WASHINGTON D.C. -- In the waning moments of overtime during Wednesday's 2011 NHL Playoffs Game 1 between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal attempted to clear the puck of his defensive zone. Jason Arnott picked off the puck at the point and centered to a waiting Alexander Semin, who fired a laser-like slap shot past Henrik Lundqvist from the high slot to give the Caps a 2-1 overtime victory.
Semin's goal gave the Caps a 1-0 series lead, and was a thrilling moment. But the reality of the situation is that goals such as those -- from outside of the slot or around the point with little to no traffic -- are not going to beat Lundqvist regularly. For Washington to have a chance to defeat New York in the series, it will take plays like Alex Ovechkin's game-tying goal.
"Lundqvist is a great goalie and it's very difficult to score an easy one on him," Semin said. "We couldn't get a nice goal on him, so we scored a ‘junk' goal - just pushed it in - whatever worked."
With just over six minutes left in the third period and the Caps down 1-0, Ovechkin drove to the net and lost control of the puck. He bowled over Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi and literally whacked at the rebound of Semin's initial shot until the puck crept through Lundqvist's pads and across the goal line.
"We [had]] a couple opportunities to score goals," Ovechkin said. "I hit the crossbar two times, missed a breakaway. It's playoffs and [we] don't give up, we play hard and we score some dirty goal."
Wednesday's game was a microcosm of the entire series between the Caps and Rangers in 2009. The Rangers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead because their defense pushed the Caps to the outside, where they had no other choice but to fire pucks from the point. Long-range shots are no problem for a world-class goalie like Lundqvist, and the Caps found themselves in a hole because of it. Yet, as the series continued, Washington realized that it had to crash the net and wreak havoc in the crease in order to rattle Lundqvist. It ultimately worked and the Caps completed the comeback to get a 4-3 series win.
The Caps completed another comeback Wednesday in the same fashion. New York blocked 28 shots and limited the Caps' chances in the slot and crease. It took a few tries, but once the Caps found a way through the Rangers' defense, the ensuing pressure got to Lundqvist enough that he relinquished the lead and the game.
"I was pleased we got a goal, [because] at one point I didn't know if there was ever going to be a way to beat that guy," Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said in regards to Lundqvist. "Sometimes you need a greasy goal like that to spark your team."
That's a lesson the Capitals have been slowly learning all season as they transition to a new style of play that is more conducive to winning in the playoffs. Now that the Caps have a formula to beat a goalie like Lundqvist, they must continue to implement it in order to succeed not just in this series, but those that follow.
"It's the same as every goalie," Nicklas Backstrom said. "You have to get traffic. If you look at our first goal, it was an ugly goal in front of the net. We were battling hard. Those kind of goals are what we need in the playoffs. Sometimes, you can't be cute all the time."