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.
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