The Capitals delivered an emphatic blow to the Rangers hope of advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by dealing their second 4-0 shut-out loss Friday night in Chinatown.
Whether it was Sean Avery being scratched from New York’s lineup before the game, Matt Bradley’s two unexpected goals in the first period, Alex Ovechkin’s highlight-reel goal to end the second period, drama behind New York’s bench late in the contest, Henrik Lundqvist’s benching or another brilliant showing by soon-to-be 21-year old Simeon Varlamov, Game 5 had it all… and then some.
The night started when the raucous crowd of 18, 277 saw on the big-screen that the Rangers benched agitator Sean Avery for the game. That move could have very easily worked in New York’s advantage considering the two late, unnecessary penalties in Game 4 that Avery committed to keep the Capitals in contention in the third period. Rangers coach John Tortorella made the move to eliminate mental mistakes and lower the risks of keeping the Capitals in contention.
The first goal (4:58 into the first period) came from a very unexpected contributor, right winger Matt Bradley, who was charging hard to the net on a Rangers power play when he swiftly lifted the puck over Lundqvist’s right shoulder.
The second goal came later in the first period and from another unexpected contributor: Matt Bradley AGAIN! This time, the goal came from a much more difficult angle in which the puck traveled almost parallel to the goal posts on Lundqvist’s left side.
“He’s a guy that works hard and plays few minutes and for him to step up like that tonight and almost carry the team in the first period, that’s huge. We need more of that from guys like himself. Some guys just have that personality that when there’s a big game on the line they step up whether or not they play less minutes or more. He’s just one of those guys. He’s got such a good aura around him that good things happen to him,” defenseman Mike Green said when asked what Bradley’s two early goals meant to the rest of the team.
Those two shots by Bradley, who had never scored a playoff goal prior to Friday, set the tone for the rest of the game, igniting a deafening roar from the crowd that refused to settle down the entire night.
“We dug ourselves a big hole. In the first 10 minutes of the game tonight we knew we needed to set the tone and pace of the game and really come out with guns blazing. We had a good first shift tonight that helped us get going,” defenseman Brian Pothier said.
Heading into the second period, the message had been sent to the Rangers: “this is our night.” The momentum was clearly in Washington’s favor and it only got better from there for the back-to-back Southeast Division Champions.
Alexander Semin struck with a missile that flew over Lundqvist’s right shoulder immediately following a faceoff that was won by Nicklas Backstrom. The goal, scored 4:57 into the second period, put the team up 3-0 and was Semin’s fourth goal of the series.
The second period concluded with yet another unforgettable goal by Alex Ovechkin. Upon scoring his second goal of the series, Ovechkin displayed beautiful skating ability by maneuvering around defenders, then passing the puck to himself between a defenders feet and then as he’s losing his balance and falling forward onto the ice, sneaks the puck past Lundqvist to put the stamp on the team’s second 4-0 performance of the playoffs.
“It’s just another one of Ovy’s magic tricks. It reminded me a lot of the Montreal goal. If he’s on his back, his butt, knees, standing, you know he’s gonna get a shot off. He’s that strong and that talented,” Pothier said about Ovechkin’s acrobatic goal.
When asked if the team is going to carry the memory of that amazing goal into Game 6, Green continued to give credit where credit is due.
“I think the memory is Matt Bradley tonight. That was a great goal but he (Bradley) was a superstar tonight.”
The night did not get any better for the Rangers. Giving up his second four-goal game led to Lundqvist benching in favor of Stephen Valiquette before the third period.
When asked what changed from Game 4 to Game 5 in terms of the team’s ability to score on Lundqvist, Pothier responded: “I thought we did a better job of getting more traffic in front of him. Semin’s goal, I don’t even think he saw it and even if he did it’s off the post and in through two sets of legs. Lundqvist is a big, talented, quick goalie and he’ll make the save if he can see it so we have to go people in front so he doesn’t get clean looks.”
“We finally got some ones to sneak in on him, which in the past those kinds of shots weren’t going in. We’re happy with the outcome, obviously, but we just gotta keep shooting like that. If you look at Brads’ second goal, he just shoots it on net and it goes in so they’ll sneak in,” Green said.
With the pressure mounting for Rangers coach John Tortorella, the veteran coach lost his cool and tossed a bottle of water over the plexi-glass in response to the fans behind the Rangers bench and then tried to either toss a hockey stick over the glass or reach the fan with the stick. He refused to talk about the incident after the game.
What appeared to be the worst possible outcome for the Rangers was the opposite for the Capitals. Heading into Game 6, the momentum seems to be gradually shifting in favor of the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
“I just think we can continue to get better. We can’t get complacent and we’ve played a decent game tonight. We can’t be happy with it, though. We have to continue to get better. I thought our neutral zone was good but it can get better. We’ve got to stop turning so many pucks over. Eventually they’re going to score on their opportunities,” Pothier said.
What might be lost in the Caps second offensive eruption of the series is the outstanding performance of Varlamov, who pitched his second shutout and has only allowed three goals in four games. The Capitals defense was noticeably better, taking in the Rangers approach of blocking shots before they reach Varlamov and getting in between the puck and their goaltender.
“He’s a very special goalie, special kid. Mentally, he’s strong. He’s got the goods. He just seems to keep getting better,” Pothier said.
The future certainly looks bright between the pipes for the Capitals for many years to come. It’s amazing how one game can shift the attention from one outstanding goalie to another. Most eyes will certainly be on Varlamov come Sunday.