Matt Bradley slaps the first goal of the game past Henrik Lundqvist during Game 5 in Washington. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
If I'm goalie Henrik Lundqvist right now, I'm not talking to any of my New York Rangers teammates. Maybe I'd talk to Brandon Dubinsky or Dan Girardi, but that would pretty much be it. Not only did the Blueshirts fail to eliminate the Washington Capitals in Game 5, but they tripped up so spectacularly that the balance of the series is back in question.
Hanks's cloak of invincibility? Gone. Washington's offensive confidence? Soaring.
New York coach John Tortorella rightfully scratched ref magnet Sean Avery for the night, only to have the rest of his troops take the stupid pills from No. 16's dressing room stall. Top players such as Scott Gomez and Nik Antropov got on the scoresheet early, but only by taking two-minute trips to the box on needless penalties. And when the stars weren't making Tortorella's eyes roll, it was grit players such as Colton Orr giving the coach headaches, first with a too-many-men penalty, then a doofus wrestling move in the third on Alexander Semin that got Orr booted from the game altogether.
Contrast that with the performance Washington coach Bruce Boudreau got from his pluggers: Matt Bradley may have saved the Caps' season with his two first-period goals, while David Steckel and Eric Fehr were masterful in their forechecking.
Bradley's goals simply cannot be overstated. He didn't just dent Lundqvist's armor, he put a cannonball through it with the second fluke goal. But fluky as the shot was – basically from the end line, squeaking through Hank's pads – it proved a very important point to Bradley's teammates: When you shoot the puck, good things happen. Lundqvist is great, but he's still human.
This game was played nervously by both sides until Bradley's second goal. You could see Capitals such as Mike Green and Semin getting more confident with the puck (as strange as that sounds for those young guns) after Bradley's heroics and when Semin ripped one of his vintage wristers in the second, the floodgates had opened.
Ironically, the Caps only put one more goal on the board after that, but that's only because Alex Ovechkin's marker was so devastating, so cleaving, it rendered the third period redundant. Not only did Ovie instantly up YouTube's page count by 500,000 hits with his de-pantsing of half the Blueshirts, but he did it so thoroughly that Aaron Voros ended up wrapped around him like a Slanket, while Lundqvist immediately left his crease, as if to say “That's it. I'm outta here.”
And he was.
It's no surprise Tortorella put Steve Valiquette in net for the third period and it was the one move that didn't backfire on the Rangers coach. The Caps would have simply spent the final 20 minutes finding new ways to beat the Swedish national and that's the only thing New York can hold on to right now: that Lundqvist comes back in Game 6 angry and focused on avenging the humiliation that occurred in Washington Friday night.
On the other hand, Simeon Varlamov was once again a revelation in the Capitals net, garnering his second playoff shutout in four games and making some beauty saves, despite a largely impotent New York attack. So now maybe the real storyline for Game 6 is how the Rangers solve Varlamov.
Game 6 Sunday, World's Greatest Stage. Hit that.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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