GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Rangers captain Ryan Callahan made it clear that the Washington Capitals and their team full of shot-blockers aren’t in the heads of the top-seeded club in the Eastern Conference.
Midway through the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is no time to get frustrated.
Washington gutted out a 3-2 win Saturday to tie the best-of-seven series with New York, and they did it in Rangers’ fashion—blocking 26 shots and allowing only 20 to get through to young goalie Braden Holtby.
“It’s hard to play against a team like that,” Callahan said Sunday while some of his teammates went through an optional practice. “They’re really good in their defensive zone and they are similar to us in our style, the way we block shots.
“The big thing is frustration. We can’t let that creep in. We need to just keep banging away, we’ve got to keep playing. We’re not frustrated in here. We realize what we have to do. We just have to go out there and do it.”
For the second straight series, New York is facing a Game 5 at home all even with a team that finished far below them in the regular-season standings. First, the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators beat the Rangers in Madison Square Garden to take a 3-2 series lead in a matchup New York survived in seven. Now the No. 7 Capitals are threatening to do the same.
“At this point, I just kind of throw the seeding out,” forward Brian Boyle said. “We have home ice. That’s what the seeding dictates, but other than that, it’s pretty close for a lot of these teams. They have good goaltending, offensive weapons, they play strong defensively.”
Regardless of what happens in Game 5 on Monday night, the Rangers know they will have to make another trip to Washington in the series for Game 6. They don’t want to test fate again and have to play for their post-season lives on the road.
“We have to win it,” Callahan said of Game 5. “It’s a big game, especially coming back home. We have to make sure we concentrate on our start, take the crowd’s energy and make sure that our first 10 minutes are there.”
That is part of what cost them Saturday in a game that could have given the Rangers a 3-1 series lead. New York came out flat and was dominated in the first period by the Capitals, who held a 14-3 shots advantage in the opening 20 minutes. Only the fine play by goalie Henrik Lundqvist kept the Rangers’ deficit at just 1-0.
That goal was scored 12:43 in by Alex Ovechkin, who converted a turnover in the offensive end by rookie forward Chris Kreider into an unassisted goal.
“All of the chances they got offensively, we’ve given them—whether it’s power plays or turnovers, which are uncharacteristic of our team,” Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto said.
The Rangers erased leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but a late power-play goal in the third period by defenceman Mike Green after a slashing penalty against rookie Carl Hagelin, was the difference.
“It was a tough loss,” Callahan said. “We had a chance to go up 3-1 in the series, and we don’t take advantage of that. We came in today ready to work, and we’re excited. It’s a three-game series now and we’ve got two at home.”
And Ovechkin is expected to play in however many games are needed to decide this series.
The Capitals star left himself open to possible discipline when he left his skates in the third period Saturday and struck Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi up high. Ovechkin, who was given a minor penalty for charging, said on Sunday that he hadn’t heard from the NHL regarding further punishment, and didn’t expect to.
Ovechkin contended that he hit Girardi in the shoulder. Girardi disputed that by saying he was hit in the head first. Capitals coach Dale Hunter went even further and deemed the play an accident.
“They collided with each other,” Hunter said.
Whether that will raise the anger quotient in this series remains to be seen. With goals at such a premium, neither team can afford a foolish penalty that could provide the difference or lead to a suspension.
The Rangers said there was a hatred between them and the Senators in the first round. Perhaps they will feel the same thing with the Capitals come Monday night.
They already see much of what they present to other teams with Washington’s willingness to consistently jump in front of pucks to keep them from getting to the net.
The Capitals used a new defensive mentality to knock off the second-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round, and they are shutting down the Rangers with it, too. New York has scored nine goals in the first four games of the series.
The Rangers blocked only seven shots in Game 4 and yielded 26 on Lundqvist, who said he was screened on two of the Capitals’ two goals.
“I get sick of hearing people say, ‘Oh, are you taking a page from the Bruins?'” Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. “In round one, well, we did more things right. We blocked more shots, we played tighter defensive hockey than supposedly one of the best defensive teams in the league.
“In this round, too, we’ve played great. Everybody talks about the Rangers, how that’s their identity. We’re only giving up 15, 18 shots a game, and nobody’s talking about our team, our identity. You guys can say what you want. I think sometimes you mis-stereotype or misplace the stereotype on some teams. Sometimes I think our defensive efforts around here are overlooked.”
The Rangers countered by saying they just need to put more pucks to the net and get traffic in front of Holtby. It’s not as though they aren’t getting chances, they just aren’t making the most of the ones that are available.
“Frustration is if we had 25 chances a night and 40 shots a night,” forward Brad Richards said. “I don’t think we’ve done that. I don’t think (Holtby) has had to stand on his head too often. We’re more worried about what we have to do and get more at him, and then see where it goes from there.”