Beninati: Long night, ends well

Beninati: Long night, ends well
April 14, 2011, 4:56 am
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Thursday, April 13, 2011 12:06 a.m.


By Joe Beninati

WASHINGTON -- So many hockey experts comment favorably and deservedly about the New York Rangers and their never-give-up work ethic. After tonights Eastern Conference Quarterfinal opener, the Washington Capitals deserve some attention for their own willingness to battle to the finish. This was the type of scrappy performance that can lead to very positive things for the Caps.

Throughout the night on CSN, we were discussing the potential of a very interesting goaltending duel between Michal Neuvirth and Henrik Lundquist and neither one of those guys would disappoint us.

Neuvirth told me yesterday that he was excited for this opportunity and honored to get the starting nod from Bruce Boudreau. His play tonight indicated that he deserved the chance. Once he made a beautiful full-split save on an Erik Christensen chance in the opening period, you could tell he was on his way to a strong showing.

Simply put, Lundquist is an amazing talent, and when he gets help from the crossbar twice in the first period there had to be many thousands of Caps fans afraid that this was going to be his night.

It was great to see Mike Green back on the ice. Earlier in the week, he asked Bruce Boudreau to ease him back into the line-up tonight. Well, 26 minutes of intense work was hardly easy. I thought he meshed pretty well with John Erskine. They had their signals crossed once or twice, but all in all they were sound together. Heres hoping that Mike feels well overnight and that things go even more smoothly for him on Friday.

Nicklas Backstrom had excellent skating legs tonight. He was first on the puck quite a bit and when he gets to it under control he makes things happen. He had a clear cut breakaway off an Alex Ovechkin feed, only to be thwarted by a leg save in desperation from Lundquist, his Olympic teammate.

The Rangers would grab the lead early in the third period thanks to a terrific hustle play by Brandon Prust. He won a battle along the boards, made a quick cycle pass to Wojtek Wolski, who then relayed to an open Matt Gilroy who pounded the puck past Neuvirth at 1:56 of period three.

Alex Ovechkin would not be denied about 12 minutes later. I liked Ovechkins work rate this evening. Its going to be fun watching him deal with the challenge of the Ranger top D pair Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Ovechkin managed to squirt a rebound through Lundquists pad and skate. The play required video review which confirmed that the puck was across the goal-line before the net was dislodged.

More quality stops from Neuvirth and Lundquist assured that the game would stretch into overtime. And once it arrived in bonus time, it looked like they might be playing all night.

That is, until a lengthy line-shift took a great deal of energy out of Staal who failed to clear the puck out of the zone. With several teammates caught up ice and far away from the All-Star defender, his dump-out went straight into the glove of Jason Arnott, who moved it quickly to Alex Semin. Semin uncorked a bullet slapshot that overpowered Lundquist and brought bedlam to Verizon Center at 18:24 of the extra session.

Good for Semin! His commitment level was high tonight; when he is self-motivated like this he can be a big difference-maker, and ultimately he brought the Caps home a winner in Game 1.