NEW YORK, N.Y. – Forgive the New York Rangers if they have a quiet confidence heading into a must-win game against the Washington Capitals.
No, they aren’t too young to understand nor are they loaded with post-season experience. But what they do have seems to be serving them well, at least so far.
The Rangers will host Game 6 of their first-round series against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, and they will need to win to force a deciding contest in the nation’s capital on Monday.
Through five games, the home team has come out on top in each—including New York’s two wins at Madison Square Garden in Games 3 and 4 to erase an 0-2 series deficit.
Washington went back ahead 3-2 on Friday by beating the Rangers 2-1 in overtime—the Capitals’ second extra-time win in the series.
“I think the electricity in the building can sometimes get you through moments where maybe you’re sluggish,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said Saturday of the benefits of home ice. “It’s your own confines. You just feel good in your own building.
“They’re going to be more desperate, but that can’t affect the decisions. We’ve still got to play the way we play.”
The Rangers have a bit of recent history to draw upon, as well, as they came back last year from a 3-2 hole in the first round against the Ottawa Senators—winning Game 6 on the road and completing the rally at home in Game 7—when they were the No. 1 seed in the East.
New York also avoided elimination with a Game 7 win versus Washington in the second round. So although this situation is hardly ideal, it isn’t unfamiliar or particularly daunting.
“You try to just enjoy it,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who shook off Friday’s disappointment in time for a brief team practice Saturday. “I’m definitely not thinking it could be over. That doesn’t help your game.
“You go out and focus. I always go and focus on certain things when I play. I try to enjoy the moment. It’s a big game for us, everybody knows that, but so far we’ve been doing pretty good at home.”
That goes for both teams.
The Capitals are bolstered by the knowledge that if the series is extended to a Game 7, they have 10 wins over the Rangers in their last 11 playoff home games and five straight.
“Every little play matters. Every play was magnified,” defenceman Michael Del Zotto said of last year’s Game 6 against Ottawa. “You just feel so into the game, so alive. It was a big confidence boost for our club. Hopefully we’ll get confidence out of our next game.”
The Capitals practiced at their rink on Saturday before heading back to New York.
“You never want to take longer than you need to. It just eliminates the rest that you can get further on,” Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said. “You give the other team life, thinking that they’re able to come back in the series.
“You’ve got to have that killer instinct.”
This one has been tight throughout as every game—except for Washington’s 3-1 win in the opener—has been decided by one goal.
“The atmosphere is unbelievable,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said Saturday of playing at Madison Square Garden. “We just have to control our emotions and don’t take lots of penalties because we give them chances when they play 5-on-4.
“We just have to be disciplined and stay the same way.”
A penalty turned the tide in Game 5. New York forward Brian Boyle was called for a retaliation penalty in the second period as the Rangers were protecting a 1-0 lead.
The Capitals’ potent power play took advantage to tie it. It stayed even until Mike Ribeiro won it at 9:24 of overtime with his first goal of the series.
“You battle so hard through the regular season to try to get the home-ice advantage in case there is a Game 7,” Brouwer said. “You’d like to have the home crowd and the home familiarity, your own bed the night before as an advantage, but I think all these games have just been so close.
“It’s just the way they’ve gone. I don’t think it’s because one team is better at home than they are on the road. Everyone is playing good hockey right now, and it’s been an exciting series to play in.”
Washington is having success despite only one goal and one assist from Ovechkin, named as a Hart Trophy finalist as NHL MVP.
The Rangers are looking for a breakout from forwards Rick Nash and Brad Richards. Both have one point through five games: Richards with a goal, and Nash with an assist.
“We’ve just got to win a game on home ice,” Richards said. “It’s a good opportunity for everybody. We all have confidence that we play good (at home). We will forget quick and move on to that.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella didn’t even want to address the notion that it could be his club’s final game of the season.
“I don’t consider it an elimination game,” he said. “We’re trying to win one game. I’m not going to even use that word. We’ve bounced back. Guys that haven’t been in it, it’s an opportunity. That’s the way they have to look at it. We’ll go home and try to win a game.”
The Rangers might again be without rugged forward Ryane Clowe, who was injured earlier in the series and returned for Game 5 on Friday. Another hit has knocked him to the sidelines again. He and fellow injured forward Daroll Powe, who like Clowe might have a concussion, didn’t skate Saturday.
Chris Kreider and Kris Newbury are potential replacements for Clowe.
New York defenceman Marc Staal, who came back from a serious eye injury in Game 3, hasn’t played in either of the past two games and isn’t expected back Sunday. either.
Capitals right wing Martin Erat, who sustained an upper body injury in Game 4, didn’t skate on Saturday and is doubtful for the remainder of the series.
AP Sports Writer Joseph White contributed to this report from Washington.