It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities describes the French Revolution, but could just as easily simplify the story of the Washington Capitals’ Game 1 performance against the underdog New York Rangers.
The best? Sniper Alex Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball; setting the tone by throwing his body into Mark Staal, Ryan Callahan and anyone else in Blue and White who entered his path in the first frame.
Beyond his physical play, Ovie was also an offensive force, creating several quality opportunities and setting up the game’s opening goal with a blast tipped-in by Tomas Fleischmann. Just how dominant was Ovechkin? With five minutes left in the second period, he had 10 shots on goal, the same total as the entire Rangers team.
The worst? Goalie Jose Theodore was a one-man wreck; unable to control rebounds, down far too early on shots and generally looking out-of-sorts from start to finish.
Quite simply, Theodore’s sub-par play cost the Caps a victory they deserved. Not to take anything away from the Rangers, who deserve full credit for creating the opportunities, but not one of the Blueshirts’ four tallies were beyond stopping.
The notoriously streaky Theodore, who signed a two-year, $9-million deal prior to this season, is 4-0 in the first round series during his NHL career. That stat won’t mean a lick, however, if he can’t straighten out his game by Saturday.
Losing Game 1 is one thing, but heading to MSG down 2-0 would be a disastrous physiological blow to a Capitals team that relies heavily on emotion.
Meanwhile (whose bright idea was it to schedule the game’s two marquee players to play at the exact same time), 245 miles to the Northwest, the Flyers continued their regular season love affair with the sin bin in their opener against the potent Penguins with predicable results.
Though the Pens, who’ve clipped along at nearly 20 percent with the man advantage since Sergei Gonchar returned to the lineup, managed to score only once on the power play – Sidney Crosby’s playoff-opening bank-job – the Philly penalty-box parade snuffed out any momentum time and time again. While more than a couple of the calls against Philadelphia were borderline, there’s no questioning John Stevens’ squad played an undisciplined contest.
If the Flyers game plan is to intimidate flightless birds, it’s one that’s destined to fail. Even as the final seconds ticked off the clock and Ryan Parent took a suspension-worthy cross checking penalty that was surely meant to send a message, it was the Penguins who got the eventual boost as 38-year-old Bill Guerin dropped the mitts with 24-year-old Braydon Coburn.
NOTES: The Capitals are 4-5 (.444) when falling behind 1-0 in a series. The Rangers are 16-9 (.640) when leading 1-0… The Flyers are 13-18 (.419) when trailing a series 1-0. The Penguins are 12-5 (.706) when taking a 1-0 lead… Chants of “MVP, MVP” rang through the Verizon Center after fans thought Ovechkin had scored the game’s first goal… Only one Capitals player has a Stanley Cup ring – Sergei Fedorov… Mike Green had more regular season goals than the entire Rangers blueline combined… Viktor Kozlov’s goal was his first in 22 playoff games.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ free Playoff Challenge!
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.