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Greg Wyshynski

Battle-ready Rangers baffling Ovechkin, Capitals for 2-0 lead

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WASHINGTON, DC -- New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella doesn't always trust subjective stats like blocked shots, but the final tally was staggering in his team's 1-0 win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon: 29 blocks, including a combined 11 against Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green.

"At key times, and against some pretty key people from Washington, make some big blocks and get some good sticks on the puck," Tortorella said. "And when we didn't, Hank made the save."

That was a thumbnail sketch of Game 2: The Rangers' aggressive, fearless defensive front frustrating the Capitals for two periods before King Henrik closed the game with an outstanding third period of goaltending.

The dramatic switch from Jose Theodore to rookie Simeon Varlamov for the Capitals was the story heading into the game, and the Russian goalie played well and avoided any of the softies that crippled the Capitals in Game 1.

But as Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game: The real story was on the other end of the ice, where the Rangers continued to orchestrate a defensive masterpiece against the third-highest scoring offense in the regular season.

"Once again: I know it's boring," said Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky. "But they were ready to go again, and we just found a way to win some of the little battles that we needed to."

Tortorella said that the Rangers are exhibiting a level of poise that's allowed them to maintain composure during those moments when the Capitals' offensive gets cranked up.

"I think our battle level has gone up" he said. "We did some stupid things today, but we end up recovering and just finding a way to get it done. We're backboned by our goalie, and he's going to have to continue to get it done. I just like the way they fight. When something bad happens, we just try to find a way to recover and find a way to win."

That path to victory has frequently been through a sacrificing the body. Through two games, the Rangers have 50 blocked shots; today, that included four apiece from Dan Girardi, Derek Morris and Blair Betts; and three from captain Chris Drury, who returned from injury.

"You don't let the puck get to your net," said defenseman Wade Redden. "The guys are doing a great job of that, not letting them get back to Hank as best as they can. It's contagious."

Ovechkin has been humbled by the Rangers' shot-blocking: 10 shots blocked in Game 1 and then another seven in Game 2. When the shots got through, Henrik Lundqvist was there.

"He still put up a lot of shots. Guy's probably the best in the world. [He's] going to get chances. But Lundqvist and the 'D' were outstanding again," said Rangers center Scott Gomez. "We'll go over the tape. I'm sure Torts will tell us what we did wrong."

The Capitals may want to look at the tape of the game's lone goal, scored by Ryan Callahan at 7:44 of the first. Washington blew a 4-on-2 rush, and then the majority of those players were still in the neutral zone as Tom Poti failed to stop a Markus Naslund pass across to Callahan for a nice goal that wasn't Varlamov's fault.

"I don't think any goalie could make a save on the play that we scored on," said Dubinsky.

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Lundqvist, meanwhile, made 35 saves and was outstanding in the third; at one point making a save while playing with a defenseman's stick.

The Capitals took a bunch of perimeter shots against Lundqvist, but failed to get traffic in front or ash in on rebounds. "We talk about getting to the front of the net and going for rebounds. And we go for rebounds, he's kicking them by us," said Boudreau.

"We tried like hell to get there."

Ovechkin acknowledged that Lundqvist has been a difference maker.

"Again lots of chances, he played great," he said. "It is going to be a hard road trip, but we have to figure out our mind and try and win game."

Monday night's Game 3 at MSG could be the Capitals' last gasp. The Rangers are on a defensive roll that predates the playoffs, and this is now a Henrik Lundqvist Series -- as he has in the past, the Rangers goalie is stonewalling an opponent in the first round.

Is there any less pressure on the underdog Rangers, going back to Manhattan with a 2-0 series lead?

"Oh, [expletive], no," Tortorella said after the game, drawing a laugh from the media.

"Oh no ... we have to be ready to play Game 3."

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