- Associated Press - Saturday, April 16, 2011

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - Just one week ago, the New York Rangers anxiously waited through a long Saturday to find out if they would get into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now that they have made it, the Rangers are anxiously waiting for their offense to show up and keep them in the postseason a little longer.

Through two games of the first-round Eastern Conference series with the Washington Capitals, New York has only one goal in a pair of losses. Of the 47 shots the Rangers have managed to get through the clogging Washington defense, 46 have been stopped by, so far, unflappable goalie Michal Neuvirth.

Washington also has blocked 53 shots that haven’t even reached Neuvirth. If things don’t change quickly Sunday when the best-of-seven series shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 3, the Rangers‘ return to the playoffs after a one-year absence could be a short one.

“We just need to have that mindset of bringing it to the net,” forward Brandon Dubinsky said Saturday. “Rather than cycling ourselves to death, we’ve just got to make sure we’re trying to create chances and funnel everything to the (crease) and trying to get in this guy’s face. He’s a young guy and we’ve got to try to put more pressure on him.”

It is a nice novelty for the Capitals that they don’t have to wonder game to game who will be in goal.

The 23-year-old Neuvirth emerged from a three-headed goalie group that also featured youngsters Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby, and earned the nod in the playoffs _ for now.

Neuvirth won five of his last six regular-season starts to finish 27-12-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average. He allowed a goal to Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy in the third period of the series-opening 2-1 overtime victory Wednesday night and was perfect in winning 2-0 in Game 2 on Friday night.

Facing the Rangers in what should be a fired-up Garden on Sunday afternoon will surely be a whole new test.

“He’s been what we’ve expected,” said Karl Alzner, Washington’s 22-year-old defenseman. “He makes all the saves he needs to make _ the basic ones _ and then surprises guys and makes one he’s not expected to. That’s what you need if you’re going to win.”

And if he has a hiccup or two, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau likely won’t wait long to make a switch.

Two years ago, when the Capitals rallied from a 3-1 series hole to eliminate the Rangers in seven games, Boudreau yanked ineffective veteran Jose Theodore after a poor showing in Game 1 and went to the unproven and unknown Varlamov the rest of the way.

But that is in the past, and it is hardly the only version of the past that the Capitals and Rangers are looking to run from.

Five times the Capitals have led a series 2-0, and four times they failed to advance. On the flip side, the Rangers have recovered from a 2-0 hole to win only once. So something has to give.

Washington led Pittsburgh 2-0 in the first round of the 2009 playoffs before falling, and then blew a 3-1 edge against No. 8 Montreal a year ago in an opening-round upset after a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season.

Story Continues →