Call it the crusher. In the end, said Rangers coach John Tortorella tonight, "it was just a nothing play, and it turned into something pretty big." Big enough to leave the Rangers within a game of being eliminated from the post-season.
The Rangers had coughed up a 3-0 lead in the third period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but were hanging in midway through a grueling second overtime at Madison Square Garden.
That is, until a mixup cost them.
When a loose puck, seemingly harmless, drifted into the left circle, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist came out to play it. But before he could fall on it Marian Gaborik poked it right to Chimera, who was behind Lundqvist, for the easy goal at 12:36, giving the Capitals a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 on Saturday back in Washington where the Rangers lost the first two games.
“I go out and try to freeze the puck and Gabby sees me,” said Lundqvist, who ended up with 49 saves. "There was a miscommunication... it all happened pretty fast and unfortunately, when he played the puck, it hit their guy."
That the Rangers lived to play the second overtime was the direct consequence of Lundqvist’s glove save on Alexander Ovechkin, who broke in on him all alone at 8:59 of the first overtime.
But the game should never have even lasted that long. The collapse was swift. The Capitals scored three times in the first 12:07.
"I'm a little shocked," said Brandon Dubinsky, "especially because the way we’ve played in the third period all year long. We never lost a game going into the third period with a lead. This one hurts."
The momentum swing began with Alexander Semin's goal at 2:47 and sparked the Capitals. Alex Semin had scored at 2:47 after Lundqvist gloved his partially blocked shot on the goal line, but Semin jammed it in. They struck again with 16:16 left as Johansson was left alone on the doorstep and easily beat Lundqvist to trim the lead to 3-2. "We stopped making plays as it went on," said Tortorella."We struggled a bit, I thought we gathered ourselves, we still had chances, then we get beat by a goal that, Hank’s ready to tie it up and Gabby poke checks it."
Before the disastrous third period, two Rangers goals in seven seconds of the second period gave them the 3-0 lead.
Trailing 2-1 in the series but leading 1-0 midway through the second period at raucous Madison Square Garden, Ruslan Fedotenko made two superb backhand passes, first to Gaborik at the right post, and then to Dubinsky from behind the net, and each beat Washington goalie Michal Neuwirth to stun the Capitals.
But with a 3-0 lead, the largest that either team had in the four low-scoring games, the Rangers could not hold on. The Capitals scored three straight goals in the third period, with the last one on Marcus Johansson’s deflection of John Carlson’s one-timer past Lundqvist’s glove just as a power play ended with Sean Avery leaving the penalty box at 12:07. .
The Rangers, who were 28-0-0 when leading after two periods this season, called a timeout, and that settled things down a bit, but Avery was called for slashing with 9:57 left after Dubinsky was pulled down with no call, to the dismay of the bench and the crowd. At the end of regulation, the Rangers had 26 shots, the Caps 35.
The game was the first since Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, during a Washington radio show on Monday, insulted the visiting facilities at the 43-year-old Garden, which is undergoing an $850-million renovation, and said the crowd at Verizon Center was far louder. He also lobbied the league for a review of a high hit by Staal on Mike Green and complained that the Rangers, particularly Brandon Prust, continued to harass Neuwirth after being warned by referees.
Tortorella said he was confident the league would ignore the “whining,” but the jacked-up Garden faithful did not and taunted him during the night, and after the third goal they yelled, “Can You Hear Us Now?”
The Rangers will hear plenty more at Verizon Center. "Listen, when we needed to win games, we’ve won games," said Dubinsky. "We’re capable of finding a way to get it done. We realized before the series that we had to win one game int that building. We have to use this as a lesson that 40 minutes isn't good enough."
We'll wrap this with some quick stats:
Neuwirth made 36 saves, just five in the second OT....The Rangers were credited with 69 hits, the Caps 51....Dan Girardi played an unheard-of 39:45 and was a plus 1. He blocked nine shots. Warrior....Bryan McCabe and Vinny Prospal had zero shots on goal....More coming up tomorrow....Long day at MSG