WASHINGTON, DC — The four-minute power play giveth, and the four-minute power play taketh away.
The New York Rangers had a chance to eliminate the Washington Capitals in D.C. on Wednesday night because Joel Ward drew blood from Carl Hagelin for a high-sticking double-minor late in Game 5; Brad Richards scored with 7.6 seconds left to tie the game; and then Marc Staal won it on the back end of the power play in overtime.
In Game 6, Jeff Halpern of the Capitals high-sticked John Mitchell at 12:05 of the second period, drawing blood and a double-minor with Washington leading by two goals. The Rangers managed three shots on goal, stopped by goalie Braden Holtby. They missed two more and had another two blocked.
They came up empty, as they would in five power plays overall in Game 6, losing to the Capitals by a 2-1 count and forcing a Game 7 on Saturday night at MSG.
"It sucked. It kills you. It sucked," said Rangers Coach John Tortorella on the momentum-sapping four-minute power play.
Brad Richards, the Rangers' leading scorer on the man advantage with seven points, tried to make things happen when the Capitals were shorthanded, to no avail.
"We had opportunities to grab it on the power play and score, and we end up losing by a goal," he said. "We didn't take the next step during the game and grab momentum."
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was the bright spot, making a series of stellar stops in his 21 saves that kept the Rangers in the game.
"[The Capitals] get a goal right away on the power play and it kind of set the tone for the game, and from there it was just tough for us to get going," said Lundqvist. "It felt like we were pretty far from where we have to be to win a game like this. It felt like we were not really close until the last 20 seconds."
A late goal by Marian Gaborik, with 51 seconds left and Lundqvist pulled, made it close. But the Capitals controlled play for good stretches of the game, weren't scrambling in their own zone on Rangers' chances and came out with a sense of urgency early that the Rangers couldn't match. Alex Ovechkin scored 1:28 into the game after Anton Stralman was called for tripping.
"It's never easy to start down 1-0. We've got some things that we need to fix," said forward Derek Stepan.
"We have to be better. We have to be more urgent, and create opportunities," said forward Ryan Callahan.
A Game 7 in this series wasn't exactly unexpected. After a 3-1 Rangers win in Game 1, each margin of victory has been by a single goal. Holtby continued his trend of winning games after losses, having now gone 29 straight starts in the NHL without losing consecutive games.
But the Rangers had a chance to end this series, eliminate the Capitals and avoid a second straight Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Their effort wasn't good enough.
"I'm not happy with the way we started," forward Brian Boyle said. "We wanted to close'em out tonight, and we didn't. It's a bad feeling."