Chris Kreider and Brad Richards both received adulation in the immediate aftermath of the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday afternoon.
Still, the Rangers’ collective commitment to defense was the foundation for the win and something they hope to build on for tonight’s Game 2 at the Garden (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports).
The Rangers limited the Capitals to just 18 shots on goal, while blocking 15 shots. Washington’s lone goal was an off-the-rush, one-timer off the stick of Jason Chimera with five seconds left in the second period.
“We were able to take seams away. [We tried] to take away [stretch] passes,” Ruslan Fedotenko said. “Defensive priority is number one.”
The Rangers were especially strong against Alex Ovechkin, who only had one shot on goal in the opener. He had two attempts blocked and missed a shot in 21:04 along with a minus-one rating.
“We tried to stay up in his face and not give him too much room to wheel around with the puck,” Dan Girardi said about Ovechkin. The top defensive pairing of Girardi (24:38) and Ryan McDonagh (25:04), along with Marc Staal (22:21) spent much of the afternoon against Ovechkin.
“He’s going to have chances when he’s coming down the win and you try to keep him to the outside. If he does cut to the middle you pass him off to your partner and take his space away; try to make his life hard,” Girardi said.
Ovechkin was hardly alone in being a non-factor. Alex Semin only played 16:01 due to a slash of Ryan Callahan in the first period and a lazy trip of Anton Stralman in the third. Mike Green was minus-two in 21:45 while Nicklas Backstrom was minus-one in 19:36.
“We have to play much better,” Ovechkin said. “We have to step up.”
“I saw some games when they played against Boston,” Henrik Lundqvist said. The Capitals scored 16 goals in their seven-game, first-round win over the Bruins. “They don’t shoot a lot. They stay back and wait for mistakes. If we stay patient, I think it’s going to be a tight game. You have to wait for your chances. You can’t force it or take too many chances because they are a skilled team. If you open up, they are going to hurt you a little bit.”
Added Brad Richards: “It’s going to be like that all series. It’s going to be a really patient series.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.