Game One is in the books and the Rangers came up with an important and tone-setting victory, 4-3, over the Capitals at Verizon Center.
It was as entertaining a playoff game as I could have hoped to see. Thundering checks, equipment flying everywhere, and goals - seven of them combined.
The Rangers goals came at key times, two on the powerplay, and the first one not long after the Capitals had scored to tie the game at one. The last, and deciding goal, by Dubinsky, took advantage of a tired Capitals team, worn out from their own powerplay in which they failed to score.
Momentum is funny. The Rangers capitalized when they needed to and stole momentum three times in the game. Once when they tied it at one. Next when they scored the two powerplay goals in the goal-filled second period. And lastly when they scored the final one to take the lead. You can even argue momentum was gained with each great save by Lundqvist, 32 on the night, and with each successful penalty kill the Rangers had.
Any way you slice it, the Rangers needed a big game to prove to themselves that they can win this.
Now, we all know they CAN win this. That doesn't mean they WILL. But they know they are CAPABLE of it. A 4-3 win against the Capitals on a night that Ovechkin had 13 shots, will help breed confidence to that fact.
The Rangers slowed Ovechkin. Again, you can't really stop him. He's going to hit, he's going to shoot, and he, on most nights, is going to score. And he certainly was a difference maker on their team tonight with his energy and drive.
But thanks to the Rangers difference makers - Hank, Callahan, Antropov, Gomez, Dubinsky, etc - it wasn't his difference that mattered in the end.
Of course, to be fair, the other difference maker in the game was Jose Theodore, letting in a few soft goals, and 4 on 21 shots on the night. He proved what many suspected, if the Rangers take the shots, the pucks will go in.
Make no mistake though, the Rangers were not perfect. It was a nice game, a game that almost stunned me a little in the fire and desire the Rangers showed to come back and play hard. But they were very undisciplined. And even though the Capitals didn't blow the Rangers out of the water tonight, giving them tons of powerplay time is never a good idea. Naslund and Girardi both took multiple penalties and that simply cannot happen going forward. Even if you kill them off, the penalty killers are worn out for their next shift and beyond.
But for tonight, let's focus on the positives of a very, very important win for New York. Goal scoring from four different players, a strong penalty kill, plenty of hitting (team combined 35 to the Caps 27), and key plays from key players at key moments.
It won't be easier on Saturday. In fact, if the Caps and Ovechkin are as angry and fired up as I'd expect them to be, the Rangers will have an even harder time of containing them. That's why this game was so important. It gave them a one nothing lead in the series - yes - but it put confidence on the Rangers side as much as it put the Capitals on their heels.
I wasn't sure which Rangers team would show up, but I'll take a few more games from them like the one I saw tonight - gladly.
**Author's Note: Each Rangers goal was pretty in it's own way. Dubinsky's was a sweet move, Gomez's was opportunistic, Naslund's was a nice shot and Antropov's, especially, made me smile. I know everytime a Ranger scores a goal like that - off an inside bar - and "knows" it's in, I remember the classic Tikkanen overtime goal versus Florida, and it's always good feeling.**
Around the League:
New Jersey beat Carolina 4-1 and Pittsburgh beat Philadelphia 4-1 in their openers. I didn't watch more than few minutes of either game, so I really have nothing to say in comment, except of course, one game does not a series make. And of course that goes for every team, every series, every time.