There were a lot of factors that contributed to the Washington Capitals losing to the New York Rangers, 3-2, on Sunday before a packed house at Madison Square Garden.
If you're into conspiracy theories, this one was a doozy. The Capitals were whistled for eight infractions to the Rangers four, including a couple of "Where was the penalty there?" calls. The game winning goal was scored while the teams skated four-on-four. Still, a couple of the penalties were earned, including the cross-check by John Carlson that led to New York's only power play goal.
If you're a goalie controversy lover, you could argue that the first goal by the Rangers -- a power play goal -- that snuck past Michal Neuvirth's short side from a ridiculously sharp angle into an even more ridiculously small space STILL should never have happened, and if you look closely enough it might even appear that Neuvirth ducked away from the shot just a bit. But you'd be reaching.
If you're a Rangers fan, well, you're certainly entitled to simply cite the stats that show the Blueshirts completely dominated their visitors. The Rangers out-shot the Caps 35 to 25, out-hit them 41 to 29 and dominated in the face-off circle, winning 56 percent of the draws. That's not just outplaying your opponent, that's a complete statistical shutdown.
But the biggest difference between the first two games of this series and the Game Three loss is that the Capitals allowed the Rangers to get to them. The Rangers were the hungrier team, and on their ice, they played agitator, drawing the Caps out of their game plan and putting themselves out there for the taking.
The Rangers played "downhill" all game, forcing the Caps to play reactionary instead of pro-actionary. New York was in Neuvirth's crease all day, instigating contact with the rookie and not only did that result in a ton of reactionary penalties called against, but also drew the Caps defensemen into the physical game instead of playing their positions.
Both penalties against Carlson, the second period cross-check and the double-roughing at 16:45 of the third -- when the game-winner was scored -- were prime examples of the Rangers getting under the skin of the young d-man and taking advantage of his exuberance.
Then, on the play the final tally came on, veteran defenseman Scott Hannan allowed Erik Christiansen to goad him into a shoving contest in the corner instead of tracking the play, allowing Brandon Dubinsky to carry the puck out of the corner and sneak back through the crease to backhand the tie-breaker past Neuvirth (32 saves).
It wasn't all bad for the Caps, as they showed tremendous resiliency, equalizing both time the Rangers took a one goal lead. Alex Ovechkin redirected a Jason Arnott pass on the backhand past Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves) with exactly one minute left in the second period, and Mike Knuble cashed in a Nicklas Backstrom rebound for a power play goal with 5:12 left in the game.
The Caps even had a bit of fortune on their side, as an apparent New York goal was disallowed at the end of the second period after review when it was evident the puck did not fully cross the goal line before the clock read 0:00.
But that's all the fortune the Caps received during Game Three. The rest was up to the Rangers making their own fortune. There's plenty to complain about with the officials, but the bottom line is that the Caps allowed their opponent to dictate the play Sunday afternoon instead of being the aggressors that they were in the first two games of this series.
Which Caps team comes out for Game Four Wednesday night could very well define the rest of this series.
CAPS NOTES: Referee Chris Rooney broke his leg when he got tangled up on the goal trying to get back into a play up-ice. The game was delayed about 10 minutes while the injured ref made his way off the ice. He will miss the rest of the playoffs.
Alexander Semin led the Capitals with six shot on goal.