|Series Tied 3 - 3|
May 12 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 4:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet, NBCSN
Radio: 1500 AM and 106.7 The Fan FM/Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (26-18-3)
New York Rangers (28-13-5)
Game 6, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series (Caps lead series, 3-2)
Exactly one year ago on Sunday, the New York Rangers eliminated the Washington Capitals from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams.
A year later, the Caps have a chance to return the favor in the same building.
The Capitals’ thrilling 2-1 overtime win in Friday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Rangers puts Washington in a position to end the series with a win on Sunday in New York. The Rangers are seeking to force a Game 7, which would be played on Monday in Washington if necessary.
Mike Ribeiro’s rebound goal off a Karl Alzner shot from the left point enabled the Caps to edge the Rangers in Game 5. It marked the second time in the series that Washington earned a win in overtime without ever holding a lead at any point during the contest. Since winning Game 1 by a 3-1 count, the Capitals have led for only 8:04 of the 257:24 of hockey played between the two teams in the four games played.
“We know the Rangers team,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. “We know it’s going to be a tight game. It’s not going to be a blowout either way. But we’re comfortable playing in those tight games, and you can tell our confidence in our defensemen especially, with their patience with the puck back behind our goal line.
“We know Game 6 is going to be the exact same way. We’ll just stick with our game plan as long as we can through the whole effort, and we believe that gives us the best chance to win.”
Washington has scored a grand total of six goals in its three wins and has also scored six goals in its two losses in this series. The Caps have had 11 different goal scorers in the playoffs; only Mike Green (two) has tallied more than once.
No team has won on the road in the series, but the Caps are hoping to change that on Sunday.
“We’re there to win one game,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We’ve got to play hockey. Obviously they’re going to be more desperate, but that can’t effect our decisions. We’ve still got to play the way we play. And we’ll try to focus them on that. We have to have a better start that gets them into the game.”
New York scored the game’s first goal in the game’s first minute, jumping out in front on a Brian Boyle goal just 53 seconds after the opening face-off. Holtby needed to make strong saves in the first period on New York forwards Derek Dorsett and Carl Hagelin to keep the Caps within a goal.
Washington has been outscored 4-1 in the first period of the five games in the series.
The Caps drew even in the second period of Game 5 when Ribeiro goaded Boyle into a slashing penalty away from the play. Eleven seconds later, Joel Ward scored on a Washington power play to knot the game at 1-1.
“The second period, really neither team developed a whole bunch,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella after the game. “They scored on a power play, but for our team it did go downhill. We had a couple of chances in overtime. Third period, we didn’t have much. That’s the way it worked out.”
Generally, Ward or Troy Brouwer (and occasionally Eric Fehr) occupies the slot spot in Washington’s power play alignment from which Ward tallied the tying goal. The Rangers had been effective at defending the Caps from that spot until Ward’s goal in Game 5.
“Obviously [the Rangers] did a good job of taking that away in New York,” says Ward. “We looked at some tape and made a few adjustments on some positioning. I got a good pass and was open in the slot, and just took a crack at it.”
That Washington power play on the Boyle penalty came at 7:33 of the second period, the latest the Caps have had their first manpower advantage in the five games of this series.
Power plays at any time of the game have been increasingly rare for the Capitals as the series has worn on, despite Washington’s dominance in five-on-five play for the lion’s share of the last four games.
The Caps had five power play chances to four for New York in Game 1, but the Rangers have had the edge in that category in all four games since. Over the last four games, the Capitals have had 260 even-strength shot attempts to 174 for the Rangers, and Washington has had at least 14 more shot attempts than New York in each of those four games.
Since you can’t shoot the puck unless you have it, the shot attempt metric is a reasonable one for judging possession time and territorial advantages. Big leads can skew those numbers, but no team has led by more than two goals at any point in the series, and more than 98 percent of the minutes in the last four games have been played with the score tied or the two teams within a single goal of each other.
It is not at all unreasonable to expect a team that exhibited the level of territorial and possession advantage the Caps have shown in the last four games of this series to have a fairly decided edge in power play opportunities, too. Instead, the opposite has been true. New York has had a 17-9 advantage in power play chances in those four games.
After Washington’s Saturday practice, Oates wisely opted not to comment on any aspect of officiating in the series.
“We talk to our players about our discipline and controlling ourselves,” was as far as he would go in that discussion.
Special teams have been a factor in the series. New York has won each of the two games in which it has scored a power play goal and Washington has won each of the three games in which it has tallied with the extra man.
Discipline is likely to be a key again on Sunday, when the series could end in Manhattan.
“I don’t consider it an elimination game,” says Tortorella. “We’re trying to win one game. I’m not even going to use that word. We have bounced back. Guys that haven’t been in it, it’s an opportunity. That’s the way they have to look at it. So we’ll go home and try to win a game.”
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