NEW YORK — By now the Washington Capitals are well-versed in the pageantry and madness that is Madison Square Garden. Monday night was their 10th playoff game in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” over the past three years.
“The crowd will be crazy and you’ve got to enjoy that,” he said. “As a player you’ve got to want that feeling and be prepared for them to be excited about it. You can’t lose control.”
The Caps got the full Garden experience in Game 3, losing and recapturing control throughout the night. After taking six penalties and failing to register a shot on a late power play, they left with a 4-3 loss that cut their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series lead to 2-1.
“Every time we had a goal they would come back and kind of deflate us,” defenseman Mike Green said. “We made a push; I thought we played well five-on-five. Just penalties and not executing at the end. We put ourselves in a tough position.”
Washington again failed to take a 3-0 series lead, a feat that has never been accomplished in 21 playoff series in franchise history. Instead, the Rangers have life going into Game 4 Wednesday night.
“It seemed like we were fighting back, fighting back and then they get something,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. “Tough game. Just a lot of swings in momentum. Seven-game series now.”
Oates had his team prepared for “electric” playoff atmospheres at Verizon Center and on the road. Each time the Caps scored Monday night, the arena that once cascaded “Can You Hear Us?” chants at Bruce Boudreau fell silent.
It happened very early when center Nicklas Backstrom scored his first of the playoffs 4:06 into the first period. Backstrom’s tip of John Carlson’s point shot required video review while the situation room in Toronto looked for a high stick, but that just gave Rangers fans another opportunity to boo the call of a good goal.
Three first-period penalties by the Caps stunted their momentum and allowed New York to get into an offensive rhythm. Brian Boyle scored just after Joel Ward’s high-sticking minor expired, but that penalty-killing energy expended didn’t help.
“Obviously we can’t be in the box that much,” center Jay Beagle said. “We were playing real well five-on-five. And it kills the momentum when we got to kill that many penalties and it hurt us.”
Washington’s parade to the penalty box didn’t ultimately prove disastrous, but it contributed to its first loss in the series.
“We took too many early,” Oates said. “We got out of our rhythm and we use up minutes that we don’t want to do for energy that maybe later on in the third period cost us.”
The Caps took six penalties in the game’s first 27 minutes, and the Rangers scored their first power-play goal of the series 1:23 into the second on a slick shot by center Derick Brassard.
The Caps’ kill had salted away New York’s first 10 power plays in the series, allowing just 10 shots during the first two games.