Although they missed out on a chance to take command of their second-round series Saturday afternoon against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the visiting Capitals nevertheless walked away from their 3-2 loss in Game 2 feeling pretty good about themselves as the series shifts to Washington for Game 3 Monday night tied at one game apiece.
"You know, it would have been nice, obviously, 2-0," Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. "But at the same time, we know the Rangers. They're a resilient team. They play hard, and we're probably kidding ourselves if we [thought] this was going to be a short series, so we're prepared for the long haul to find a way to win four games in seven."
The Capitals were badly outplayed by the Rangers in the first period. In fact, it looked as if Washington, which won Game 1 of the series Thursday with a goal with 1.3 seconds remaining, had entered Saturday's game thinking it was playing with house money.
Chris Kreider slammed in a rebound to open the scoring just 38 seconds into the game and a power-play goal by Dan Boyle gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission. But if not for Holtby, the deficit could have been much greater, as the Rangers outshot the Caps 15-4.
"One of the things that you always have happen is that, in Game 2, the team that loses Game 1 has a desperation level that's going to be really, really high,'' Capitals coach Barry Trotz said afterward. "We lost Game 1 in the first series [against the Islanders] and you saw the desperation in our game [in] Game 2. We knew that the Rangers would come with a degree of desperation, and they did. And we just didn't handle it as well as we needed to. We needed to get out of that period maybe 1-0 [down], not 2. We dug ourselves a hole."
Gradually, the Capitals found their legs and began generating some chances of their own against the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist, forcing Lundqvist to make some acrobatic saves of his own, until Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov banged in a rebound to get the Caps on the board at 13:59 of the second.
Derick Brassard put the Rangers up 3-1 at 6:07 of the third, but Washington's Alex Ovechkin scored a SportsCenter Top 10-caliber goal at 10:29 to pull the Caps within one again. Ovechkin drove against two Rangers defenders, was knocked over and still was able to roof a shot over Lundqvist for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
"He's been really determined -- really determined," Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said of Ovechkin, who also had a game-high nine hits. "He wants to be a difference-maker and do the right things. He's playing really hard."
Ovechkin said the Capitals, who as a team outhit the Rangers 38-30, must play physically.
"You can see in the second period when we put the puck deep and finished our checks, their 'D,' we got turnovers in their zone," Ovechkin said. "We're still in good position . . . It's going to be game-by-game and we've got to win the last one. So the next one's going to be huge."