During the first round, close games tilted in favor of the New York Rangers. Against Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals, they’ve gone the other way.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners are in a familiar spot down 3-1 in the second round, but can lean on their recent history and home ice Friday night when the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden.
Dating to last season, New York has played in an NHL-record 11 consecutive playoff games decided by one goal. The Rangers found themselves on the right side of four 2-1 contests in the first round against Pittsburgh, but haven’t been so fortunate against the Capitals.
Andre Burakovsky scored two goals Wednesday while Holtby stopped 28 shots and stoned Carl Hagelin on a third-period penalty shot in the Capitals’ 2-1 win.
"We depend on everyone, and tonight I thought everyone was committed," Holtby said. "We’re going to expect that and better for (Game 5)."
Holtby has been the key. He gave up three goals in Game 1 against the New York Islanders and missed Game 2 with an illness, but has since won six of his nine starts with a .957 save percentage.
He owns a .978 save percentage in Washington’s three wins this series, only faltering in a Game 2 loss in New York – a fact the Rangers can take solace in as they head home. Holtby yielded a goal to Chris Kreider 38 seconds into the first period and ultimately lost 3-2.
The Rangers had similar scoring troubles in last season’s second round. They were shut out twice and totaled two goals over a three-game skid that put them behind 3-1 against Pittsburgh, but rebounded with a five-goal outburst in Game 5 before winning the series in seven games.
"It’s been done before so it’s not like it’s impossible," Martin St. Louis told the Rangers’ official website. "It’s one game at a time."
Derick Brassard proved vital during that run with three goals over the three wins, and has two of New York’s five goals in this series. He’s picked up the slack left by Rick Nash, who has only one goal – none against the Capitals – after leading the team with 42 during the season.
"It’s real frustrating," Nash said. "We know what it takes. It’s a matter right now of worrying about one game, one period of the next one and focusing on that."
Conversely, Washington has gotten production up and down the roster in the postseason. Ovechkin has followed his 53-goal season with four goals and four assists, Joel Ward scored the winner in Game 1 against the Rangers and Jay Beagle netted the Capitals’ only goal in Game 3.
Washington’s younger core has also been involved. The 20-year-old Burakovsky scored for the first time since February on Wednesday and fellow rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov has four goals, including the Game 7 winner against the Islanders.
"We are not a two- or three-man team," coach Barry Trotz said. "It’s an effort of 20 individuals, and the strength is in the numbers, the strength is in the team. Guys recognize that different contributions have to come from different guys all the time.
"We’ve talked about creating a culture where we can win in different ways with different people. To this point, we’ve done that all year and hopefully we can continue to do it.
Henrik Lundqvist has won six of his last seven home playoff starts against the Capitals behind a .932 save percentage.
Ovechkin, however, has totaled six goals while scoring in five straight visits to MSG.