Heading into New Jersey Tuesday night, the question was which goalie would blink, even once?
Heading into Washington, the questions were could the Rangers withstand the expected early Capitals barrage and would they be able to compose themselves.
New York did both, but things still didn’t go their way.
Washington failed to register a shot for almost 13 minutes; and, Nik Antropov finished off a character goal with a put-it-where-they-keep-the-peanut-butter snapper from the slot after some yeoman’s work along the boards by his linemates five-and-a-half minutes in.
Both mattered, but didn’t matter. The Capitals scored on their second shot of the game with a deflected, 3-on-2 Alexander Semin wrister off a broken play in the Washington end 10 minutes later. They survived a horrible first period, a mediocre second and it all came down to the last 20 minutes.
The composed Blueshirts played an A-1 road game and even kept Alex Ovechkin’s impact to a minimum. Sean Avery and Henrik Lundqvist were the Rangers best players, with Avery playing an energetic, dangerous offensive style and Lundqvist making some brilliant saves on the Capitals volleys that eventually started coming with greater and greater frequency.
But the first lead change of the series since the second period of Game 1 came on Sergei Fedorov’s first goal of the series — a laser-like wrist shot over Lundqvist’s left shoulder late in the third. Five minutes later, Washington had exorcised the demons of last year’s Game 7 loss to Philadelphia and the 11 years of never getting beyond the first round to complete the second 3-1 series deficit comeback in franchise history.
In the end, it was ironic that for the first time in the series the Rangers were the better team for 60 minutes, but couldn’t find a way to get it done even with Lundqvist’s continued brilliance. The season-long joviality and enthusiasm of the Capitals was stifled for much of the game, but was on display at game’s end. The Caps will have to be much better when they begin an NHL dream Round 2 at home to Pittsburgh Thursday night.
The Rangers answered the bell and more, but just weren’t destined to win this game.
Meanwhile in New Jersey, it was Martin Brodeur who blinked, in the first minute and — after more than making up for it as the game continued — twice in the last minute and 20 seconds.
The game wasn’t nearly as frantic or physical as in Washington — other than hits by Johnny Oduya and Patrik Elias on Tuomo Ruutu, both of which were bigger than any in the other game. The Devils and Canes just didn’t look to have the edge or level of panic; indicative of the calm, cool, collectiveness of having two Stanley Cup-winner laden rosters.
The old Devils came to play Tuesday. Jamie ‘The Surgical Wonder’ Langenbrunner — he of 14 NHL seasons — scored in his return from arthroscopic surgery earlier in the series; 12-year vet Jay Pandolfo potted the second New Jersey tally; 36-year-old Brian Rolston netted the third; with Brendan Shanahan, 40, and John Madden, nearly 36, adding assists.
But it was 2006 playoff leading scorer and relative pup Eric Staal, 24, who stunned the Devils and their fans 48 seconds after Jussi Jokinen tied the game near the end of the third period, sending Carolina into Round 2, beginning Friday in Boston.
So the questions both Tuesday games began with really didn’t end up playing the role many thought they would. Despite some brilliant play, Brodeur and Cam Ward blinked seven times combined en route to the Canes’ victory; and, despite carrying the play and staying composed, the Rangers fell to the Caps.
Not the endings many had expected to see prior to puck drop, but absolutely thrilling nonetheless.
Bring on Round 2.
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