WASHINGTON, DC – Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner briefly channeled Al Pacino.
“The inches we need are everywhere around us,” he said, quoting Pacino’s football coach from “Any Given Sunday” in a speech played nightly on the Verizon Center Jumbotron.
Like the inches away New York Rangers penalty killer Derek Stepan was from not having his stick deflect a Mike Green shot behind Henrik Lundqvist eight minutes into overtime, giving the Capitals a 1-0 Game 2 victory on Saturday afternoon and a 2-0 series lead.
“I just happened to be open and my goal was to get it by the first guy and try to hit the net,” said Green.
Like the inches away Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was from having the puck glance off the glass instead of clearing it at 7:09 of overtime, giving the Capitals a power play for delay of game; a power play on which the best man-advantage unit in the NHL ended the game.
“I was trying to get the puck up the wall to [Brian Boyle], just got a little too under it,” said a dejected McDonagh, who fought back tears in postgame interviews. “We really battled hard, wanted to come out and find a way to tie the series. We're down 2-0 and all we can do is focus on Game 3.
“I’m already focusing on Game 3. I’m ready for it.”
Like the inches away Steven Oleksy was from avoiding a delay of game penalty, as he put the puck over the glass for the Capitals just 1:51 into overtime. Washington would kill off the Rangers’ power play to keep the game scoreless, just as their PK and goalie Braden Holtby (24 saves) had done all game.
"I thought I was still in the neutral zone maybe. I tried to make a hard play, and unfortunately it sat flat on my stick and carried it over,” said Oleksy, adding that it’s painful for a defenseman to fester in the penalty box after taking a delay of game call.
“Absolutely. It’s one that can be avoidable, but it’s one of those things that happens.”
Like the inches Alzner was from getting called for delay of game with 46 seconds left in regulation, as the puck cleared off his stick and over the glass. A brief conference by the officials confirmed that the puck was deflected rather than shot over the glass, which isn’t covered by the NHL’s rulebook:
When any player, while in his defending zone, shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game. When the puck is shot into the players’ bench, the penalty will not apply. When the puck is shot over the glass ‘behind’ the players’ bench, the penalty will be assessed.
What Alzner did isn’t necessarily in keeping with the spirit of the rule – it appeared his stick angled the puck on the deflection – but it’s also not a violation of the rule as its written. Hence, the Rangers didn’t get a power play, although they’d receive one for the same infraction just 1:51 into OT on Oleksy’s gaffe.
Should it be a penalty, going forward?
“No,” said Alzner, to the surprise of no one.
The Capitals defenseman has actually given this some thought: He envisioned a scenario similar to what happened in the third period while thinking about Game 2 on Friday night.
“It was weird. I was thinking about a play if a guy passed it from side to side and stuck my stick out and tipped it out of the zone, would they call a penalty on it?” he said.
The answer, to the chagrin of the Rangers and fans who suspect this is a loophole in the delay of game rule, was no.
(To clarify: If a deflection out of the defensive zone is exonerated because it’s simply an unavoidable turn of the puck, shouldn’t then shots that mistakenly clear the glass with pucks on edge be given a similar exoneration?)
McDonagh’s game-deciding delay of game call came at the end of a 3-minute, 4-second shift that included an icing call on the Rangers and a subsequent timeout. It was his overly aggressive attempt to intercept a Capitals’ pass that allowed Washington to set up shop in the Rangers’ zone and eventually led to the penalty – one that had McDonagh in the box, watching Green’s game-winning goal.
“That’s a tough play for D-men especially. You’re just trying to get the puck out because you’re tired,” said Alzner.
“I don’t like [the rule] because I’m a defenseman, and I’m [often] in the same situation,” said Green. “I try not to go over the glass. I high flip it.”
“It’s a tough rule,” said Oleksy.
“It’s a rule,” said New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, cutting to the point.
It's a rule that defined Game 2 of this tightly played series, with the Rangers doing what they simply cannot do if they want to rally and advance: Give the best power play in hockey a chance to win the game.
“We’re back on the track,” said Alex Ovechkin, who assisted on Green’s game winner, of the Capitals' power play. “Teams are afraid to take the penalties.”