Goal-starved Rangers facing elimination in second round
NEW YORK (AP) Being on the brink is familiar territory for the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
The Caps have a history of being in position to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and finding a way to squander it.
The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers are next in line. The Capitals lead their series 3-1 and can eliminate the Rangers in Game 5 on Friday night in New York.
It’s the same spot the Rangers were in last year against Pittsburgh. They were down 3-1 in the second round, and again seemingly out of it. They found a way to rally for the first time in franchise history and they are going to have to do it again if they want to prevent Alex Ovechkin from reaching the conference final for the first time.
”It’s tough to create words when you’re in a situation like we are,” Rangers captain and defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Thursday, a day on which neither team practiced. ”As far as speaking up and saying things, I feel with the guys we have in the room, there shouldn’t be a lot that needs to be said.”
The pressure might actually be on the Capitals, who are trying to reach the conference finals for the third time in team history (1990, 1998). Since 1985, the Capitals have lost nine series in which they led either 2-0 or 3-1. That includes a first-round loss to the Rangers in 2013 in which they led 2-0 and 3-2, only to be shut out by Henrik Lundqvist in the final two games.
Capitals forward Brooks Laich said this is a different team since Barry Trotz took over as coach this year.
”We keep things pretty simple,” Laich said. ”We play the game for that day. There doesn’t need to be a lot of added motivation of this or that or anything like that. The group is a veteran group. It’s a pretty composed group, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just focusing on the moment or the exact task at hand. I don’t think we look too much at the big picture. We don’t look at what-ifs.”
That’s the approach the Rangers took in beating the Penguins last year, and one that they used this season in posting the league’s top record.
If there has been a difference in the four games that have all been decided by one goal, it’s that the Capitals have converted their chances and the Rangers have been stymied by goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped a third-period penalty shot by Carl Hagelin in a 2-1 win on Wednesday night.
New York has five goals in the series. The Capitals have seven.
”I think we have to go into tomorrow night and just play,” Rangers center Derek Stepan said. ”That’s something we’ll have to make a main focus for ourselves, not worry so much where the series is at.”
The Capitals have found an answer to everything the Rangers have thrown at them. They have won the faceoff battle, blocked shots at every opportunity and short-circuited the Rangers’ power play. When all else has failed, Holtby is there to save them.
”When you’re in this position, you’ve just got to keep the foot to the pedal and see if you can get that fourth win,” said Trotz, who also is looking to advance to his first conference final.
The Rangers face a tough road if they want to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
”One of the things we can take heart in is we know we can find another level and find our way through frustration because we’ve done it before,” center Dominic Moore said.
Capitals at Rangers, Washington leads 3-1, 7 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network.
BLOCK THAT SHOT
The Capitals blocked 52 shots over Games 3 and 4, including a 25-7 margin on Wednesday.
”Everybody’s just paying the price,” defenseman John Carlson said. ”Not to say that we haven’t (in the past), but it’s playoff time. We’re doing anything we can to get an advantage, to keep the puck out of our net in any way possible. The best part about it is it’s a whole team effort. It’s not just a few guys here or there.”
Stepan said the Rangers just have to shoot a little faster, or getting a little luckier and have one bank in off somebody, and hopefully open the floodgates.
STAYIN’ ALIVE AT MSG
The Rangers have won their last eight playoff games when facing elimination at home, dating to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2008 against Pittsburgh. They have won 11 of the last 14 playoff games in which they have faced elimination, dating to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2012 against Ottawa.
Ducks at Flames, Anaheim leads 2-1, 9:30 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network
WELL RESTED: The teams have had two days off since the Flames got back into the series by scoring late in regulation to tie the game and winning in overtime.
The time off should have given Calgary’s top line of Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau a chance to figure out what’s gone wrong. The line has not scored an even-strength goal in the Western Conference semifinal, where they have faced the Ducks’ line of Ryan Kesler, Matt Belesky and Jacob Silfverberg.
Gaudreau got the game-tying goal in Game 3 on a late power play.
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Arlington, Virginia, and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.