April 17 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Game 3, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series (Caps lead, 2-0) Time: 3:00 pm TV: NBC Radio: 1500AM, XM and the Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (48-23-11 in regular season)
New York Rangers (44-33-5 in regular season)
Eight days after a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils gave them a chance to make the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Rangers return to Manhattan in desperate need of another win. They host the Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a huge game,” says Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth, who is 2-0 with a .979 save pct. in the first two games of the series. “Madison Square Garden is a very popular building. I already won a game there early in the season. It’s going to be a good game, and hopefully we’re going to take advantage of the momentum.”
Down 2-0 in the series, the Rangers need a win to get back into the set. Only 41 of the 307 teams (13.4%) in Stanley Cup playoff history that have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven set have come back to win the series.
Washington’s own playoff history has helped to skew those stats even higher in the favor of the 0-2 team. In their 36-year history, the Capitals have led five series 2-0, but have won only once. Washington lost to Pittsburgh in seven games in 2009 and to Tampa Bay in six games in 2003 after taking a 2-0 series lead in each.
The Caps forged that 2-0 lead with a pair of stifling defensive performances. They’ve limited the Rangers to 47 shots on goal and one goal in nearly 140 minutes of hockey.
“We’re playing playoff hockey,” says Caps defenseman John Erskine. “Everybody is buying into what our plan is and guys are sacrificing their body to block shots. We watch replays; guys are all coming back to the front of the net and blocking out. Everything’s been going good so far.
“We know they’re coming out hard so we try to match their work ethic. We played physical and we just played as a team.”
Washington’s 18 skaters have combined to block more shots (53) than New York has managed to get on net thus far in the series. Fourteen of the Capitals’ 18 skaters have recorded at least one blocked shot on the series.
“Guys are blocking shots,” says Washington right wing Mike Knuble. “I hear a lot of chatter about blocked shots from watching highlights of games that it’s something [the Rangers] were noted for coming in and we’re matching them. We’re being as stingy in that department. The guys are looking for who’s got the most blocked shots and I think it’s a source of pride amongst our defensemen.”
The Capitals have scored just four goals of their own in the two games, netting two in each tilt. But their commitment to their own end of the ice and their focus on doing all the little things is making that minimal attack good enough.
Three different lines have scored one goal and the Caps’ long dormant postseason power play kicked in with one when Jason Arnott scored in the second period of Friday’s 2-0 victory over the Rangers.
“All facets of the game [have been good],” says Knuble. “The power play kicked in with a huge goal [Friday]. The penalty killing has been extremely strong. And [Jason] Chimera’s goal, the third line grabbing a goal there. That’s how you’re successful. I think to a man we’re showing up and playing and we’re committed to how we want to defend our lead and defend our own end.”
In their checkered 36-year history, the Caps have taken a 2-0 series lead five times in best-of-seven sets. They’ve never won Game 3 in any of those five series, and they’ve only managed to win the series once. That was in 1998 when they ousted Ottawa in five games in a second round series. The Caps advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the only time in their history that year.
“Every game is a new game and we know they’re going to come out hard [Sunday] afternoon so we’ve got to be ready,” says Erskine. “We got our two [wins] at home and we’re looking to go in there and steal a couple games. But we know they’re going to come out hard in front of their home crowd and it’s a tough rink to play in.”
“We remember when we played Pittsburgh [in 2009], we had a 2-0 lead there and we blew that and we ended up losing the series. We know [Sunday] afternoon we have to come out hard and be ready for them. We don’t want to blow it.”
If the Capitals can replicate the effort and performance they’ve put together in the first seven periods of this series, New York will be hard-pressed to mount a comeback no matter where the games are played.
“I think the biggest key is we have to make sure we’re ready right away,” says Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom. “They’re going to come out hard. All those things we have talked about before, and we have to be aware of that. That’s the biggest key.
“And then I think we have to play the same way he did at home. We have to have the same work ethic we had at home.”
Most of the Caps on this year’s club have been through the playoff ups and downs of the last three springs, and that experience should serve them well going forward.
“I think we’ve been in every situation,” notes center Boyd Gordon. “We’ve been coming from behind and having the lead. We’re not taking anything for granted. We know we’re going into a tough building to play in and we know the momentum of a series can shift pretty quickly. [Sunday] is a very big game. We’re going to have to do the same thing if we want the same result.
“We can’t get complacent at all. We know it’s going to take that exact same effort and sense of urgency to get the wins.”