Philadelphia, PA – The Washington Capitals' top-ranked power play didn't figure to get many chances in the first round against the New York Rangers, who came into the series as the least-penalized team during the NHL season.
That had to make things even more frustrating when the Caps failed to convert on their first three chances while up a man in Thursday's Game 1 in Washington. Even worse was that the club found itself down a goal after 20 minutes despite the early chances and shot advantage.
But the Rangers played with fire one too many times and finally got burned when Alex Ovechkin's power-play goal 6:59 into the second period sparked a three-goal frame and an eventual 3-1 win for the Capitals.
It was uncharacteristic of the Rangers, who were shorthanded five times in a game for the first time since April 6. It spelled their doom thanks to Ovechkin's 31st career playoff goal as he one-timed home Mike Green's wide shot from the high slot.
"Right away after we had no success on a couple of power plays, we were saying we have to play it simple and just come down and play our game. It was a big goal for us," noted Ovechkin, who passed Peter Bondra for the most power-play goals in franchise history.
Ten of those have come versus the Rangers.
"We can't take that many penalties in the game," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "They did get a good bounce off the boards. ... Hopefully, we will discipline ourselves next game."
It was a sign of hard work by the Capitals, who have come up short of winning the Stanley Cup for the past few seasons despite some dominating regular seasons.
The Rangers know Ovechkin doesn't need any help finding the back of the net. The Russian winger closed the regular season with 22 goals in 21 games to earn his third career Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the league's leading scorer. He ended the campaign with 32 goals for his eighth straight 30-goal campaign despite the shortened season.
Credit has to go to first-year Capitals head coach Adam Oates, who had his team clicking at a 26.8 rate on the man advantage during the regular season. He made sure his players kept their heads up despite missing out on early opportunities.
"You try to have patience on every power play and try to make all the right decisions all the time," Oates said. "Sometimes, maybe in the heat of the moment we're not as sharp, sometimes guys are tired, sometimes the ice is lousy, sometimes it's good. On that particular one, yeah I guess we did (have patience)."
And while Washington made sure it capitalized while up a man, it also kept the Rangers' struggling power-play unit off balance. New York failed to score on any of its four chances, including a near-minute of a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the second period of a tie game.
"It's a momentum thing. The momentum is going to change so many times in a series. But they came up strong and we played 60 minutes of hockey. That's what we need to do if want to move on," Caps forward Martin Erat said.
It was certainly a game that the Capitals didn't want to lose given the performance of Braden Holtby, who outdueled Rangers goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.
Holtby is starting to build quite the playoff reputation at the age of 23. He made 35 saves for his eighth career postseason win in 15 games and has yet to lose back-to-back contests in the playoffs.
If that stat holds up, it will make having winning Game 1 all that more important.