The Capitals have needed different players to step up in each of their wins against the New York Rangers in the conference semifinal series and on Wednesday night it was Andre Burakovsky's turn. The rookie winger scored his first two career playoff goals to lead the Caps to the 2-1 win and push the Rangers to the brink of elimination.
Burakovsky entered Game 4 with only one playoff point, an assist, to his name. He left the game with three after scoring his first two career playoff goals and he very nearly had a third.
"He’s just embracing the moment it seems like," Brouwer said. "He’s playing good hockey, he’s having fun out there and he’s getting rewarded as a result."
Just as in Game 3, it was again the third line to the rescue. An intense forecheck from Brouwer and Jay Beagle forced a Rangers' turnover to where Burakovsky along the boards. The young winger took the puck from there, streaked to the middle and fired the puck home in a play eerily similar to Kuznetsov’s Game 7 goal against the New York Islanders.
"I was right in the middle so it would be kind of crazy if I didn’t take a shot there," Burakovsky said.
Scoring your first career playoff goal to tie the game against fellow Swede, Henrik Lundqvist? That would be a good night for most players, but Burakovsky wasn't finished.
Just 24 seconds into the third period the rookie pounced on a McDonagh turnover forced by Brouwer and found himself alone with Lundqvist. Burakovsky finished the breakaway with a slick backhand to to put the Caps up for good.
Not bad for a player who did not make the lineup until Game 4 against the New York Islanders.
"I wanted to prove that I don’t belong in the stands, that I belong on the ice all the time," Burakovsky said.
When asked if this was the biggest moment of his hockey career, he said simply, "It’s up there for sure."
After Alex Ovechkin dazzled the fans in Games 1 and 2, head coach Barry Trotz talked about how the team would need more secondary scoring and he got it in Games 3 and 4. All three of the team's goals came from the third line.
"We want to be the difference every night," Brouwer said. "That’s what our line prides themselves on trying to do and last two games we’ve had some real good hockey games."
But the entire effort was backstopped yet again by another phenomenal performance from Braden Holtby in net. The Caps' netminder had 28 saves on the night, none bigger than the penalty shot save he had on Carl Hagelin in the third period.
WIth the Caps clinging to a one-goal lead, Hagelin got behind the defense for a breakaway chance and was hooked down by Mike Green. Hagelin was immediately awarded a penalty shot.
Holtby, however, was up to the task, staying with every deke and denied Hagelin with the glove save from the splits just to add a bit of flare to another brilliant performance.
"I was just trying to be patient," Holtby said. "He’s a fast guy so he probably wanted to use his speed somehow."
With the Rangers now facing elimination, the task for the Caps will be to finish them off at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 and not allow them to gain any momentum for the possible comeback.
"Now that we have a 3-1 lead, we have a lot of confidence in here, we have a lot of momentum and we know that Game 5 is going to be the most difficult game we’ve played in a couple years," Brouwer said. "We’re expecting that and we’re excited for the challenge."
"That’s why we play is to challenge ourselves against the best and they’ve been the best all year," Holtby said. "We’re just going to focus on our game, try and let this game go quickly and regroup and be prepared for what we’re expecting to be the hardest game of the year."