April 20 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Game 4, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series (Caps lead, 2-1) Time: 7:00 pm TV: VERSUS, Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
New York Rangers (44-33-5 in regular season)
Washington Capitals (48-23-11 in regular season)
The Capitals and New York Rangers have played just under 200 minutes of hockey in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series. For more than 160 minutes of that time, the two teams have been tied or within a single goal of one another.
Sunday’s Game 3 was the epitome of a seesaw affair. The two teams traded goals, with New York scoring first and getting the odd-numbered tallies of the contest, including the game-winner with 99 seconds remaining in regulation.
That victory kept the Blueshirts from falling into a 3-0 chasm in the series.
After winning the first two games of the series, the Caps are seeking to regain their two-game lead in Wednesday’s Game 4 at Madison Square Garden. Washington leads the series 2-1 heading into Wednesday's contest.
“This game is really going to swing the series,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “We can take a stranglehold on it or it could be a very long series. We understand that. It’s the same situation we faced last game. We weren’t successful last game, so we have to have a better effort and try to change that here in Game 4.”
Washington met New York’s early push in Game 3, but the Capitals ran in to some significant penalty trouble. The Caps took eight minors in the game, giving the Rangers seven power play opportunities in the process. New York enjoyed of two-man advantages totaling 1:35 in Sunday’s game.
The Caps and Rangers each scored once in 5-on-5 play and once on the power play, but the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky won it with a goal late in the third period while both clubs were playing 4-on-4.
Starting at 17:40 of the first period when the Caps’ Matt Hendricks went off for interference, Washington was whistled for half a dozen minor penalties in a very tight span of just 13:21. As good as the Capitals’ penalty killing corps has been all season, they were fortunate to be down just 1-0 when they finally tiptoed through that strenuous series of New York power plays.
The Capitals held their own in 5-on-5 play in Sunday’s game, and they’d just like to play with more discipline going forward.
In Wednesday’s Game 4, they’d also like to re-establish more of an offensive zone presence as they have for the better part of the last two months.
“I think it’s very important for us to get pucks deep and make a physical style game against the [Rangers defense],” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We didn’t have a lot of shots the first two periods, and when you don’t have shots you can’t score. If you have shots, you have to find rebounds and make some traffic in front of [New York netminder] Henrik Lundqvist.”
Certainly, more traffic in front of Lundqvist would be welcomed, too. New York has had a consistent and occasionally effective presence at the top of the paint in the Washington end, in front of Capitals goalkeeper Michal Neuvirth.
“It’s been a tight defensive game out there,” notes Caps center Jason Arnott. “It’s been a hard-fought game with lots of hitting. It’s a tight game. It’s hard to get to [Lundqvist]. It’s hard to get shots on net. They’re playing real well that way, as well as we are. For the most part, I think we’ve just got to get more shots when we can. Try not to make that pretty play when it’s there and crash the net as much as we can.”
Although Ovechkin’s four points (two goals, two assists) are just a single point off the NHL lead in playoff scoring going into Tuesday night’s games, there are some who believe the Caps’ best players could be doing more.
“They’re doing a pretty good job of checking them,” says Boudreau. “but I don’t think you ever win anything without your best players being your best players. I think they’re working pretty hard at it. They’re doing a good job of nullifying them, but somehow we’ve got to find a way."
Ovechkin has taken 32 shots on the three games of the series to date, but has managed to get just nine of them on net. He has had 14 shots blocked and has missed on nine tries. The Caps' captain has had three shots on goal in 17 attempted shots in the last two games.
“Your star players are your star players," says Boudreau. "They’ve got to be the ones who get it done, for the most part. Your role players are your role players; they set up the star players by outworking the opposition.”
Washington has scored exactly two goals in each of the three games, and – dating back to last spring – it has gone a franchise record six straight Stanley Cup playoff games without scoring more than two goals.
One thing Boudreau wants to see is more of a presence in front of the Rangers’ goal, so that Lundqvist sees less of the puck.
“Whether it’s a series or the regular season,” begins Boudreau, “we talk about it every game, every day, that if we don’t go to the net, you’re not going to score any goals. It’s something that we reinforce, but I’m sure they’re tired of hearing it from me and they should know it.
“You have to do things that are out of character. Sometimes guys don’t like driving to the net. But to win, you have to drive to the net. It’s as simple as that. You have to get in his face when there are shots from the point. You have to win the battles below the circles. These are the things that are going to make you win or lose. It’s the one-on-one battles in the corner and things that are going to make you successful.
“I want to see our guys not let him see the puck, because he seems to be seeing an awful lot of them.”
Washington has faith in its game, and faith that if it plays the way it did in the first two games of the series, it will head home with a chance to end it on Saturday in Game 5 at Verizon Center.
“Forget about Game 3," says Arnott. "Even when you win, you’ve got to forget about it. You’ve got to move on to the next game and get prepared and think of it as Game 1. You can’t think, ‘We’re up in the series, we can just sit down.’
"They’re going to come out with everything they’ve got to try to tie the series up. We have to match that or be better. And I think the guys know that in here. We have to go out thinking it’s Game 1. We’ve got to be prepared and ready to go and not look back. We can’t look in the past, we have to stay in the present and work hard for it.”