Friday, April 24, 2009

Bradley, Varlamov Help Caps Force Game 6

With their backs up against the wall, the Capitals came out firing Friday night, and using their most complete performance so far this series, Washington blanked New York 4-0 and extended its season at least until Game 6 Sunday.

Matt Bradley scored a pair of goals in the first period and Simeon Varlamov did the rest, stopping all 20 shots he faced for his second shutout in three games for the Caps.

Washington had its fewest shots on goal so far in the series with just 21, but made them count, chasing Henrik Lundqvist with four goals on just 14 shots in the first two periods, leaving the Blueshirts to put Stephen Valiquette in for mop-up duty in the third.

In front of a fired-up home crowd, Washington got an early power-play chance when Scott Gomez was whistled for slashing, but the Caps couldn't get a shot with the extra-man chance, but it wasn't long before the Capitals got the all-important first goal.

When Brian Pothier was sent off for tripping 3:40 into the game, the Caps were the ones who cashed in with a goal. Bradley pressured injured Rangers star Chris Drury, creating a turnover and then collected the loose puck and broke in on Lundqvist and beat him on the breakaway to put Washington up on top just 4:58 into the contest.

The Caps had another shot to build on their lead with the power-play when the Rangers were caught with too many men on the ice, but after another unsuccessful power play, Bradley was the hero again, taking the puck at a sharp angle and beating Lundqvist with 7:53 to play on just the fourth shot of the period.

It was the softest goal the Rangers' All-Star had allowed all series, and proved to be deflating to New York, who had hoped to be able to withstand the Capitals' early pressure and move on to a second-round date with the Bruins. Instead, they found themselves down 2-0 and had trouble trying to beat the Caps' young Russian goalie and generating chances to climb back in the game.

The Rangers' hole became even bigger just 4:57 into the second, when Alex Semin snapped the puck off the crossbar and in off a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom for a 3-0 lead, and the Caps were en route to their second win in three games.

Alex Ovechkin then added some icing on the cake with a spectacular tally, picking up the puck along the Washington blueline, skating down along the boards near the benches, and then turning right past Nikolai Zherdev. Ovechkin then turned towards the goal and put the puck between Derek Morris' skates, and broke in on Lundqvist, and then despite being taken down by Aaron Voros, slid the puck in the cage with :29 left in the period to salt the game away for the Capitals.

Ovechkin, who scored his first goal of the series Wednesday with a spectacular blast, was a bit more acrobatic with this tally for his second in two games.

There was a big scrum at the end of the second period when the Rangers broke in and couldn't hear the horn over the raucous crowd, and shot the puck at Varlamov, leading to John Erskine and Ryan Callahan being assessed roughing minors.

Washington limited New York to just 10 shots in the first two periods, and despite the Rangers' best effort, Varlamov kept them off the board with 10 more saves in the third, giving the Caps a convincing victory in a must-win situation.

And now, after coming into the game with the goaltender that was thought to have gotten into Washington's heads, Varlamov now has allowed just three goals in four games against the Rangers. For the team that scored the fewest goals of any playoff team, they're having trouble lighting the lamp against the Russian, and turning the tables on the Blueshirts.

It's the second straight year the Caps have fought off elimination at home in a Game 5, and now Washington heads up to New York for a Sunday afternon game to force one more home game.

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