Every time you step on the ice for a Stanley Cup playoff game, the idea is to win it. But every team also knows it’s not going to go 16-0 en route to claiming the coveted chalice.
I’m looking at you, San Jose.
So the idea is to minimize losing and to avoid losing in chunks. Washington’s modest two-game winning streak came to a halt with its 4-3 loss to the Rangers in Monday night’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the two clubs. Nobody expected either team to sweep this series, so that makes everybody right.
What Washington would like to accomplish in its visit to Manhattan is the same thing the Rangers wanted – but failed – to do in the first two games of the series, win at least one game on the road.
With a victory in tonight’s Game 4 here at Madison Square Garden, the Caps can accomplish that mission and put themselves in position to close out the Rangers on Friday when the series shifts back to Verizon Center for Game 5. On the other hand, if the Rangers win Wednesday’s Game 4, the series shrinks to a best-of-three set with Washington still maintaining home ice advantage.
“That’s playoff hockey,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “You’ve got to win on the road. Our job now is to split. We have the opportunity to split. I think we played a pretty good game last game. I don’t think our big guns such as [Alex Ovechkin] and them got into the game early enough because of all the penalties.
“So we need to stay disciplined, we need to stay out of the box, play our system and play our game. We had our opportunities to score goals last game and we need to look forward to that tonight.”
The capitals have scored seven goals against Rangers goaltender and Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Lundqvist in this series. Lundqvist was at his absolute best in Saturday’s Game 2 at Verizon Center, stopping 37 of the 38 shots he faced. The Caps needed an overtime goal from Mike Green on the power play in order to eke out a 1-0 win in that game.
For just the third time in 22 postseason games against Lundqvist, the Caps managed to score three even-strength goals against the Rangers goalie in Monday’s Game 3. But New York netted four of its own, giving Lundqvist his first playoff win when allowing three or more goals since April 15, 2009.
Lundqvist had been 0-14 in the previous 14 Stanley Cup playoff games in which he had surrendered three or more goals.
“You’ve got to screen him, I think,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of Lundqvist. “He’s good at reacting. But traffic I think is the biggest key.”
The previous 188 minutes of this series would support Backstrom’s theory. Washington has scored just one goal on the rush, a Marcus Johansson goal in the second period of Game 1 that Lundqvist would probably tell you he should have stopped.
Each of the Capitals’ other six goals in the series have come from being in the Rangers’ end and working the puck back above the top of the circles, taking a shot and having traffic in front. Three of the six were deflected past Lundqvist.
“He’s a world class goalie,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “He’s going to stop what he sees. A lot of our goals are just traffic and tips and stuff that he can’t react to. It’s tough to beat him one-on-one. When he sees a shot, he’s one of the best goalies at reading sticks [as to] where it’s going to shoot. You’ve got to get traffic in front of him and throw a whole bunch of stuff at the net and hope some stuff goes in.”
Washington has been dominant at even strength in the last two games of the series, attempting a total of 117 shots at even-strength to just 79 for the Rangers in the 98 minutes and 58 seconds in which the sides have been all even in those two games.
The trick for the Capitals in Game 4 will be to maximize that even-strength time. The Caps were forced to kill six penalties in Game 3, a figure that proved too high. The Rangers scored their first power-play goal of the series and tallied another just as a Washington minor expired.
That accounted for the difference in the game.
“We thought we played a pretty good game in Game 3,” says Chimera, “it was just the penalties that kind of killed our momentum. We want it five-on-five. I think that’s when we’re at our best. We’ve got a pretty deep hockey team and we want to get back to that.”
Washington is confident that if it doesn’t take more penalties than the Rangers do in Game 4, it can restore its two-game lead in the series with a Broadway win on Wednesday.
“You want to win every game, but obviously it was a tough one last game,” says Backstrom. “You’ve got to make sure you come out even harder today and execute a little better.”
As far as the idea of avoiding losses in chunks, Caps goalie Braden Holtby is a good one to have on your side. He has yet to lose consecutive Stanley Cup playoff games, and he has allowed exactly one goal in the game immediately following five of his seven career playoff losses and just two goals in the other two.
Holtby is 7-0 with a 1.21 GAA and a .962 save pct. in the starts that follow his seven career postseason losses.