WASHINGTON – Alexander Semin had gone 14 playoff games without a goal, a troubling trend for a Washington Capitals team that has endured too many post-season disappointments in recent years.
It took almost 80 minutes of hockey in game No. 15 to finally end the drought.
Semin scored 18:24 into overtime Wednesday night to give the Capitals a 2-1 win over the eighth-seeded New York Rangers in Game 1 of their first-round series, a welcome bit of relief to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re not getting anywhere without Alex Semin scoring,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We need him to go and create that other offensive threat.”
Semin scored 28 times in the regular season and has been Washington’s best offensive threat after Alex Ovechkin for several years, but he was blanked in seven-game series losses to Pittsburgh two years ago and Montreal last year. His last playoff goal also came against the Rangers in the seventh game of a first-round series in 2009.
He came close in the first period Wednesday, hitting the crossbar with five minutes to play in the first period, about a half-minute before Jason Arnott also clanged one off the net frame.
Arnott and Semin teamed up for the winning goal, when Arnott intercepted a clearing pass from defenceman Marc Staal and found Semin between the circles for a one-timer past Henrik Lundqvist.
Semin is notoriously averse to speaking to reporters and didn’t have much to say about his big moment, but his teammates knew its significance.
“Last year he was little bit upset he didn’t score a goal,” Ovechkin said. “And right now it’s very important for him to score a goal, step up and show his leadership.”
Ovechkin tied the game late in regulation during an intense poke-at-the-puck scramble, matching Matt Gilroy’s third-period goal in a game that took a while to get going. Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves to win his NHL playoff debut. Lundqvist stopped 31 shots for the Rangers.
Game 2 is Friday night in Washington.
The Capitals were upset a year ago by the Canadiens in a 1-vs.-8 series—the latest in an annual string of playoff debacles—but this year they have vowed things will be different. Washington began playing a more defensive scheme after a 7-0 loss to the Rangers in December, and it showed as the Capitals generally controlled the flow of play.
But they managed to accomplish a frustrating hat trick of iron, hitting the post or crossbar three times. They also failed to finish two clean breakaways.
A sequence in the second period symbolized the Capitals’ plight as well as any. On an odd-man rush, Ovechkin made a superb cross-ice pass to Mike Knuble, whose shot from the right circle hit the post. The rebound bounced out to Nicklas Backstrom, who whiffed with an open net in front of him because Rangers forward Vinny Prospal had tipped the puck just enough for it to hop over Backstrom’s stick.
Semin also had a coast-to-coast move that ended in futility when he stuffed the puck into Lundqvist. Backstrom had a breakaway that ended when he slid the puck into Lundqvist’s leg.
“We had to stay the course. We couldn’t get frustrated,” Backstrom said. “I think we did a great job with that. Hopefully this can give us a little confidence.”
After Gilroy’s one-timer 1:56 into the third period, the Capitals started getting desperate for the tying goal.
Semin carried the puck toward the net and started a wild sequence of poking and prodding. Ovechkin, Semin, Staal, Derek Stepan and Lundqvist all tried to get a stick, a skate—anything—on the puck. Finally, one of Ovechkin’s stabs managed to move the puck between the post and Lundqvist’s right skate, a score so subtle it took a second or two realize it had taken place.
It wasn’t until it was verified by video review that Ovechkin could comfortably celebrate his 21st playoff goal.
“I think it’s underneath me and the whistle never comes, so then I move,” Lundqvist said. “I think that’s the case. It just crossed the line. Sometimes they’re real fast blowing the whistle, but it is what it is. Me personally, I’m kind of stuck in that position so I have tohope for a whistle or for someone to clear the puck. That didn’t happen.”
A sold-out Verizon Center bathed in red started getting anxious as the usual feeling-out moments common in the first period of a hockey game lasted well into the third. By contrast, overtime was free-flowing and exciting, as if two new sets of teams had emerged from the locker rooms.
“Obviously anytime you lose in overtime you feel like it got away because all you have to do is get one goal and you win the game,” Staal said. “It’s disappointing. It’s the playoffs, so we’ll come back and try to win the next one.”
NOTES: Capitals D Mike Green played for the first time since he was elbowed by Stepan on Feb. 25. Green missed the final 20 regular-season games with a concussion. … Scratches for the Rangers included LW Sean Avery, who led the team in penalty minutes during the regular season with 174. New York’s second-leading scorer, Ryan Callahan, will miss the series because of a broken right leg.