By Jay Greenberg
After four games (actually almost five in playing time) have produced a total margin of five goals, it's increasingly clear that there isn't enough difference in talent between the Capitals and Rangers to decide this series. So the officials are stepping up.
In Saturday afternoon's Game 4, Brooks Laich tripped Ryan Callahan during the Ranger captain's unsuccessful attempt to get the puck out just before Mike Green's winning power-play goal with 5:38 to play. Alex Ovechkin left his feet to deliver an open ice blow to the head of Dan Girardi during the second period and only received two minutes when the foul clearly called for more.
"I missed the puck and he was coming at me and I just tried to protect myself," said Ovechkin.
Ah, sort of the "Flying Leap Defence," as expertly employed by Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon
After playing 116 minutes in Game 3, the two teams were draggin' for sure in Game 4 but the Caps best three offensive players, Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Mike Green stepped up to score the goals even as referees Marc Joannette and Brad Watson shrunk.
Washington wiggled out of the Verizon Center with a 3-2 win and a 2-2 tie in a series even tighter than John Tortorella's smirk during a press conference.
The Rangers had nine more hits than the Caps, 19 fewer blocks. Dale Hunter spoke to the media for 7:24 and Tortorella for 28 seconds. But whether it was the early start on Saturday or the late, late game on Wednesday, there was a lot less energy expended on both sides and more game-altering brain cramps.
Ranger rookie Chris Kreider threw away the game-opening goal in the slot to Ovechkin, who one-timed the puck off Henrik Lundqvist's glove. Brooks Laich tried to close his legs, rather than use his stick on block Girardi's point shot, which left the puck laying for Anisimov to tie the game 1-1.
Caps defencemen Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz each thought the other was going to touch up on an icing and Artem Anisimov - thank you very much - jumped in to feed Marian Gaborik for a gift goal that tied the game. 2-2. And then Carl Hagelin, another Ranger rookie, chopped Karl Alzner's stick in half to give the Capitals the power play that Green converted to win the game with 5:38 to play.
The Rangers, dominated in the first period, dominating in the second, lost the opportunity to take charge in the end when Hagelin took his late penalty, just like Brad Richards took one that Ovechkin cashed in Game 2.
"I don't want to talk about the officiating," said Brad Richards, which essentially meant the Rangers wanted to follow their coach's lead and not talk about the game at all.
Callahan wouldn't complain about Laich's uncalled trip.
"Puck doesn't get out, doesn't matter now," Callahan shrugged. And Girardi refused to call for the death penalty on Ovechkin.
"He hit my head a bit," said the defenceman. "But I think he is just playing the game hard."
The Rangers are not the complaining kind. They return to Madison Square Garden secure in the knowledge that it is not likely Henrik Lundqvist will surrender three goals again, especially not one like Ovechkin's that blew through the goalie's glove.
"We had the puck and he kind of surprised me, but I had enough time to get set, shouldn't be an excuse," Lundqvist said. "The other two I didn't see, I was guessing."
Green waited for Ryan McDonagh to go down, closed to the top of the circle, and blew the winner by Lundqvist low along the ice, like top pointmen will do. Backstrom, who stood up to an Anisimov charge and sent the Ranger centre flying before getting the puck down the backboards to Jason Chimera, was 20 feet out to ring up a quick beauty over Lundqvist's shoulder.Backstrom gets on the board
In a game where four of the goals were outright gifts, Backstrom's score, which gave Washington a 2-1 lead, was fully earned. Alexander Semin, long time Caps' playoff punching bag, was seriously involved, if ultimately unrewarded in points. But Backstrom, who had not scored since Game 1 of the Boston series, probably was the best player on the ice.
"I have been thinking about [the nine-game drought] a little bit for sure," Backstrom said.
The Capitals best players, thinking a lot about not falling behind 3-1, ultimately came up bigger than did Richards and Gaborik.
"We needed to step up," said Green, and the referees took it from there.
We'll see what further they can do - during the inevitable 2-2 tie Monday night - to pry these almost identical twin teams apart.
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