NEW YORK | The Washington Capitals got a taste of what to expect from the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Game 3. They knew the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series wasn’t going to be easy, and they prepared for a push in Wednesday night’s Game 4.
When it arrived, they couldn’t match it. Passes weren’t crisp and plays were sloppy. Meanwhile, the Rangers upped the ante in the offensive zone and forced mistakes.
Time and again, the Caps made them. The result was a 4-3 loss that evened the series at two games apiece.
“They were working harder. They were coming harder,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We didn’t have anything to combat that. They forechecked way better, they dumped the puck way better, they were hitting a lot more. And they were blocking everything that was shot or even dumped. They played a much better hockey game than they have.”
And the Caps played their worst game of the series in all facets. They couldn’t manage to break out of their zone cleanly and had few sustained attacking shifts for the first 30-plus minutes.
Coach Adam Oates credited the Rangers for capitalizing on momentum built from their victory two nights earlier.
“They came out, tried to be a little physical. We talked about that,” Oates said. “You expect that, it’s their building, you’ve got to handle that little initial wave and then [our] power plays didn’t do anything. We got a little frustrated with that, and then we gave them a goal. So it was a lousy start.”
That “lousy start” included goaltender Braden Holtby coughing the puck up as he tried to send it down the ice. But even before that, the Rangers took it to the Caps, pressing them and wearing them down.
“We didn’t play good,” Alzner said. “We played bad for 45 minutes.”
In the process, they fell behind 2-0 and had to play uphill for much of the night, without top-six forward Martin Erat, who appeared to suffer a left wrist injury late in the first.
“It’s never easy coming back from two goals,” said right wing Joel Ward, who had his best game of the series. “But you got no choice. It is what it is, the score is up there. And we tried to fight back and get some chances in.”
The Caps deserve credit for taking advantage of some favorable shifts in the second period that allowed them to tie the score. When right wing Troy Brouwer scored with 17.1 seconds left before intermission, it looked like they would overcome the poor start.
Instead, an all-too-familiar problem cost them. Left wing Jason Chimera was called for interfering with Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman just before the buzzer. It stunted the momentum the Caps worked to build.
“I think the penalty, it’s a good hard hockey play Chimmer going to the net,” Brouwer said. “Unfortunately you take an interference penalty and it’s tough when you give them 20 minutes to go over what they’re going to do and probably even looked at video to see if there were holes in our game.”
Not even a hole but just a well-executed power play restored New York’s lead just 59 seconds into the third on a goal by Dan Girardi. A failed clear by Caps defenseman Jack Hillen a few minutes later contributed to Derek Stepan’s goal and the Rangers‘ first two-goal lead of the series.