Rangers came out on top in Game 6 due to well-rounded play
New York Rangers players celebrate on the bench in the third period in Game 6 of the second round of the 2015 NHL playoffs against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on May 10, 2015. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)
Alex Ovechkin, who used to leap against the glass after goals and once pretended his stick was on fire after scoring, was spending Sunday morning trying to argue that the playoffs are not about individual performances.
This is a team, he said.
There are 20 players. Each one is a link in a chain that has to be pulling in the same direction or it does not work.
“It can’t only be one guy or two guys,” Ovechkin. said “It has to be all the guys to play the best game. Game 6. Nobody is nervous. Everybody concentrates. That’s why we’re here.”
In Game 6, it was not just about one player.
It was Chris Kreider scoring two goals in the first period. It was Jason Chimera and Joel Ward reuniting on a line that and each shovelling in a goal. It was Rick Nash finally scoring and unreal goaltending performances from Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby, despite allowing a combined seven goals.
It was easily the best game of this series. And thankfully, it was not the last one.
The New York Rangers, who had been down 3-1 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal, defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Sunday night to force a final deciding game.
Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday in New York.
If it is even half of what fans saw on Sunday night, it will be a wild one. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first period after Kreider scored a goal 40 seconds after the opening faceoff and again with 0.3 seconds remaining. But every time it looked like they were pulling away, the Capitals closed the gap.
Down 4-1 in the third period, Washington scored twice to make it 4-3.
Ovechkin had a chance to tie the game when he snuck behind a couple of New York defenders, but he could not settle down a bouncing puck enough for a solid scoring chance. Instead, the Capitals turned what could have been a blowout into a respectable loss.
Even in a 4-3 game, this was again about the goaltenders.
New York and Washington combined for 37 shots in the first period. Almost all them could have been legitimate goals. But Lundqvist and Holtby, who had been putting on a goaltending clinic all series long, were unreal.
One goalie made a save. The other made an even bigger saves. Moments after Lundqvist lunged across the crease and robbed Troy Brouwer with a kick save, Holtby went post-to-post and stole a goal away from J.T. Miller.
“I think he’s making a name for himself,” Rangers forward Dominic Brassard said of Holtby, who entered the game ranked second in the playoffs with a .951 save percentage. Lundqvist, who stopped 45 shots on Sunday night, was third with a .942 save percentage.
Eventually, the bounces started to come.
When Brouwer took a roughing penalty with four seconds remaining in the first period, it looked like the Rangers would start the second on the power play. Instead, Kreider scored on the buzzer after shovelling in a rebound from a Brassard slap shot.
Holtby said the Capitals needed to get back to playing a simple, grind-them-down game. Get pucks deep, finish checks and wear them. He was not worried about the first period, he said, because it was a battle of attrition.
“If you can keep frustrating them that way, teams feel like they aren’t getting anything. They’re stuck in a hole,” Holtby said. “Once the frustration comes, that’s when you start getting opportunities.”
In the second period, Washington outshot New York 18-4. Twenty-eight seconds into the period, the Capitals got a puck in deep, cycled it around the net and after Joel Ward fired a that Lundqvist saved, Chimera nudged rebound to make it 2-1.
The Capitals kept attacking and kept coming close. But Lundqvist, who was 12-3 in his past 15 elimination games with a .957 save percentage during in that span, made scoring impossible.
With Lundqvist keeping the Capitals at bay, the Rangers offence found some openings behind Holtby. Nash took a pass in front from Martin St. Louis and outwaited Holtby before tucking it into the far corner to make it 3-1.
Boyle then scored the winner when he one-timed a rolling puck that deflected in off a Washington defender.