said, referring to the early breakdowns and the late penalties in the Caps' 3-2 win that evened the series.
Dale Hunter took over the Caps on Nov. 28 and, within a few weeks, had the team of Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin playing a grind-it-out style, with fewer minutes for Ovechkin and a defense-first approach.
Ovechkin provided the winner Monday night, a wrist shot on one of those late power plays that No. 8 capped with one of his usual exuberant celebrations.
He led everyone with seven shots on goal but played only 13:36, the least amount of ice time he's ever had in a postseason game. Six of his 11 fellow Caps forwards played more, including such luminaries as Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer.
But it was those meat-and-potatoes forwards who mucked their way to the Caps' two-goal lead in the first, helped by a couple of rare Rangers miscues. The Caps' pluggers and their defensemen sacrificed to block 24 shots, a number the Rangers would be proud of.
Ovechkin and Semin, the caviar of this Caps' lineup, flashed some speed and some skill. But it was not a game for that, not a series for that, even though the officiating tandem of Stephen Walkom and Eric Furlatt decided to call the game tighter in a short stretch of the third, allowing for some power-play freedom for both teams' stars.
Marian Gaborik had a pretty assist but went without a goal for an eighth straight game. He also didn't keep possession down low in the first period, leading to a rushed play by Stu Bickel at the point that led to the Caps' first goal. By their fourth line, naturally.
Hunter, a man of as few words as Tortorella during this postseason, scoffed at the notion that Ovechkin might pout about playing less.
"We had four lines and six 'D' going," Hunter said. "It's easy to play everybody. Ovie's a team guy. He knows what those other guys have to do, slide around and block shots, and he appreciates those guys -- the Beagles, the Hendricks. You need those players, the foot soldiers. That's how you win games in the playoffs."
If you can't block a shot or throw your body around on a shift, you might not be worth very much in this series.
That was true in the first round, when the Senators tried to emulate the Rangers' gritty success and nearly pulled it off.
So it is this series, which is tied thanks to Ovechkin's goal, but not thanks to Ovechkin's game-changing prowess.
Hunter, who is as intense as Tortorella when he needs to be, has his Caps playing Tortorella's style of game. The Rangers have set the standard in the East, and now they have to beat another carbon copy of themselves at their own game to gain an edge.