NEW YORK, N.Y. – Home-ice advantage has held up for six games between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers.
The Southeast Division champions hope it lasts one more night.
Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves and Derick Brassard provided the only offence in New York’s 1-0 victory that set up a decisive Game 7 in Washington on Monday night.
“We have the chance,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. “To be in front of our home fans will be good. They played well. It will be a good game.”
The teams went the distance last year in the second round, and the Rangers advanced with a home victory. The Capitals would like to return the favour. Either way, there will be little time for preparation with the opening faceoff set for about 24 hours after the Rangers wrapped up their Game 6 victory.
“I’m not sure if it benefits anybody,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the quick turnaround. “It is what it is. Both teams knew it going in. If I’m a player, I want to play right away. They don’t want to listen to coaches this time of year, they don’t want to look at video, they want to play the game and find out where they’re at.”
Where they are is tied 3-3.
The Rangers have been held to two total goals in the three losses in Washington, but they had been strong at Madison Square Garden before Sunday. New York had scored eight times in its first two games on home ice.
Two days after Lundqvist slammed his stick in disgust when an overtime loss in Washington put the Rangers on the brink of elimination, he was the difference. He celebrated with a pump of his arm and let out an emphatic yell.
“We needed it. There was desperation out there,” he said. “We showed a lot of character and worked really hard. It was that type of game where you pay the price—big saves, physical. Great win.”
Except for Washington’s 3-1 win in the series opener, the remaining five games have all been decided by one goal. The Capitals earned a 1-0 overtime victory in Game 2.
Despite having little room for error, the Rangers stayed composed and didn’t commit a penalty until a big scrum after the final buzzer.
Now the Rangers will try to carry that over to Game 7.
“They play really well at home and they’re confident,” Lundqvist said of the Capitals. “The games we’ve played in that building, special teams have played a big part. We played a really disciplined game, and that’s going to be key for us because they have a really good power play, so you have to respect that.
“Play hard, but play smart.”
The Rangers earned Game 7 wins at home in last year’s playoffs over Ottawa and Washington. If they pull out this victory, it would give them just their second series win after falling behind 0-2.
“We are just going to have the same mentality we had coming into this game,” Brassard said. “We just played our game, had fun. The guys were relaxed, and that’s what we need to do (Monday).”
Special teams were a factor Sunday, but only in keeping the Capitals in the game. The Rangers’ ineffective power play went 0-for-5 and is 2-for-26 in the series. New York had a failed 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 44 seconds in the first period.
“Some were deserved. Some weren’t deserved,” Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said of his team’s penalties. “We killed our momentum.”
Washington didn’t get a chance to improve on its 3-for-14 output in the first five games. Two Rangers power plays in the third cut out precious time the Capitals could have had to net the tying goal.
“We battled the whole way,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “Disappointing, but we move along. Our (penalty-killing) is doing great, holding us in the series. Our guys kept their composure. We knew this could go seven (games).”
Brassard handed Lundqvist the lead at 9:39 of the second period with a goal that was originally credited to struggling forward Rick Nash.
Defenceman Mike Green left Washington short-handed when he took a retaliation cross-checking penalty on Derek Dorsett with 6:14 remaining.
“There are a lot of emotions. You can expect scrums and things like that,” Dorsett said. “You’ve got to play your game. You can’t just go out and think you’re going to scrum it up and win the game.”
Just after Green’s penalty expired, Lundqvist denied Eric Fehr’s drive with a snaring glove save. He then covered the puck in front with 48.4 seconds left, keeping Marcus Johansson at bay after the Capitals pulled Holtby for an extra attacker.
Lundqvist was at his best earlier in the third when the Capitals came at him in waves. He turned aside Mike Ribeiro, who scored in overtime to win Game 5, with just over 11 minutes remaining, and stopped Fehr three minutes later on a rush up the middle.
“Especially late in the game, he made some great saves,” Tortorella said. “Now he has another Game 7. I think that builds. The ultimate goal for Hank, in his mind, is to win the Stanley Cup, but you need to go through these types of situations to get there.”
Holtby was sharp, as well, with 28 saves.
Brassard, who has had a breakout series, scored his second goal of the playoffs when he faked a shot and then ripped a drive from the Stanley Cup logo just inside the blue line. The puck clipped the glove of Capitals defenceman Steve Oleksy and sailed through a screen set by Nash in front.
Brassard, a pickup from Columbus in the deal that sent Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, also had five assists in the first five games of the series.
Nash, still looking for his first goal of the series, was more of a presence in front. He made more drives to the net in an effort to create more traffic in front of Holtby.
Lundqvist faced only 15 shots through two periods, but needed to be sharp to keep the Capitals off the board. He made a big pad save with under 5 minutes left in the second to keep the Rangers ahead.
Despite having just a one-goal edge heading into the third, the Rangers carried the confidence that they could protect it. New York went 16-0 during the regular season when leading after two periods and has earned at least one point in those situations since Feb. 4, 2010.
NOTES: Rangers LW Chris Kreider, who hadn’t played since the opening game of the series, replaced injured LW Ryane Clowe. … Holtby has allowed just 11 goals in the series.