NEW YORK -- Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby did everything within their power to win a hockey game on their own Saturday afternoon.
But in the Stanley Cup playoffs a two-man attack rarely equates to victories and that’s why the New York Rangers are heading to Washington with a split following their 3-2 win over the Caps in Madison Square Garden.
Ovechkin [9 hits, 11 shot attempts and one highlight-reel goal] and Holtby [32 saves] tried to will the Capitals to a win in Game 2, but despite a furious rally in the final minute the Capitals simply couldn’t recover from an early 2-0 deficit.
“They were winning all the races [to the puck] and winning all the battles,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Once we fixed the battles we started to come. But we dug ourselves a hole.
“We weren’t good enough to win this hockey game, plain and simple. The Rangers deserved to win the hockey game. Full credit to them.”
The Capitals took three minor penalties in the opening period – one each by Karl Alzner, Joel Ward and Tom Wilson – to allow the Rangers to control the opening 2-0 minutes and carry a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The Caps found their legs in the middle period and got goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov to draw within one, but the game ultimately was decided early in the third period.
About 15 seconds after Troy Brouwer was thwarted from the slot on a power-play chance, Rangers center Derrick Brassard busted out of the penalty box and parked himself in front of Braden Hotlby. Marty St. Louis found him with a pass through Caps center Jay Beagle and defenseman Matt Niskanen and Brassard beat Holtby between the pads for what stood up as the game-winner.
“Our sticks hit each other,” Niskanen said of himself and Beagle. “We each screwed each other up. It wasn’t that hard of a pass to intercept and we screwed each other up.”
“That third goal was a dagger,” Trotz said, “but I liked our resiliency.”
Ovechkin’s fourth goal of the playoffs on a power move through defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh breathed life back into the Capitals and drew them within 3-2 with 9:31 to play, but Henrik Lundvist withstood a furious finish to earn his fifth win of the playoffs.
Lundqvist decribed the Caps’ final 6-on-5 flurry as “mayhem.”
“It felt like they had 20 players on the ice,” Girardi said.
The mayhem included one of the Rangers escorting Joel Ward into the Rangers bench as he tried to leave the ice on a line change.
“I was trying to get to the bench and they bumped me in [to the Rangers bench],” Ward said. “I was just trying to get off the ice and I couldn’t. I didn’t want to give us a too-many-men penalty.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault let out a long laugh when asked about his team’s ability to close the game out.
“They were coming at us with every move they had,” he said. “Every time we were real close to getting the puck out they found a way to pull it back in. It was a tough couple of minutes.”
And now the series shifts back to D.C., where the Caps can control home ice. Each of the next three games will be played at night, something that should favor the Caps, who are 5-1 in playoff night games and 0-3 in afternoon games.
“For whatever reason afternoon games are kind of haunting us right now,” Caps right wing Jason Chimera said. “But we’ve got to take some positives out of this. We came out of here with a split and we’ll get back to work on Monday.”
MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin beats Lundqvist with highlight reel goal