WASHINGTON -- A poor start, a lackluster effort that both coach and players questioned, and an 0-for-5 power play doomed the Rangers Wednesday night as the Capitals forced a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday night with a 2-1 victory.
"No . . . no," was coach John Tortorella's postgame response when asked if the necessary level of effort was there.
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Henrik Lundqvist agreed: "It felt like we were pretty far from where we have to be to win a game like this. It felt like we were not really close until the last 20 seconds" after Marian Gaborik scored with 50.5 seconds left and Lundqvist on the bench for a sixth skater.
The critical short-circuit in the power play surfaced in the second period, with the Rangers down 2-0 on Jason Chimera's tap in at 10:59. Jeff Halpern, subbing for the injured Jay Beagle, opened a gash on John Mitchell's nose and the Blueshirts had the man advantage for four minutes.
But they managed just three shots on goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished with 30 saves.
Holtby, 22, didn't give the Rangers many second chances, and has not lost back to back-to-back games in his 29 career starts.
"We just have to go back home now and regroup and save all the energy we have left and try to play our best game of the playoffs at home," said Lundqvist, who made 21 saves.
The Rangers talked and talked about a good start as being essential at Verizon Center because the Capitals would be desperate, and because the team that had scored first in the five games went on to win. The Caps took that mantra to heart.
Just 88 seconds in, and with Anton Stralman in the box for tripping Chimera on a rush, Alex Ovechkin, whose relentless energy tortured the Blueshirts all night, was somehow left alone in the slot by Ryan McDonagh. He one-timed Nicklas Backstrom's pass from the right circle past Lundqvist's outstretched glove for a 1-0 lead, which is how the period ended after the Rangers failed to connect on two power plays.
"We knew we could beat them," said Ovechkin, who has goals in three of the last five games, and almost had his second with a quick flip shot from the left doorstep, but hit the crossbar with 7:05 left in the first. Brandon Prust was so frustrated he put his stick between the Russian star's legs and yanked. Ovechkin didn't retaliate, just skated to the bench doubled over.
Nothing went right for the Rangers. Not even Tortorella's timeout at 9:23 in the second after a Rangers icing. The ensuing faceoff was lost and Chimera, behind Marc Staal and in the right spot to the left of Lundqvist, tapped in John Carlson's shot that bounced off Backstrom for the 2-0 lead.
Lundqvist kept the Rangers down by two in the third with several diving stops, and he'll need another strong performance on Saturday.
The contest extended a dramatic, hard-fought series that included an epic Game 3, which Gaborik won in triple-overtime here, and an incredible comeback in Game 5, when, with the Rangers trailing 2-1, Brad Richards scored with 7.6 second left to tie the score and Staal's slap shot zipped past Holtby at 1:35 of overtime. The series opened with a 3-1 Rangers win at Madison Square Garden on April 28, but the Caps responded with a 3-2 victory and left New York with a split. After the three-overtime drama, the Caps rebounded with another 3-2 win in Game 4 to forge a 2-2 tie.
Now comes another dramatic Game 7 at the Garden. For all the Rangers worked for this season, their Stanley Cup hopes come down to one game.