WASHINGTON----The overachieving is over.
The identity of this season’s edition of the Rangers, who won 44 games but were eliminated by the Washington Capitals four games to one in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals today, was not enough. The grinding, the physical play, the commitment to shot-blocking, all of them were there in the 3-1 loss in Game 5, but the chronic weaknesses all season betrayed them.
There was no finish from last year’s leading scorer Marian Gaborik, who had one goal in a series in which the Rangers scored just eight. The impotent power play was 0-for-2 and 1-for-20 in the five games. And without Ryan Callahan, who broke an ankle on the eve of the playoffs, the Rangers could not overcome the talent, depth and size of the Capitals, who ended the Blueshirts’ season for the second time in three years.
And there was no bounceback for the Blueshirts after a crushing double-overtime loss in Game 4 on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, when the Rangers could not hold a 3-0 lead after a year in which they were an NHL best 29-0-0 when ahead after 40 minutes. They never had a lead at all today and scored just two goals in the three games here in Washington.
“To play physical and get momentum, that’s all well and good, but that’s our main responsibility that’s like playing defense, like finishing a check, that should be a habit,” said Brian Boyle. “We needed to score, we needed to produce more.”
The Rangers vowed that they would be ready for the win-or-go-home game, but the Capitals were the ones who brought their A-game when the puck dropped.
“They really poured it on there in the first period,” said Brandon Dubinsky “You have to get out of your own zone to play offense and they had us under siege for the first half of the game, and really that was it.”
In the first 20 minutes, the Caps dominated and swarmed, much as they did in Game 1 here. They were credited with 36 shot attempts: 13 on goal, 13 blocked and 10 misses. And they got the first goal, on a power play, when Mike Green, who had four assists in the first four games, poked the puck through a kneeling Dan Girardi, protecting the net with Henrik Lundqvist, in a scrum in front at 5:59.
The difference in the talent level could be illustrated in one play. With the Rangers trailing 1-0 in the second period, the dynamic Alex Ovechkin picked up a puck on the right side of center ice and turned on the afterburners in the Rangers zone. He blew past Marc Staal, cut sharply across the slot and backhanded the puck past Henrik Lundqvist’s extended right pad. It was Ovechkin’s third goal and sixth point of the series, which the Caps won 4-1, scoring 13 goals to the Rangers 8.
“My first read was his speed and when he got the pass, I should have left, I should have started retreating,” said Staal. “I just didn’t have enough legs to get back.”
Alex Semin sealed the deal with a goal at 16:23 of the third, and Wojtek Wolski ruined Michal Neuvirth's bid for his second shutout in the series when he scored with 31.5 seconds left. Game, set, match.
“We had opportunities to really have a different story here,” said Lundqvist. In Game 1, we led in the third period and especially in Game 4, we let it slip and it was too tough for us to recover. They’re very solid defensively, we had a tough time to really create big chances, we had shots from the side but they made it really tough for us to get in front.”
As a result, the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals; the next stop for the Rangers, who claimed the eighth seed by beating the Devils in the regular-season finale, is breakup day in their training center back in Westchester.
“I don’t think our team is fully built yet,” said coach John Tortorella. “You’ve got to remember how this Washington team was built. We’re not there yet as far as talent. There are areas of our team that need to get better, so we continue to build.”