NEW YORK – While the Capitals’ young core has already been vested and tested by playoff hockey, the Rangers have plenty of guys getting their first taste – from defenseman Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh to forwards Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov.
Those young players weren’t too sharp in New York’s losses at Verizon Center – though coach John Tortorella has seen plenty of improvement and expects a bigger leap in Game 3 on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m anxious to see how they react,” Tortorella said. “This is all part of a process in building a team, so I’m glad we’re here and I think we will be better as we keep on going through the series.”
Anisimov in particular has struggled, and admittedly so. The 22-year-old center who had 18 goals and 26 assists in the regular season was invisible early on. Demoted and shifted around, Anisimov – and Stepan (21 goals, 24 assists) could be poised for breakthrough performances thanks to some physical play.
“I just saw [Anisimov] growing a little bit and understanding that your game comes in when you start getting around the puck and hitting people. It’s very important for Step also,” Tortorella said. “Once he started getting involved with the body, your game follows behind it. Always is.”
McDonagh and Sauer, charged with taking on the Caps’ second line and often the dangerous third grouping of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson, have looked poised despite the pressure that Verizon Center crowd and Washington’s offense presented.
McDonagh in particular has shown “fight,” according to his coach. And Tortorella wants the same out of all his young guys.
“You can just see his attitude; I think he has the right attitude. Michael Sauer, the same thing. They have been two of our best as far as handling their first situation,” he said. “I think Step played better. Arty Anisimov, I think there is some nerves. But as each game goes by I think they are getting better.”
Bruce Boudreau knows this situation. The Caps were down 2-0 to the Rangers in the first round two seasons ago with his young players struggling early on in the series.
But in Game 3 Alex Ovechkin (two assists), Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) and Alexander Semin (two goals, one assist) all came up big.
“They to, because we lost the first two games,” Boudreau said. “You gain that ‘doesn’t scare you to play anymore’ type attitude. I’m sure they’re the same way right now.”