How united was the Garden crowd against the referees at last night’s 2–1 Rangers victory over the Capitals? Even the innocent-looking 11-year-old sitting next to us — face painted, snacking on a lemon ice — joined in on the arena-wide chant of “Assholes!” directed at the officials after a series of what they considered questionable penalty calls (or non-calls). But the last two calls against the Rangers — both dumb Sean Avery penalties in the third period — were legit, the Rangers killed them off, and the team survived to take a 3–1 lead in a series virtually no one picked them to win.
And for this, they have Henrik Lundqvist to thank. The Rangers goalie was at the very top of his game — even as Washington dominated long stretches of the match — allowing only Alexander Ovechkin’s first goal of the series while making 38 saves. (Lundqvist, by the way, answered Intel’s 21 Questions just last week.) This has been a recurring theme in the series: The Caps’ offense has looked far more dangerous than the Rangers’, but the Rangers are somehow scoring enough goals — or maybe allowing few enough goals — to win. (It didn’t hurt that Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov allowed a soft second-period goal to Chris Drury that ended up making the difference.)
It’s also worth noting that Avery has become something of a liability in the past two games. The hustle is still there, and so is the willingness to work along the boards, but he’s taken some spectacularly bad penalties. We choose to look at it this way, though: The last two seasons, Avery was a major factor in first-round series victories, and then a disciplined team was able to completely neutralize him in the second round. But now, the Rangers are a win away from taking a series not thanks to him, but in spite of him. And for that, Avery owes Lundqvist a beer.