What It’s Like Cheering for the Caps at MSG

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Posted January 11, 2016

(Photo courtesy of Sam Weinberger)

 

The Stadium

Madison Square Garden is beautiful, and it’s in a great location. It’s right in the middle of the city, and is walking distance from Times Square. This was my fourth time attending a Caps game here, and I can say that there are no bad seats. However, it always feels a bit strange when I have to go to the eighth floor of the building to get to my 200-level seats. Nonetheless, it truly feels special when you witness a game here.

The Fans

The fans were very friendly. My brother and I sat next to two Rangers fans who were as nice as could be. One even offered to buy us each a beer. We certainly got heckled, but it was just for fun, nothing serious. We never felt threatened or unsafe.

With less than one minute remaining in regulation, one Rangers fan that was leaving early tapped me on the shoulder and yelled, “Suck it! Caps suck!” and laughed as he walked towards the tunnel leading to the concourse. He had no idea what was in store.

Even after Alex Ovechkin won the game, my brother and I shook hands with the fans we sat next to. All of us agreed that we had witnessed an excellent hockey game.

The Atmosphere

The crowd was understandably flat through the first two periods. The fans were noticeably frustrated after Girardi’s giveaway that led directly to Ovechkin’s opening goal. The Rangers fan next to could not stop bashing the New York defenseman. However, they woke up when the Rangers got on the board.

All the “LET’S GO RANGERS!” chants that were absent from the first two periods started up after Oscar Lindberg scored New York’s first goal.

The crowd was electric following New York’s second and third goals. They serenaded Braden Holtby with “HOLTBY…HOLTBY…” chants. More “LET’S GO RANGERS!” cheers erupted as they took their first lead of the game. It was loud. It felt like a playoff game, and it was clear the fans had an impact on players from both teams.

All the “OVI SUCKS!” roars were saved for Oscar Lindberg’s big hit on Ovechkin with three minutes remaining. Little did they know, he’d have the last laugh.

Everyone in the building, including myself, was in disbelief when Nicklas Backstrom tied the game. If you can name me a time when the Caps scored a game-tying goal with the net vacated at Madison Square Garden then I’d applaud you, because I can’t. If it weren’t for me and every other Caps fan at the Garden going absolutely insane, then you could probably hear a pin drop.

With overtime underway and the Rangers in the attacking zone, every hometown fan stood up. My brother and I stayed seated without a view of the ice. We were bracing for the worst. We heard a loud gasp from 18 thousand fans. It was a Rick Nash shot saved by Holtby off the face-off. We heard 18 thousand people scream and waited for the goal horn to sound. It didn’t. Nate Schmidt had just blocked Stepan’s great chance in front of the net.

Moments later it was our turn to cheer again.

If you asked me, what would be the most satisfying hockey play to witness, I would probably say an Ovechkin overtime goal against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Who wouldn’t? Like Backstrom’s goal, the only sounds in the stadium following the game-winner were the screams of joy and excitement from Caps fans.

There were a decent number of Caps fans, but not many. Honestly, I would have expected more for a Saturday afternoon in New York City. There were definitely more red sweaters in the stands in Brooklyn. That may just be because the cheapest ticket to the game on every website was priced at around $170.

Reaction

Saturday’s matinee felt like more than just one win. This was arguably the best, if not most satisfying win of the season so far.

The Caps were without two forwards who have played exceptional hockey in Marcus Johansson and Jay Beagle. They were missing their top defensive pairing in Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. Zach Sill was also unavailable. Nonetheless, they still found a way to defeat a good team in extremely hostile territory.

Although the defense had trouble exiting the defensive zone at times, I thought the unit as a whole played a very good game without Orpik or Carlson.

Schmidt and Karl Alzner particularly stood out.

Schmidt finished with 21:20 of time on ice and two assists. He was very impressive with his skating, his distribution of the puck, and his ability to cleanly exit the defensive zone. The young defenseman set up Justin Williams’ breakaway goal with a perfect pass, and he blocked Stepan’s attempt to win the game, which in turn led to his second assist of the afternoon.

Alzner was tremendous on the penalty kill. He seemingly blocked everything, including one brilliant diving block from his knees. He entered Sunday night’s game tied for third in the league in blocks.

The Caps will play host to the Rangers at Verizon Center one week from this Sunday.

The Game

For 40 minutes the Washington Capitals kept the New York Rangers and their fans at bay. The Caps held a 2-0 through two periods at Madison Square Garden, but ten minutes of poor play in the final period erased it all.

Multiple failed opportunities to clear the puck out of the zone coupled with a dreadful power play led to three consecutive Rangers goals. For the first time in a long time the Caps seemed unnerved. Their 21-0-1 record when leading after two periods was in jeopardy.

The Caps responded with an onslaught of offensive pressure. An outstanding shift by the second line with less than five minutes remaining led to a chance for Andre Burakovsky in front of the left circle, but he hit the post.

It seemed like this was going to be another one of those games where King Henrik frustratingly shut the door late on the Caps. I wouldn’t be able to count all of those instances on two hands.

But this time was different.

With seven seconds remaining, Williams evaded a kneeling Jesper Fast to get a shot on net and allow a chance for a net-mouth scramble. Nicklas Backstrom was parked in front of the net and buried the juicy bounce under Henrik Lundqvist with 5.7 seconds remaining to tie the game .

The game was headed to overtime.

Just over a minute into the extra frame, Derek Stepan had an empty net tap-in goal denied by the outstretched stick-blade of Nate Schmidt. Ovechkin gathered the loose puck, and made up his mind that he was going to win the game.

Oveckin was a blur down the left flank. He blew by Nash as he crossed the offensive blue line, cut in front of Ryan McDonagh, and snapped a scorcher right between the legs of the defenseman and Lundqvist to win the game.