NEW YORK – The New York Rangers can expect beefed-up security during a return trip to Washington they never wanted to take. No one else will help protect them on the ice against the suddenly surging Capitals.
John Tortorella’s view from a suite was no better than the one from the bench, and the suspended coach watched helplessly as Washington dominated his Rangers for the second straight game and put them on the brink of elimination, too.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist again didn’t make it to the third period, and Washington defenceman Tom Poti torched his former team in the Capitals’ 5-3 victory Sunday that set up a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday.
“He can’t play every game like a god,” Capitals star Alex Ovechkin said of Lundqvist, who had stopped 141 of 149 shots in the first four games when the Rangers grabbed a 3-1 series lead. “He can’t save the game all the time.
“When we play our game, we play simple. We play hard and nobody can stop us.”
Tortorella served a one-game suspension following a confrontation with a fan Friday during New York’s 4-0 loss in Game 5 that sent the series back to Madison Square Garden. Tortorella squirted water into the crowd and threw a water bottle into the stands.
On Sunday, Tortorella sat high above the ice and rested his chin in his palm as the game turned from bad to worse under the Capitals’ offensive onslaught.
Jim Schoenfeld, Tortorella’s lone assistant coach, ran the club in his absence and said before the game that Tortorella had been sticking up for his players against slurs from the crowd.
Even the return of benched forward Sean Avery couldn’t spark the Rangers, who have been outscored 9-3 since moving within one win of advancing.
“We wouldn’t put this on Torts and we won’t put this on Shoney,” captain Chris Drury said. “We just didn’t play well enough.”
Tortorella will be allowed to coach Game 7 in Washington, where the Rangers claimed in a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that security was lax – a factor they said led to the water incident.
“When you’re down 3-1, there is no pressure on you,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They expect you to lose. Now we see how (the Capitals) can handle it when they’re expected to win.”
The Rangers’ biggest concern now might be the poor play of Lundqvist.
“He’s our guy,” Drury said. “We’re not here without him. We know he’s going to respond when push comes to shove. That’s what he has done for us all year.”
Poti, the subject of Rangers fans’ wrath during his three-plus seasons with New York, had a goal and two assists as Washington built a 5-1 lead.
“I could care less about any of that,” Poti said. “We got a win and we’ve got more work to do.”
When Ovechkin tipped in Poti’s drive for a power-play goal with 3:16 left in the second period, Lundqvist was touched for his ninth goal in 34 shots.
“You start to think about what is to come on Tuesday,” Lundqvist said. “The only thing I can do is get a good practice and prepare for it.”
The lone bright spot for New York was Scott Gomez’s goal that tied it 1-1 8:15 in and snapped the Rangers’ 0-for-18 power-play skid.
The Capitals took a 1-0 lead on Milan Jurcina’s first NHL playoff goal 7:09 in, and fellow defencemen Mike Green and Poti staked Washington to a 3-1 edge in the first. Viktor Kozlov and Ovechkin pushed the advantage to four goals in the second.
That made for another easy game for rookie Simeon Varlamov, who finished with 29 saves.
For the second straight year, Washington has forced a Game 7 in the first round after trailing 3-1. The Capitals fell short at home against Philadelphia last year, but the Southeast Division champions are riding a wave that could make them the 21st team in 230 chances to come all the way back.
“We have a little bit of experience knowing what we have to do,” Poti said. “We still have to come out and play a perfect game. I don’t really think about momentum.”
Frustration got to the Rangers in the second period when Brandon Dubinsky received 14 minutes in penalties following his hit from behind against Green. Dubinsky slammed his helmet as he walked down the tunnel to the dressing room.
Schoenfeld said Dubinsky was given a tetanus shot because he was bitten on the arm by Washington’s Shaone Morrisonn during the scrum following the hit.
Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear laid out centre Blair Betts in the first period with a late shot to the head. Brashear wasn’t penalized and Washington grabbed the lead for good moments later.
“It was pretty vicious,” Schoenfeld said. “(Betts) is hurt significantly.”
Notes: The Capitals have won one series in which they trailed 3-1, the 1988 Patrick Division semifinal against Philadelphia. New York has never lost such a lead.