Despite being down 2-0 in the series, the Rangers were welcomed home to an indescribable feeling this afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Seeing the team take the ice just prior to the opening faceoff with thousands upon thousands of rally towels being whirled around across the entire arena brought about a special feeling. The special feeling that has followed this resilient team all throughout the regular season, and that's just what today's 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals was.... special.
The Rangers got off to their most energetic start of the series in this game, hitting everything in sight right out of the gate. I thought that was important because they made it very clear that this was their house and they would not be man-handled like they were in Games 1 and 2. They came very close several times in the opening frame, especially early on, but Michal Neuvirth made all the necessary saves, as did Henrik Lundqvist, and like every other game in the series, the two teams would enter the first intermission scoreless.
After several frustrating failed powerplay attempts, the Blueshirts finally got on the board with the man advantage at 5:30 of the second period when Erik Christensen's sharp angle shot got past Neuvirth. Prior to that the Rangers were not shooting enough, but Erik proved it would not take a perfect shot to beat this kid. The Caps would come back to tie it, though, with exactly a minute left in the period, as Alex Ovechkin found the back of the net for the second time in the series.
At the buzzer, the Rangers appeared to have answered. Ruslan Fedotenko's shot from behind the net ticked off a skate and over the goal line, but upon review it was determined that time had run out, therefore the goal was no good. Now I understand that the NBC clock still had 0.1 seconds left when the puck went in, but apparently the official arena clock read 0.0. Believe me, the NHL wouldn't just rip the Rangers off like that as so many claimed.
From where I was sitting the green light looked to have come on before the Rangers raised their sticks. It wasn't a goal.
But the Rangers would end up getting that second goal, anyway, eight minutes into the third period. Vinny Prospal buried a Marc Staal rebound to put the Rangers up 2-1. Once again, Washington battled back to tie the game on the powerplay. This time it was Mike Knuble finding a loose puck at the side of the net at 14:48.
I was very proud of the fans in attendance because following that goal they got really loud, showing their support. It paid off because Brandon Dubinsky's strong move to the net gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 1:39 left in regulation. The Rangers would close it out to cut the Caps' series lead to 2-1.
Henrik Lundqvist received the first star of the game and did he ever deserve it. The King was fabulous for the third straight game, making a total of 23 saves and once again holding the offensively potent Caps to only two goals. Thankfully he finally got some goal support to relieve him of some pressure, but still, he had to be very good and he was.
The veterans came through this afternoon. Ruslan Fedotenko was incredible on the defensive side of the puck, Vinny Prospal had a clutch goal in the third period and Chris Drury won some key face-offs. I always find that it's the elder statesmen that come through in the postseason, and that was true this afternoon for New York.
Brandon Dubinsky was the most impressive to me, though. I called him out this morning on my blog for having to bring more to the table in the playoffs, and boy did he deliver in this game. Not only did he pick up an assist as well as the game-winner, but he also led the charge physically. I guess it was all in the fake mustache he was sporting.
Sean Avery, Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle have become a line that's hard not to love. They were hitting everything and were constantly getting in the face of Neuvirth. It's about time that kid experienced some disturbances.
I thought the team as a whole was great defensively, but Dan Girardi was by far the most outstanding. He is the best shot blocking defensemen in the league. There's no doubt about it.
It's going to be a grind, but if the Rangers can play like this in Game 4 on Wednesday, this will be a whole new series. Today was a good start.