On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon and the spring weather turning nice outside, Capitals fans came inside to pack the Verizon Center.
Unfortunately, after a 1-0 loss to the Rangers, the red-clad fans were left wondering if they're going to get another chance to fill the house again this season after a setback that leaves Washington facing a big hole in its Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The goaltending was the big question mark for the Capitals after a Game 1 loss Wednesday, but the onus shifted to the offensive side of the after the Caps had trouble generating chances without an extra-man advantage until late in the second period. Washington was held off the board by Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist and a stingy - and mostly disciplined - New York defense.
Too many passes by the Caps and shooting into traffic kept the Caps at bay on the afternoon, and while rookie netminder Simeon Varlamov played well in his first NHL postseason start, Washington couldn't give him any help. A first-period transition breakdown was the difference in Game 2 as now Washington faces the daunting task of having to wipe out a 0-2 series deficit to advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 1998 - with three of five remaining games set to be played at Madison Square Garden.
Bruce Boudreau made a gutsy move before the game, putting Varlamov in goal for his first career playoff start, and while the team started off with the early shots, they didn't generate a ton of good chances.
A bad transition on a failed 4-on-2 break for Washington turned against the Caps quickly, as an errant Alex Ovechkin pass turned into a quick 2-on-1 for New York the other way. With just Tom Poti back and shadowing Markus Naslund down the ice, Naslund passed across to a wide-open Ryan Callahan for an easy tally with 7:44 gone in the contest on just the Rangers' second shot of the game.
After the Caps killed off an Alexander Semin penalty shortly after the goal, they had a pair of golden chances they couldn't convert with just over eight minutes left in the first, as Viktor Kozlov couldn't pot a rebound of an Ovechkin chance, and then Semin couldn't quite corral a Sergei Fedorov blast that went off of Henrik Lundqvist's arm and right into the front of the cage.
The Rangers looked to neutralize the Caps by keeping Washington on the perimeter and were giving up their body to keep the Caps from shooting, blocking 10 shots in the first period. The Caps outshot the Rangers 13-6 over the first 20 minutes, but for the second straight game, Washington couldn't get one in the net during the first period despite outshooting the Blueshirts badly.
The second period began with the Caps down a man on a questionable call on Kozlov with just six ticks left in the first, but the Caps held New York with just one long shot with the extra man, but then Kozlov went right back to the box nine seconds later for dragging down Sean Avery in front of the Washington cage.
New York got a couple of good chances - especially when Brooks Laich broke his stick making it a de facto 5-on-3 - but the Caps held to keep it at a one-goal deficit.
The Caps had some good offensive zone time, but had trouble getting quality scoring chances as the Rangers were staying close to the puck carrier and looking to break up the pass, and only had two shots in the first 12 minutes of the frame to show for it.
The Rangers got their fourth straight extra-man advantage when Mike Green was whistled on a slow-motion penalty with just under seven to play in the frame, but Washington held again to stay down just one.
The Caps finally got their first chance with the extra-man on the afternoon with 3:43 left in the second as Michal Rosival was called for a hook on Ovechkin, but the Caps were guilty of overpassing the puck before they finally got a good chance on Lundqvist. While the Rangers killed off the penalty, it wasn't long before Nik Antropov tripped up Michael Nylander to put the Caps right back on the extra-man with 1:03 left in the frame.
However, New York held off the Caps into the intermission, and once again the Caps got outplayed in the middle period, although this time without any further damage on the scoreboard despite giving up three power plays and getting outshot 10-6.
So, down to 20 minutes left to see if they could climb back into the series, the Capitals had trouble denting the twine.
Washington put some early chances on Lundqvist on the truncated power play to start the frame, but a majority of the shots were long range shots. However, the Caps got a prime chance to pull even once Scott Gomez was whistled for hooking Semin with 13:36 left in regulation.
However, the Caps couldn't connect with the advantage, and left the crowd grumbling after Washington was called for icing the puck with :10 left in the Gomez penalty.
Semin then took another minor when being wrapped up along the boards with Callahan with 10:21 to play, giving New York a chance to put it away, but a Caps' penalty-killing unit that was kept out for almost the full two minutes held.
Washington got a glorious chance for the equalizer on a bad New York turnover in their end, but Ovechkin hit the corner crossbar with 6:01 remaining, leading the Caps still down one.
Nicklas Backstrom got a good chance to break it in with just under four minutes to play, but Lundqvist was up to the task, as he recorded 35 saves in recording his third career playoff shutout.
The series now shifts north for a pair of games on Monday and Wednesday nights in Manhattan, as Washington will need at least one of the next two games to force another game in D.C. The Capitals were 1-0-1 against the Rangers at MSG this season, and perhaps a change of scenery and a hostile environment will spark the Caps.
However, the Caps will have until Monday night to make some changes, as Game 3 is a virtual must-win for Washington as its chances will be microscopic should they go down in an 0-3 hole and needing four straight wins to advance.