By Adam Vingan
The Washington Capitals pulled away from the New York Rangers with two quick goals in the second period en route to a 4-1 win. The Verizon Center faithful rose to their collective feet and loudly praised the Caps for their inspired play.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the aforementioned sentences were written in April, not Wednesday.
The key phrase within the first two sentences is “two quick goals,” which Troy Brouwer and Alexander Semin scored to give Washington a 3-1 lead. To be blunt, leads have been hard to come by lately for the Caps and they realize that.
“We haven’t had many leads at all in the last little while,” Brouwer said candidly.
Lightheartedness aside, under Dale Hunter, the Caps have held a lead for just under 200 minutes of the 780 total they’ve played. Multi-goal leads have been rarer; Washington has been up by two or more goals for about 88 minutes in the 13 games under Hunter. By scoring twice within 2:38, the Caps were able to settle into their defensive game plan and hold the Rangers at bay.
“I thought we played really well with the lead, Brouwer said. “Getting pucks deep, not giving them any opportunities to create anything off the rush. Our [defense] had a real good gap tonight, which they’ve been working on in practice. It just helps to turn pucks over at the blue line, helps us transition a little bit better, especially with their [defensemen], who really like to jump up in the play.”
The Caps bent a little, however, as the Rangers fired 15 shots – nearly half of their 32 total – on Tomas Vokoun in the third period and even appeared to cut into the lead when Ryan Callahan put the puck past Vokoun before the referee ultimately ruled that Callahan kicked it in. Yet, Washington fought for the puck along the boards and dumped it out as soon as possible, making New York give chase while chipping away at precious time and momentum.
“It’s up to them on the ice to do the little things like blocking shots, taking a hit on the boards to get it out of our own end,” Hunter said. “We did it very well tonight. We were very physical on the boards and got pucks out. The team sacrificed their body to win.”
As evidenced Wednesday, Hunter’s defensive system lends well to protecting leads, but it takes a complete performance like the one against the Rangers to win.
“Getting the first goal and getting the lead is huge in this league,” Hunter said. “We came out playing the right way and the guys put together a good 60 minutes. Finishing your hits and going to the net hard and winning the one-on-one battles – the guys did it tonight.”