Fedorov Erases 11 Years of Playoff Frustration in Washington
Though the game was tied and the shot count close, the Caps, who had climbed back from 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits to tie the series 3-3 and force a Game 7 at home, had been thoroughly outplayed by the visitors.
How? The Rangers just seemed to want it more. All series long, New York coach John Tortorella had said that he wanted his team to work the puck down low deep in the Caps defensive zone. And on shift after shift during the second period, the Rangers took up residence in Wayne Gretzky's office, continually throwing the puck out front to wingers cutting to the front of the net. If it hadn't been for some otherworldly goaltending by Russian rookie Simeon Varlamov, the Caps could very well have been left for dead.
But in one moment in the third period, an old veteran proved he had something left in the tank, and 11 years of playoff frustration evaporated in a flash.
That moment came with just 4:59 remaining in the third period. There's no reason to describe it when you can just watch it. And thanks to the quality of the video, you can almost imagine that it's 1999 instead of 2009, and a much younger Sergei Fedorov is still playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings:
"It was just a regular break out. It was two-on-one in their zone. Not much else was going on, so I decided to shoot the puck," said Fedorov. "I stopped and I did it and it went in top corner short side," he said, in just the same spot where Henrik Lundqvist had proven so vulnerable in Games 5 and 6. "Yeah, he's got quite a shot," said a very happy Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau afterwards.
"He came down the wing and beat me with a good shot," said Lundqvist after the game. "That's what happened. The difference between winning and losing a game like this is so small. It's tough when you're that close and you feel like you're doing the right things out there," he added.
But as I mentioned earlier, the Capitals were lucky -- yes, very lucky -- to be in the position to win this game in the third period. If anything, through two periods, the real hero of this game had to be Tortorella, who figured out a way to get his team to forget about the twin blowouts in Games 5 and 6, and got them to recommit to the type of hockey that had won them three of the first four games of the series.
To win a Game 7 on the road, it always helps if you can take the home crowd out of the game early. And the Rangers did just that when deadline day acquisition Nik Antropov scored to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. The goal was all guts, as Antropov was the beneficiary of some hard work from Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery along the boards and down low, as the pair won the sort of battles that had been driving the Capitals crazy all series long.
But sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and almost exactly 10 minutes later the Capitals found out just how good lucky can be. Streaking in on left wing, Alexander Semin let go with one of his patented wrist shots. On any other night, the shot might have gone wide, but on this night, it deflected off of Rangers winger Ryan Callahan and past a stunned Lundqvist to tie the game, 1-1 at 15:34. The goal was Semin's fifth of the series.
At that point, the Rangers had to wonder what else in the world they could have done to put down the Capitals, as they had limited the home team to just a pair of shots in the first 20 minutes, yet couldn't keep the lead. It was then that Tortorella and his team uncorked their masterpiece of the series, as the Rangers stifled the Capitals offense, while keeping the pressure on in the offensive zone with a vicious forecheck that never seemed to let up.
But the Caps weathered the storm, and New York seemed to run out of gas in the third period as Washington increased up the pressure, finding their offensive touch once again while outshooting New York 13-1.
"For most of the game I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck. It was probably the most we kept the puck all series," said Tortorella. "We couldn't develop scoring chances with the puck and during the third period I think they turned it up a notch."
The Washington forecheck was so intense in the game's final moments that the Rangers never had a chance to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker. "In [the] third period I felt we had more energy. That goal was pretty sick, actually," said Washington winger Alex Ovechkin. "I tell him [Fedorov]. It was very sick."
"It's just one of those things," said Rangers center Scott Gomez, who could hardly be blamed for feeling sick himself. "That's a great club over there. We stuck to our game plan and in the third they took the play to us ... Just one shot -- that's all we kept saying," Gomez said.
But that one shot never found the back of the net thanks to Varlamov, who allowed just eight goals in six games, stopping 152 of 160 shots while posting a GAA of 1.34. In a jubilant Washington locker room after the game, his teammates helped him celebrate his 21st birthday one day late by applying a shaving creme pie for the ages. As you can see below, Varlamov was still cleaning up when we caught up with him after the game:
Up next for Washington in the second round after the first series victory since the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals: the dreaded Pittsburgh Penguins. Let's face it, it's the series the league wants, it's the series NBC wants and it's the series the fans in Washington and Pittsburgh want. Sid and Ovie. Geno and Semin. Last year's savior head coach vs. this year's edition.
Can't wait till Saturday? Neither can I.