NEW YORK – Ask Troy Brouwer why there will be a Game 7 at Verizon Center on Monday night [CSN pregame at 7 p.m.] and he’ll use one word over and over:
“Penalties,” Brouwer said after the Caps took seven of them in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “Let’s start with penalties. Let’s end with penalties.
“That’s the only thing that stunted our game tonight. It killed our momentum. It killed our progress. It killed our top players who kill penalties. You can’t keep killing six or seven penalties a night and expect to win hockey games.”
If the Capitals go on to lose this series, they will have no one to blame but themselves and the path they wore to the penalty box.
On Sunday the Caps gave the Rangers five straight power plays on penalties to Jack Hillen [roughing], Karl Alzner [delay of game], Eric Fehr [elbowing], Joel Ward [cross-checking] and Mike Green [cross-checking].
The Caps, who relied on their top-ranked power play all season, were not given a single man-advantage.
Through six games, each won by the home team, the Rangers have had 26 power plays to the Caps’ 14. To their credit, the Caps have killed off 24 of those 26 power plays, but as Brouwer said, the parade to the sin bin has allowed the Rangers to force a seventh and deciding game. The Caps are 3-8 all-time in Game 7s and 2-4 in the Alex Ovechkin era.
“It’s very difficult,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “At the end of the day it’s the same thing we talked about. It’s a lot of minutes for some guys and other guys are sitting on the bench and taken out of their games.
“In the heat of the moment you don’t want the emotions to get the best of you.”
That, in a nutshell, has been the story of this series. The Rangers are a team of hard-hitting instigators who bait opponents into retaliating with their aggressive play.
Three of the Capitals’ penalties on Sunday were retaliatory.
Midway through the first period Hillen took a hit from Ryan Callahan at his own blue line and shoved his gloves into Callahan’s face in reply. Later in the period Fehr was about to take a hit from Derick Brassard when he turned and elbowed him in the face. And with 6:14 remaining in the third period Green slammed Brassard into the boards and cross-checked him in the face.
“We deserved some, we didn’t deserve some,” Brouwer said. “I can’t believe they didn’t get a penalty tonight. It seems a little outlandish, but that’s how it goes. I think we need to work harder to generate some calls.”
The issue of taking undisciplined penalties was addressed at the start of the regular season, when the Caps went 2-8-1, but it has resurfaced against the Rangers, who were the least penalized team in the regular season.
Do players need to be reminded?
“I look at it kind of like a bird that sits on your shoulder that’s always chirping in your ear,” said Caps veteran center Matt Hendricks, who logged 3:21 in shorthanded time. “It’s one of those aspects of the game that always needs to be reiterated, especially in the playoffs when emotions run high and frustrations run high. We need to be a more disciplined hockey team.
“They play hard hockey. They frustrate you and we can’t allow that to happen.”