The Capitals and Rangers played each other for the fifth and final time in the regular season Friday night, but something tells you these two teams have not seen the last of each other.
If, indeed, the Caps and Rangers meet for the fifth time in six years in the post-season, what can be learned from the Caps’ 3-2 loss Friday night at Verizon Center?
“If we would have had a better start, who knows how that game would have wound up?” said Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie, who scored his 19th goal of the season late in the second period to tie the score at 2-2.
“That second and third period we really got back to playing how we were playing when we were at our best. We haven’t been in a while.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz was equally encouraged with his team’s performance, saying other than two “very preventable” Rangers goals, the Caps played a strong game against their Metro Division rivals.
“I thought we played pretty well, actually,” Trotz said. “I’ll take that game any day of the week.”
The Rangers’ first goal came after a Braden Holtby giveaway, which came during a Caps line change.
“In hindsight I should probably cover it up and take a whistle,” said Holtby, who lost for just the fourth time in regulation in his last 41 games (32-4-3).
The Rangers made it 2-0 on a power-play goal by Keith Yandle, but a dirty (and disputed) goal by Jay Beagle and a game-tying goal by T.J. Oshie sent the Caps and Rangers into the third period deadlocked at 2.
Just 17 seconds into the third period the Rangers took the lead when Ryan McDonagh intercepted an outlet pass from Dmitry Orlov and fed Derek Stepan, who ripped a shot off the shaft of Brooks Orpik’s stick and past Holtby for what proved to be the game winner.
Oshie was positioned along the right wall on the play and took the blame for not giving Orlov a better pass option.
“I thought he had more time than he really did and I thought I could push their D-men out of the zone to give him more space,” Oshie said. “They did a good job forechecking him and making him move it early.
“While I was going out, McDonagh was going down and that’s my guy. He beat me and it kind of snowballed from there. I’d like to have that back. Mostly, it was on me.”
Trotz did not lay the blame on Orlov.
“We didn’t give our defenseman a whole lot of options there,” he said. “He put it off the wall, their defenseman kept it in and Stepan threw it at the net and bang, we’re down 3-2.”
The Rangers’ win was their fourth in five games. If the season ended today, the Caps would face the Penguins, and the Rangers would face the Islanders in Round 1 of the playoffs, with the winners of those two series facing each other in Round 2.
“We came into a real tough building against a real strong team and we came out with the right mindset, competed real hard and did what we had to do to win the game,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Two teams going at it and battling real hard.”
And maybe not for the final time.