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Furious rally falls short as Caps lose 4-3 to Rangers in Game 6

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Furious rally falls short as Caps lose 4-3 to Rangers in Game 6

Instant analysis of the Capitals’ 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers Sunday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Despite a valiant comeback spurred by third-period goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward and a two-minute power play in the final minutes, the Capitals could not survive a slow start and will head to New York for a decisive seventh game on Wednesday night. The Caps outshot the Rangers 45-28. 

What it means: The Caps will be playing in a seventh game for the fifth straight time. It will also be their third straight Game 7 against the Rangers, who beat them in New York in 2012 and in Washington in 2013.

Play-by-play: Trailing 2-1 after two periods, the caps allowed the Rangers to take a 4-1 lead on early third-period goals by Rick Nash and Dan Boyle but staged a furipus comeback. Rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his fifth goal of the playoffs with 7:40 gone in the third and Joel Ward made it 4-3 with his third goal of the playoffs with 9:27 remaining in regulation.

But Lundqvist withstood a barrage of shots in the final nine minutes, his biggest stop coming against Washington captain Alex Ovechkin from the high slot. Ovechkin slammed Ryan McDonagh into the boards after Lundqvist’s save but after heading to the dressing room, McDonagh returned.

Ovechkin failed to score a goal for the fourth straight game in the series. He hasn’t gone four games without a goal since December.

The Capitals had a two-minute power play in the final three minutes of play after Rangers left winger James Sheppard took a delay of game penalty, but even after pulling goaltender Braden Holtby for a sixth attacker, the Capitals could not get a puck past Lundqvist.

Chris Kreider scored the first goal of the night and fourth of the playoffs just 40 seconds into the game when center Derick Brassard hit him with a stretch pass. Kreider got a step on Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen, held him off and backhanded a shot over right shoulder of Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. Rangers center Derek Stepan won a battle against Capitals forwards Andre Burakovsky and Jay Beagle along the defensive wall to free the puck for Brassard.

Both goaltenders needed to come up with big saves to keep the game tight in the first period, with Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist flashing out his right pad to stop back-to-back shots from left winger Jason Chimera and right winger Troy Brouwer, and Holtby turning away center Dominic Moore five times.

A roughing penalty on Brouwer with 4 seconds remaining in the first period gave the Rangers their second power play of the period and after a faceoff win by Stepan and a point blast by Brassard, Kreider slammed home the rebound with three-tenths of a second remaining to send the Rangers into the first intermission with a two-goal lead. The Rangers have outscored their playoff opponents 9-2 in the opening period.

Unfazed, the Capitals scored just 28 seconds into the second period to climb back into the game. Capitals rookie center Evgeny Kuznetsoz deflected a point shot by right winger Joel Ward into the chest of Lundqvist and when the puck squirted into the crease, Chimera pitch-forked it over the goal line for his third goal of the playoffs. Each team had power-play opportunities in the second period but could not convert as the Capitals outshot the Rangers 18-4 but managed just one goal.

MORE CAPITALS: Joel Ward cuts Capitals deficit to just one in Game 6

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRES

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

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3 stars of the game: Caps knockout the punchless Sabres

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3 stars of the game: Caps knockout the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson. Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's goals on Monday. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.