With a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years with a win Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, the Rangers instead fell behind early on their way to a 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of their second-round series. As a result the Rangers will once be again forced to win a Game 7 in this spring's post-season or face the prospect of having their magical season come to an end.
Tied 3-3 in their series, the Rangers and Capitals will play a decisive Game 7 Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Coming off their dramatic comeback and finish in winning Game 5 the last thing the Rangers wanted to do on Wednesday was let the Capitals gain any early momentum, much less score an early goal, to feel good about themselves again. But that's exactly what happened when Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal just 88 seconds into the game.
Eerily similar to how Anton Stralman took a penalty 2:25 into Game 4---setting the Caps up for a very strong first period---Stralman again was the guilty party, whistled for a tripping penalty just 1:13 into Game 6 on Wednesday. From there it took only 15 seconds for Nicklas Backstrom to find Ovechkin alone in the slot and for Ovechkin to wire a shot over the glove of Henrik Lundqvist for his fifth post-season goal, and a 1-0 Washington lead.
The Rangers did a good job eventually regaining control of the opening period---they ultimately outshot Washington 11-9 in the first 20 minutes---but they could not put the puck past Holtby. Then in the second period Jason Chimera, alone by the left post, chipped the puck into the Rangers cage to put the Caps up 2-0 at 10:59. Chimera has now scored seven career post-season goals---five of which have come against the Rangers.
The two-goal lead was Washington's second of the series, and only the third for either team through the first six games of this tightly-played series.
Shortly thereafter the Rangers had their best opportunity to get back in the game. Jeff Halpern---dressed in the place of the injured Jay Beagle---was assessed a double minor for high sticking John Mitchell and drawing blood on Mitchell's nose at 12:05 of the second period. However on the ensuing four-minute power play the Rangers had few chances against Braden Holtby and failed to score, leaving themselves in a two-goal hole after 40 minutes of play.
The Rangers avoided a shutout with 50.5 seconds to play in the third period when Marian Gaborik's right-wing shot---with Lundqvist on the bench for a sixth attacker---hit Caps defenseman John Carlson and deflected past Holtby. It was Gaborik's third goal of the series, and fourth of the playoffs; but it was too little too late for the Blueshirts in Game 6.
Holtby stopped 30 shots on Wednesday. He is an incredible 6-0 following playoff defeats this spring.
Lundqvist, who turned in a series of stunning saves in the third period to keep his team in the game, made 21 saves for the Rangers.