NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New York Rangers had the fewest home wins of the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau says Madison Square Garden isn’t overly loud and intimidating.
The first part is true, the second is open to debate. What is for sure is the Rangers are 1-0 at home in the post-season and could tie the top-seeded Capitals with another win there Wednesday.
The Capitals and Rangers took it easy Monday on the first of a two-day break before the first-round series resumes with Game 4. Washington took the first two games at its raucous Verizon Center. New York cut the deficit in half with a 3-2 win Sunday.
“We’re desperate now,” Capitals defenceman John Carlson said Monday after the Capitals’ optional skate at their practice rink. “It’s even if we lose the next game. It’ll be a big game for us, and that loss really didn’t feel good, the way it happened.”
The way it happened was especially frustrating for Carlson, who sat in the penalty box when Brandon Dubinsky scored the winning goal with 1:39 remaining. The teams were playing 4-on-4 after Carlson and Rangers forward Brian Boyle were sent off for roughing following a scrum in front of the Washington net.
The Rangers held a team meeting Monday but stayed off the ice, except for injured backup goalie Martin Biron, who took a brief spin as he recovers from a broken collarbone.
New York went 20-17-4 at home this season, compared to 24-16-1 on the road. None of it matters now as the Rangers are already enjoying performing in front of their towel-waving fans.
“You’re always looking for momentum,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “You’re always looking to try and get some confidence. It’s always nice to play in your own building.”
The Rangers made a conscious effort to ramp up the hitting and crashing of the crease, hoping to rattle 23-year-old goalie Michal Neuvirth. After scoring one goal on 47 shots in the opening two losses, New York responded with three goals and 35 shots Sunday.
“(Vinny) Prospal went in there. (Sean) Avery fell into him. (Brandon) Prust went into him on purpose,” Boudreau said, ticking off time he thought the Rangers roughed up Neuvirth. “They’re doing all of that stuff and trying to get him off his game, but the good thing about Michal is it doesn’t seem to affect him. We have to protect the goalies.”
Neuvirth claimed he was unfazed.
“Everyone’s got a job to do,” he said. “It’s going to be a big game on Wednesday and everybody’s got to step up.”
New York was whistled for four penalties, giving Washington three power plays, but only one—a goaltender interference call on Erik Christensen—had anything to do with Neuvirth. The Capitals gave the Rangers seven power plays, including a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage in the first period.
The Rangers didn’t score on the two-man advantage and converted just one power play.
“You don’t get to the playoffs if you don’t have really good goaltending,” Tortorella said. “We’re trying to put people in front of (Neuvirth), and they’re probably trying to do the same thing with (New York’s Henrik Lundqvist).”
Boudreau also took exception to other Rangers’ tactics, including attempts he said to hit defenceman Mike Green in the head.
Green missed the final 20 games of the regular season because of a concussion sustained Feb. 25 when he was elbowed by New York’s Derek Stepan. Green, a Norris Trophy finalist the past two seasons, rejoined the lineup for Game 1.
Boudreau cited one unpenalized hit on Green by defenceman Marc Staal that occurred when the Capitals scored to make it 1-1 in the second period.
“It was to the side of the head, and it was a dirty shot. I hope the league looks at it,” Boudreau said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to get out of the league and out of the game. Staal comes in, there’s no puck, he takes his arm, he swings it at his head, but it’s all forgotten because we score a goal to tie the game up.
“It shouldn’t be forgotten and it wasn’t the only time they targeted Mike’s head.”
That wasn’t the only shot Boudreau fired at the Rangers. During an interview on Washington radio station 105.9 FM, the Capitals coach downplayed the aura of Madison Square Garden—the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“Its reputation is far better than the actual building,” Boudreau said in an interview on the station. “It’s nothing. The locker rooms are horrible. The benches are horrible. There’s no room for anything. But the reputation of being in Madison Square Garden is what makes it famous. Our building is a lot louder, too. They can say what they want, but it’s not that loud in there.”
Whether it was a psychological ploy or a rant out of frustration following a tough loss, Boudreau and the Capitals can expect the Garden to be louder in Game 4 when the Rangers get their shot to get even.
“It is so fun to come back to New York and play playoff hockey,” Lundqvist said of the Rangers’ first home playoff game in two years. “To feel the atmosphere and excitement is great. That is what you work so hard for all year. It was great. We just have to keep it going.”
Washington is 1-4 in series it has held a 2-0 lead, and last year as the top seed, the Capitals blew a 3-1 series edge to No. 8 Montreal and were eliminated in the first round.
“If we win we’re up 3-1, if we lose, we’re in the middle of a series where we got two out of three coming home,” Boudreau said. “But I don’t even want to talk about the negative portion of it because we’re going in there to work our rear end off and win.”