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May 10 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 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 5, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series (series even, 2-2)
With wins in Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between themselves and the Washington Capitals, the New York Rangers have evened the series at 2-2, effectively shrinking the set to a best-of-three. The series returns to the District on Friday for a pivotal Game 5.
“You’ve got to give them some credit,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of the Rangers. “They beat us in their barn. We’re back to home [Friday]. We’ve been focusing on one game and that hasn’t changed. We’ve got a big game [Friday] in our barn. We’ve done some things well and there are some things we’ve got to improve. That’s the way we’ve approached every game.”
The team that prevails in Friday’s tilt will be in a position to close out the series in Sunday’s Game 6, which will be played in New York.
The Caps lost Games 3 and 4 in New York by identical scores of 4-3. Those are the first playoff games New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist has won when allowing as many as three goals in more than four years. He had been 0-14 in his previous 14 postseason starts when allowing three or more goals.
Washington went into the third period of Games 3 and 4 all even so both contests were winnable. The Caps allowed two goals in the third period of each of the two games in New York, and those late-game breakdowns short-circuited Washington comeback bids.
“We showed a lot of character,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “We fought back. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit making a few turnovers and a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on. And obviously we tried to stay out of the box the best we could. But we’re excited to get back home. It’s a long series and we knew coming in it was going to be a good fight. We’re excited to get here at Verizon Center, get a win here and then get back on the road.”
One of the league’s top five-on-five teams during the regular season, the Rangers were also very adept at locking down leads, even leads gained early in games. New York was 18-2-1 in games in which it scored the first goal during the 2012-13 season, and it was 13-0-1 when it owned a lead after 20 minutes of play, but the Caps won Game 1 of the series despite allowing the game’s first goal and trailing after 20.
Playing catch-up against the Rangers has proven to be no easy feat, so the Caps would love to change things up and grab an early lead in Game 5. Washington has tallied just once during the first period in the four games of the series to date.
“I think when we get the lead, we’re pretty good, too,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “So we’ve got to get going. We had a 3-1 lead in Game 1 and locked it down pretty good, didn’t give them anything.
“That first goal is huge, obviously. You want to get that first goal and build off it from there, even if just to throw Lundqvist off his game a little bit. You want to get him questioning himself. I think when those goals go in early, a goalie questions himself and you can get some more on him.”
Washington held the lead for a total of 25:39 in last Thursday’s series opener, and it led by two goals for 24:53. But in the 188 minutes of hockey played in the series since, the Capitals have been in front of the Rangers for a total of just 8:44.
By contrast, the Rangers led for just 10:16 of the first two games of the series played in Washington, but the Rangers were ahead of the Capitals for a total of 70:05 of the 120 minutes of hockey played in Manhattan this week.
Both the Capitals and the Rangers have benefited from strong contributions from players deeper in their respective lineups. Third-line center Mathieu Perreault is tied for the Washington team lead in scoring with four points (one goal, three assists) while New York third-line pivot Derick Brassard leads the Rangers with five points (one goal, four assists).
“We just want to get on their defense and work hard,” says Perreault of his line’s philosophy. “We know [the Rangers] are trying match lines. We’re one of the lines that when we’re out there, they’re not sending their top defense or top line so we want to take advantage of that. So far, we’re doing a good job of that and we want to keep doing more of that.”
The flipside of that coin is that both team’s marquee stars have struggled. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin has a goal and an assist but has been held without a point in consecutive games of the same series for the first time in his Stanley Cup playoff career. New York’s Brad Richards has one goal and Rangers left wing Rick Nash has one assist.
“Last game I don’t have lots of chances,” says Ovechkin, “but we still have a two-on-one opportunity and I still have a couple of chances to shoot the puck. I just have to find a way to create some chances when I have the puck in their zone. I’m not worried about that kind of moment right now.”
Ovechkin teed up 18 shots in the first two games in Washington, getting 12 of them on net. In the two New York games, he fired 20 shots. But only three of them found their mark. Linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each have one goal in four games.
“Our line has to create chances,” says Ovechkin. “Last game I don’t think we created lots of opportunities for our line. Everybody knows Backy, Jojo and me have to play better. We have the most minutes on the ice and we have to at least have like 10 shots on net.”
With likes of stalwart New York rearguards Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh seemingly on the ice for every Ovechkin shift, that will be a tall task.
“I think he’s been playing great hockey for a few months and that’s well-documented,” says Oates of Ovechkin. “I talked to him today just about [how] he played good [Wednesday] night, [and told him] to continue to play good. They’re a good team over there, too. It’s playoff hockey. Sometimes that happens; you don’t get a point for a game or two and then all of a sudden you go on a four-game streak. That’s playoff hockey. To me, his job is just to continue to play good. That’s it.”
The Caps have outplayed the Rangers at even strength in the series, but New York scored key power-play goals in each of the last two games and also added a goal just as a man-advantage opportunity expired in Game 3.
Washington has lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly two months. It has not scored on the power play in the last two games; it’s been more than two months since the Caps were blanked on the power play in three straight games.
Of more concern to the Caps is finding a way to get pucks through the maze of Rangers defenders to Lundqvist. Washington had 30 shots on net in Wednesday’s Game 4 loss, but 33 more shots were blocked out on front before they even got to Lundqvist.
“I think they made some kind of adjustments after the first two games,” says Chimera of the Rangers. “You saw them being a little more patient, not rushing as much. They’re not falling for fakes and they’re staying in [shooting] lanes.
“We’ve got to do a better job of moving, maybe getting the high forward to come up a little higher and hit him high. There are ways around it. We’ve got to get pucks through. Pucks that are not getting through, you’re not going to score. We’ve got to do that more.”
This series has morphed from a best-of-seven to a best-of-three, with the Caps hosting two of the three if all three are needed.
“We’ve got an opportunity coming up [Friday] night to get going,” says Chimera. “We’ve got home ice advantage, so best two out of three is going to be good for us. They’re always fun games and they mean so much. I like our chances.”
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