Rangers had to make it ugly, and they did
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
It was not the result they wanted. But the Rangers played much of Game 1 the way they wanted, and they can't feel too down or too lost despite losing this one.
"We'd like to think we did some good things," Brian Boyle said after the 2-1 overtime loss. "We want to keep them off the board, be as stingy as we can, be physical. For a lot of that game, we did all that, and we created some chances.
"We can't get depressed after a game like this."
The Caps' playmakers did make plays; Alex Ovechkin tied it with 6:16 left and Alexander Semin won it with a rocket 18:24 into OT, so the Rangers did not do everything they wanted to in shutting down the Caps' star forwards.
And there was a stretch in the first when two Caps hit crossbars behind Henrik Lundqvist, and Lundqvist had to be his usual stellar self, when the Rangers looked like a No. 8 seed trying to hang in against the conference's top team.
But that was all. The Rangers, a team that thrives on plugging and grinding, kept the Caps off the board and to the outside for much of the second and third periods and got themselves some chances in the process.
And Ovechkin began to get more and more frustrated with Dan Girardi's close-outs and shot blocks -- Ovechkin got six shots through and had seven more blocked. Semin, who rang one of those shots off the crossbar in the first, got another opportunity with the breakdown that led to he and Ovechkin jamming away at a puck until it squeezed underneath Lundqvist to tie the game.
"We couldn't get a nice goal on him, so we scored a junk goal," Semin said through a translator. "Whatever worked."
What works for the Rangers is what got them the lead in the third.
Brandon Prust, one of the Rangers' best forwards Wednesday night, thumped John Erskine on a forecheck, got the puck and drew three Caps to him before passing along the back wall to Wojtek Wolski, who found Matt Gilroy for the goal that broke a scoreless tie.
Marian Gaborik had some good moments, as did Brandon Dubinsky, the two Rangers who would be most likely to try and break things open. But the Rangers don't have anyone to approach Semin or Ovechkin in talent; it figured that the Rangers would need a hardworking shift from one of their hardest-working players in Prust to get them going.
There is more work to be done, as there would have been even if Gilroy's goal stood up all the way through the third. The forecheck was not as consistent in the first 30 minutes as it needed to be.
Dubinsky, who sorely misses Ryan Callahan, seemed a step off the rhythm all game long.
But the Rangers had the game going at their pace, in their favor, for more time than it was going the Caps' way. Lundqvist was brilliant and he will make or break the Rangers' fate this series; if he stays as sharp as he was Wednesday night, the frustrations will mount for Ovechkin and Semin.
"We've got to play a few more minutes along the way," Tortorella said. "We've got to find a way to score another goal when it's 1-0."
It was not the result they wanted. But it was the style of game they wanted and, in a seven-game series, setting the tone and maintaining it is no small achievement, even if it's not a victory.