WASHINGTON---Rangers coach John Tortorella tried everything to fire up the offense tonight. He moved Erik Christensen between Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. He put Sean Avery in the lineup for energy. He double-shifted Gaborik. Nothing worked, and once the Capitals took a 2-0 lead in a 1:57 span early in the second period, they completely shut down the Blueshirts attack.
Rookie Michal Neuvirth stopped all 22 Rangers shots and with the 2-0 shutout, the Rangers stumbled into a troubling hole, down 2-0 in the best of seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, which now shift to New York for the next two games, beginning Sunday with Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.
“For most of the game we played much better than the other night ( a 2-1 shootout loss), but we got hurt by a surge tonight,” said Tortorella. “Good teams do it. We’re going to have to try to get one ourselves as we go to our building…I’m not upset with the team. By no means are we down. We need to get some momentum on our side.”
That may be easier said than done.
Since 2006, the Rangers are 7-7 at home in the playoffs, and have a 2-4 record in Game 3s, including a 4-0 loss to the Capitals in 2009. It is the 20th time the Rangers have trailed 2-0 in a series, and have come back just once---against Montreal in 1996 to win in six games.
Even with a 6-1-1 finishing kick, the Blueshirts were 20-17-4 at home. Every other team in the playoffs had more wins in their friendly confines---and so did five teams who missed the post-season: New Jersey, Carolina, Dallas, Calgary and St. Louis. And the Capitals had the fourth-best road record in the East at 23-15-3 and were 1-1 at the Garden during the regular season.
“We definitely played harder (than Game 1),” said captain Chris Drury. “I don’t think anybody can argue that. There’s no moral victories in the playoffs. We regroup and win one game in our building and we’re right back in the series.”
After a scoreless, physical first, in which the Rangers were the sharper team, the Caps took control early in the second period. After Matt Gilroy lost the puck to Brooks Laich behind the net, Marcus Johansson’s pass set up Jason Chimera’s one-timer at 2:11. As the Verizon Center erupted, the Caps mounted more pressure. When Ryan McDonagh dumped Boyd Gordon after the whistle in the crease, the Caps added to the lead. Mike Green’s shot bounced off Gilroy’s skate at an angle to Jason Arnott, who also one-timed the puck past Lundqvist at 4:08. “I’m not sure it’s a penalty with all those other things going on around the net,” said Tortorella, “We got an unfortunate bounce and Arnott buries that.”
The Rangers had no shots until 10:45 of the second, when Ruslan Fedotenko managed one, and the Rangers couldn’t regain the offensive thrust they had in the first, seemingly losing a step or two, as the Caps started to outmuscle them and could sense another win.
Some of the better Rangers minutes came in the third period, when the line of Brian Boyle, Avery and Brandon Prust created some chances with the forecheck. More of them came in the first period, when the Rangers led in shots 13-7. In the first 11 minutes, there were 20 hits, with 12 by the Rangers.
They had the first four shots on Neuvirth; the Caps’ first shot came from Chimera at 6:05. But the Rangers could not finish. Two power plays, one in the first and one at the end of the second were useless; the Rangers have scored just one goal in the last 31 opportunities.
“It’s a tough game when you get behind---especially with the way they’re playing right now,” said Lundqvist, who had 16 saves. “They’re very tight their own end. It’s tough for us to get the big chances. A lot can change. It starts with one win.”