WASHINGTON - Unable to accomplish his mission with his scoring touch against the Rangers, Alex Ovechkin turned to asserting his physical presence, hoping to wake up the slumbering Washington Capitals offense in Game 7 of their first-round NHL playoff series.
It didn't work. In fact, not much seemed to work for the Capitals in the deciding game at Verizon Center Monday night.
Although Ovechkin rocked Rangers defensemen John Moore, Steve Eminger and Ryan McDonagh with separate hits midway through the first period, it was the Rangers who answered with the only goal of the first frame.
And though Ovechkin tried to alter the direction of the series with body blows, it was Rangers Taylor Pyatt and Michael Del Zotto who delivered the 1-2 knockout punch, scoring 1:50 apart early in the second period to put the Rangers on track for a second-round matchup.
Ovechkin, without a point in four games entering Game 7, was again stymied -- along with his teammates -- by goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who followed Sunday's 27-save 1-0 shutout by stopping all 26 shots he faced in the first two periods. Three of them were first-period blasts by defenseman John Carlson, and one a shot by Ovechkin. Through two periods Monday night, he had only one goal to show on 30 shots in the series.
The sixth-seeded Rangers have owned the early going against the third-seeded Caps, outscoring Washington, 5-1, in first periods. Monday, it was Arron Asham's blast on a drop pass inside the blue line from Chris Kreider in transition just after Lundqvist denied Mike Green at the other end.
If Washington won any battle, it might have been the mental one with the referees. After going without a power play in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden (and being whistled for 26 penalties to 14 for the Rangers in the first six games), the Capitals worked the only man advantage of the first period when Asham was called for roughing behind his net at 18:42.
It was the first time in more than 104 minutes -- since a Del Zotto interference penalty expired early in the third period of the Game 5 overtime loss -- that the Capitals skated with a man advantage. Washington threatened on the power play with several shots before the end of the first period, but couldn't solve Lundqvist.
Two hours before game time, Capitals forward Eric Fehr suggested that his team might find ways to force the issue in the offensive zone, at least to earn a penalty call if not a goal.
"It's not really our call to decide what is and what isn't a penalty," Fehr said. "But we're going to the net in front of their goal and it's a battle there. So it depends on what the refs see on any given night."
Fehr theorized that if the Capitals could remain disciplined, they might even be able to create chances with clean intensity.
"We've got to try not to get into too many scrums," he said. "I think that's something [the Rangers] are more interested in than we are."
But there were no penalties called in the second period and no goals for the Caps, who could not break through at even strength.
The Capitals realized that the biggest edge they might have in Game 7 was home ice. Each of the first six games went to the home team.
"I definitely think it does (matter) - obviously in this series more so than others," Fehr said. "It's easier to get energy when the fans are behind you. You can see that in MSG. The Rangers almost seem like a different team when their fans are behind them. So, we're going to try to build off our fans tonight and hopefully capitalize on some chances."
That didn't happen. And by the time the Rangers built their 3-0 lead, about the only moments Capitals fans had to get worked up about were Ovechkin's hits - small consolation for a team that had gone 11-1-1 in April but come up empty once again despite its fifth Southeast Division title in six seasons.