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Joel Ward stuns Rangers with last-second goal

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Joel Ward stuns Rangers with last-second goal

NEW YORK – Instant analysis of the Capitals’ dramatic 2-1 win over the New York Rangers Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

How it happened: Joel Ward scored the game winner with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation on a centering pass from Alex Ovechkin, lifting the Capitals to an exhilarating Game 1 victory over the Rangers and a stunned sellout crowd. Nicklas Backatrom created the play with a big hit on Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle in the offensive right wing corner. Boyle was slow to get to his feet and by the time he did, Ovechkin was chipping a pass from behind the goal to Ward, who was left alone in front. Ward, who had hit the left post earlier in the period, jammed the puck through Henrik Lundqvist for his second goal of the playoffs.

Goalie battle: Playing in his 80th game of the season, more than any goalie in the NHL, Braden Holtby outdueled Henrik Lundqvist, stopping 31 shots for his fourth win of the playoffs.

What it means: The Caps grabbed a 1-0 series lead on the Rangers with their first playoff shutout since Game 2 of their seven-game defeat to the Rangers in 2013. Holtby also outdueled Lundqvist in that game, turning aside 24 shots in a 1-0 overtime win on May 4, 2013.

How the Rangers scored: Jesper Fast scored his first career playoff goal with 4:39 left when he deflected a shot by Kevin Hayes, breaking Holtby’s shutout bid and whipping the crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.

RELATED: Everything you need to know about Caps-Rangers

How the Caps scored: With 1:47 remaining in the opening period and Dominic Moore in the box for holding Jay Beagle, Ovechkin took a nice cross-ice pass from John Carlson, used defenseman Dan Boyle as a screen and blasted a howitzer over the shoulder of Lundqvist and under the crossbar. The goal was Ovechkin’s third of the playoffs and 34th career goal in the post-season.

Mr. Softie: NBC analyst Mike Milbury doesn’t hold back his feeling about some of the NHL’s superstars. [Just ask Alex Ovechkin]. But he really laid into Rick Nash during the second intermission, calling the 6-foot-4, 220pound let wing “marshmallow soft.” Nash entered series with just six goals in 46 career playoff games and was manhandled by Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, who piled up four hits in the opening two periods and escorted Chris Kreider into the net early in the third.

Pain in the Glass: Tanner Glass led the Rangers in hits in Round 1 with 19 and he stirred the pot early in the third period when he cleverly backhanded his stick under the chin of Holtby, prying off his mask to stop play.

Close, but …: In the second period, Rangers right wing J.T. Miller guided a Chris Kreider pass off the left post. And midway through the third, Joel Ward shanked a shot off the left post of Lundqvist off a nice centering feed from Nicklas Backstrom.

Toe drag: Holtby’s most difficult save came 10:16 into the second period when he got his big left toe on a jam attempt by Derrick Brassard.

Just sayin’: Through six playoff games the Rangers have just 12 goals, one from Nash.    

Holtby helper Braden Holtby joined Don Beaupre [April 5, 1991 vs. Rangers] and Al Jensen [April 5, 1984 vs. Flyers] as the only three goalies in Caps history to record an assist in a playoff game. Holtby didn’t do much to earn the helper. He simply laid the puck off for John Carlson behind the Caps net. Carlson lugged the puck up the right wall and saucered a pass to Ovechkin

Look ahead: The Caps have scheduled a noon practice on Friday, which will be followed by a 12:30 puck drop for game 2 here at Madison Square Garden. Despite the early start the Eric Clapton 70th birthday concert previously scheduled for Saturday night will be moved to Sunday night, apparently because the Garden did not want to deal with the possibility of a seven-overtime game.

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz compares Ovechkin to Rangers great

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time.

He tallied another two goals Monday in the Capitals' 6-3 victory Game 6 over the Blue Jackets, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game.

"He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from "The Great 8." But his performance on Monday did not stop there.

As Washington attempted to shut the door on the game and the series, Ovechkin did what veteran leaders do, laying out to block a Ryan Murray shot with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader.

The reason why was on full display on Monday. His game has evolved, as cliche as it sounds.

Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, Ovechkin has committed more to getting to the contested areas. He's altered his game. He is scoring the type of ugly, dirty goals the Capitals desperately need in the playoffs.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well on Monday night. putting his body is a dangerous position laying out for blocked shots.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

MORE CAPITALS: Pens again: Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year