- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2011

Forget about the statistics for a moment. Yes, almost 90 percent of NHL teams that have won the first two games of a playoff series at home have gone on to win.

But the Capitals aren’t thinking that way. In Game 3 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, they expect the Rangers to play well above their eighth seed.

“They’re gonna have their best game of the year,” Washington forward Brooks Laich said. “They have to.”

Or else the Caps will have a stranglehold on the first-round series. The first two games at Verizon Center were the prototypical defensive games Bruce Boudreau’s bunch wanted to play – for the most part. Players expressed frustration over the third period of Game 2 when they allowed the Rangers to buzz around in the offensive zone.

It’s a lesson going forward.

“I think we were a little lackadaisical in the third,” center Jason Arnott said. “Out of all the positives, you have to look at the negatives.”

That’s one way to stay hungry after more or less dominating Friday night and turning on the jets just in time Wednesday night to start knocking the Rangers off their game.

But history is a lesson, too. The last time the Caps took a 2-0 series lead was 2009 against the Penguins – which ended in a painful Game 7 defeat.

“I think everyone in this room’s been in a position where we’ve been down or up and every kind of situation where we’ve come back, we’ve had a lead and we’ve blown it,” center Boyd Gordon said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. Game 3 we’re expecting the best game of the year from them.”

That’s the theme – expecting the best from the Rangers. But the Caps (or any good hockey team) don’t get to this place by worrying about the opponent too much.

So it’s about how much the Caps are willing to elevate their game to step on the Rangers’ throats.

“When the hammer’s down, you just gotta keep going, cause they can easily steal two there and come back tied, so we gotta keep going,” forward Jason Chimera said.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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