By Jay Greenberg
Perhaps it is because Washington's Alexander Ovechkin only got 15:14 of ice time in Game 6 with his team facing elimination that he especially doesn't want to end the season.
It would be a waste of too much perfectly good energy.
"Everybody knows and everybody understands we just can't go home right now," he said after willing Washington to a 2-1 Game 6 victory
Wednesday night. "I don't think we deserve to end the season right now."
Historically, life has not been fair to the Capitals, the makers of just one Stanley Cup Final since their birth in 1974 and yet to advance to a conference final in the Ovechkin era. So perhaps the difference this year, as they have now forced a second Game 7 in two series - this one to be played Saturday night at Madison Square Garden -- is not just their discipline and resolve, but righteous indignation.
Don't you understand? Ovechkin says they are not worthy of defeat. And then he goes out and proves it with a goal 1:28 in. Joel Ward may have deserved the four-minute penalty that hauled down Washington just 6.6 seconds away from a Game 5 win Monday night, but the Caps came back a game later like they knew they merited better.
Capitals forward Jason Chimera, churning wide on the game's second shift, was taken down by defender Anton Stralman. On the resulting power play, Ovechkin one-timed a feed from Nick Backstrom for his third goal of the series that beat Henrik Lundqvist's glove. He and the Caps might be onto something there, besides just the fact that they refuse to be outworked by the NHL's presumed hardest-working team.
In the second period, a shift by the checking line of Ward, Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer forced so much time in the Rangers end against their big line of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin that, after New York was forced to ice the puck, Rangers coach John Tortorella thought there would never be a more critical time to use his one precious time out.
So, for the faceoff, Caps coach Dale Hunter took a shift off from his relentless defensive-mindset matching and put out his top centre, Nicklas Backstrom, who won the draw from Richards and redirected a John Carlson point drive to Chimera for a goal-mouth gimme.
Down 2-0, the Rangers had a big chance when the aged Jeff Halpern, playing in place of the injured Jay Beagle, cut John Mitchell for four minutes worth of get-back-in the game opportunity. But it proved only a chance for the Rangers to become ever more frustrated with a power play that had no shots in three opportunities before breaking through in the Game 5 overtime, then resumed its misery with an 0-for-6 in Game 6.'It sucked'
"It sucked," said Tortorella asked for his evaluation of those four minutes that seemed longer for the alleged attackers than the defenders. "Kills you."
So does playing a superstar who practically is killing himself. If, thanks in part to the eight minutes in penalties the Caps had to kill in the second period, that15:14 was all Ovechkin was going to get, it was the best 15:14 you are ever going to see and for reasons beyond the critical first goal.
On an early shift, Ovechkin body-checked Hagelin halfway through the Caps' bench gate, one of five hits, in addition to making three blocks and twice almost putting the game away, only to be denied by the crossbar one time and by Lundqvist the other.
The Rangers were around the net a lot, but before Gaborik's drive off Carlson's hip broke the shutout with 51 seconds remaining, they had limited prime opportunities. Calmly picking up multiple pucks through traffic, Braden Holtby made his best saves with classic butterfly stops on re-directions by Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan.
Richards, praised by Tortorella for his "it" factor after his late rescue of Game 5 didn't really have it for Game 6, firing wildly over the net off a pass out in the third period. Too little, too late, his line picked up its play.
"I don't think we were near where we needed to be to win a game like this," said Lundqvist, probably meaning more emotionally than territorially. But of course the Rangers have an extra day to get back up on the horse to play a second Game7 in two series, just like Washington.
The Rangers came from behind to win Game 6 at Ottawa, and held on, 2-1 in a gut-wrenching Game 7. And of course, had they not willed a puck across the line with 6.6 to go in Game 5, this series probably would already be over.
Thus, the Caps don't have a patent this post-season on resilience. But over the last four playoffs they are 4-0 when facing elimination in a Game 6 and Holtby, the rookie, is 6-0 following losses in this, his first, post-season.
"We don't crack," said Chimera. Indeed after finding so many ways to lose in the end over the years, this time Washington's resolve remains uncapped. The Capitals have entitled themselves to play some more.Follow Jay Greenberg on Twitter @scribejg.
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