2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Recap
Eastern Conference First Round, Game 1 - Washington 2, N.Y. Rangers 1 (OT) – Washington leads series, 1-0
What happened Wednesday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., might not amount to a very big deal in the fullness of time.
Then again, it could.
If the Washington Capitals do reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, they will look back on the first night of their playoff journey with a considerable amount of satisfaction. A franchise that has rarely been able to excel in the postseason, saddled by a culture of disappointment that has taken root over 30 years, managed to defy its snake-bitten history and fight past the New York Rangers in an ugly but compelling clash. For once, the Capitals – usually outworked by a hungrier opponent – were able to overcome a night of frustration for their offense.
In many ways, this game bore an eerie resemblance to the Caps’ first-round series last year against the Montreal Canadiens. The Capitals, despite the presence of Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin plus many other high-octane scorers, were flummoxed and stonewalled 12 months ago by a hot goaltender named Jaroslav Halak. On this night, Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers was the man stopping pucks throughout the first 53 minutes of action. As the clock dipped under the seven-minute mark of the third period, New York owned a 1-0 lead. The specter of another loss to an eighth-seeded foe loomed over a Washington franchise that has known nothing but heartbreak over the decades. The Caps and their fans were flying into the face of their foremost demons, and with the way Lundqvist was playing, it would have been very easy for the top seed in the Eastern Conference to fold the tent.
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It decided not to.
The Capitals, cutting against the grain of their sad-sack reputation, used grit and gumption – not grace – to tie the score with 6:16 to go. Ovechkin owns world-class skill as a scorer; he’s used to creating pretty goals that leave observers slack-jawed with admiration. This time, though, Ovechkin acted like a grinder. He kept hacking at a loose puck near Lundqvist’s tightly-pressed pads and, on his third try, pried the rock into the net before the official’s whistle. An extended replay review confirmed the goal, and Washington had avoided defeat. On the teams battled into overtime, and after Capital goalie Michal Neuvirth made a pair of clutch saves in open-ice situations, Alexander Semin – who was shut out by Montreal last year – picked a grand time to make his presence felt.
Semin, whose playoff frustrations have mirrored the Caps’ springtime failures, unloaded a shot near the gap between the two face-off circles in the Rangers’ zone. The shot cleanly beat a tardy Lundqvist, and Washington dug out a come-from-behind win that could certainly fuel the confidence of the East’s top team.
Maybe this win is just a cruel tease; after all, the Caps took a 3-1 series lead against Montreal last year before losing in seven games. Then again, if Washington plays into the month of June this season, Caps fans will look back on this Game 1 first-round win as a decidedly Seminal moment.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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