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NHL Playoffs: Rangers double the pain

Another New York team chokes in crunch time as Rangers blow 3-0 lead and now trail series 3-1.

Capitals 4, Rangers 3


Henrik Lundqvist sat at his stall, his head engulfed in his hands. Utter devastation etched upon his face when he looked up.

He had just finished a remarkable goaltending display a few minutes earlier that, ultimately, was for naught. Now the challenge for Lundqvist and the Rangers is to recover from violent body blows to their collective solar plexus.

The Rangers’ season is on the brink following Wednesday night’s 4-3 double overtime loss to Washington at the Garden. The Capitals lead the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series 3-1. A loss Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center and the 2010-11 campaign that saw the Original Six franchise lay the foundation for future teams, a year in which the Rangers won 44 regular season games and entered the playoffs with 93 points, will end.


It's hard to imagine a more painful exit, though, than what they slugged off the ice to in Game 4.

Jason Chimera pool-cued the puck into the net at 12:36 of the second overtime after a miscommunication between Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik. The Rangers' forward poked at the puck as Lundqvist went down to freeze it following a defensive zone turnover. The overtime game-winner was Chimera’s first.

“It’s just a fluky goal,” assessed John Tortorella, who absolved Lundqvist of blame. Lundqvist made 49 saves on the night, none bigger than a glove save on an Alex Ovechkin breakaway in the first overtime. “It’s just a nothing play that turned into something. Obviously something pretty big.”

What galled the Rangers immediately afterward and will anger them today, tomorrow and until they take the ice in Washington Saturday afternoon was that they were in control of the game after 40 minutes. The Rangers led 3-0 following second period goals off the sticks of Artem Anisimov, Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky.

But the team that ended the regular season with a 29-0-0 mark when leading after two periods was tentative in the third against a Capitals team that began to press the issue. Alex Semin, who was invisible in the first 40 minutes but was dominant in the final 52:36, jammed a goal from the side of the net 2:47 in.

The Rangers sagged. The Capitals surged.

Sixty-three seconds later, the lead was cut to 3-2 on the first of two goals Marcus Johansson would score in the period. The rookie knotted the match at 3-3 by deflecting a John Carlson point shot.

“It was very important to make the first goal right away. After that we felt good about ourselves,” Ovechkin said. Despite being minus-two on the night, the Caps superstar was a force throughout. He took 32 shifts, logged 30:07 of ice time, was credited with three hits, blocked a shot, and fired 14 shots.

“Jo Jo’s line played unbelievable and when we make some changes in our lines, all three lines played unbelievable. In overtime, all those lines played well.”

The Rangers had no answers on the ice, and had none in the room. What was left was the acknowledgement that the season is not over and a stated belief in themselves.

“A bad break cost us the game. It’s tough. We have to make sure we play a 60-minute game,” a bewildered Dubinsky said. “It’s obviously a little bit upsetting. The outcome of the game, the position we were in, we’ve been a fantastic third period team all year long. That makes it a little bit worse.

“At the same time, this isn’t a time to get down. We can’t start pointing fingers, getting frustrated and getting down on ourselves because we still have a series here. We just have to find a way to win a game there. We knew we were going to have to win at least one to win the series.”


What went wrong ...

1 Epic miscommunication — It’s the postseason, not the ideal time to be gift wrapping goals. The Rangers’ best period of hockey this season is a forgotten memory. Instead, a painful image of Marian Gaborik poking the puck away from his own goaltender and into the stick of Washington’s Jason Chimera for an easy game-winner in double overtime will be left on their minds heading back to Washington down 3-1 in the series. Henrik Lundqvist made 49 saves, but No. 50 eluded him as Gaborik misplayed the puck in front of the net 12:36 into the second OT.

2 Epic collapse — Bruce Boudreau was partly responsible for the Rangers’ three-goal spurt, including two in a seven-second span in the second period, after he challenged the Garden faithful to be loud before Game 4. Too bad they went deadly silent after Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson tied the game at 3 at 12:47 in the third period.

3 Powerless — At this point, John Tortorella should just decline power plays. The Rangers were 0-for-7 with the man advantage in last night’s Game 4 loss and are a rancid 1-for-18 in the series. The players seemed tentative skating through the neutral zone and struggled just to get the puck into Washington’s end of the ice in the first. As the game progressed, they eventually were able to get the puck in but only generated three shots. This is where the Rangers desperately miss Ryan Callahan’s ability to screen goaltenders. Brian Boyle is trying to fill the void but he had not scored in the 14 periods.

 
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