After dropping the first two games of the series, the Caps came into Madison Square Garden in a must win situation. Two important goals coming into the game for the Caps were great good goaltending (accompanied by a strong defense from forwards and D men) and production from key players.
Simeon Varlamov was by far the story of the game stopping 33 shots to give the Caps some great goaltending. His composure in net was poised and determined. Coming into MSG in a must win game would put pressure on any tender, especially a 20-year-old rookie. He rose to the challenge and got some offensive help early from Semin. He has only let in one goal in two playoff games and has some jaw-dropping numbers at the pro-ranks.
Game 4 will be another huge test for Varlamov, and he will no doubtedly get the nod from Boudreau. He told Tarik El-Bashir of the Post his feelings on getting his first shutout and the upcoming game.
“I am happy to get my first NHL shutout, but we are still down 2-1 in the series and I, and my teammates, remember this,” he said. “So, yes, I feel a lot of joy for myself and for my team because we have won, but tomorrow will be a new day and this game will need to be forgotten.”
The Caps top three stars stood out in Game 3 with Semin getting two goals and an assist, Backstrom notching three assists, and Alex Ovechkin adding two helpers. The key to these players stepping up was the jumbling of the lines by Boudreau. Semin had been a non-factor in Games 1 and 2, but putting him with Ovechkin, and veteran leader Sergei Fedorov, sparked his offense.
Backstrom has proven to the league that he’s one of the top players around, and it was evident last night. He was making good defensive plays, throwing his body around, creating space for others, and made some pretty spectacular passes. The 4th goal by Tom Poti started with Backstrom working hard in the corner and making an unbelievable pass across the slot to Poti backdoor.
Although Ovie hasn’t scored yet this series, he’s starting to include his teammates in the shooting department. He went from having 13 shots in Game 1 to six and then to five last night. It was evident when he entered the zone a few times, where he usually fires a laser, that he was looking for support. I don’t agree with other analysts that think he was working TOO hard in the previous games. Ovie goes 100% all the time and that’s what makes a good player great, especially in the playoffs. Let’s not forget his stellar backcheck after fumbling the puck on the powerplay to get back and stop a breakaway.
The Caps had the lead halfway through the first period when Ryan Callahan found the puck on the backdoor. A diving Varlamov and Caps’ defenseman were unable to stop the shot, but the post was there to keep the game at 1-0. The Rangers seemed to be in disbelief as Backstrom and the Caps flew out of the zone. Instead of Callahan putting the puck in the back of the net to tie the game, Semin ended up increasing the lead to 2-0.
The missed goal reminded me of the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs when Esa Tikkanen missed a pretty wide open net as well. Check out the video here. The Red Wings ended up tying the game up to send it into overtime, and eventually won the series. Now I know the Wings weren’t down two games to none, but it was a huge turning-point in that series and could be for this one.