WASHINGTON - As the New York Rangers stand on the brink of elimination, here's what to watch for when the puck drops for Game 5 against the Washington Capitals at a red-rockin' Verizon Center Saturday afternoon.
I know, shocking that this note heads the list. The Rangers have been drawing penalties in bunches during their past two games against the Caps, but they've converted just once on a zero-angle goal from Erik Christensen. It is worth noting that while the Rangers have struggled, the Caps' PK has been exceptional as well. They were the second-best unit in the NHL during the regular season, after all. Still, the Blueshirts have been bothered in two key areas when they've had the man-advantage: setting the play up in the zone and then getting a shot through to Michal Neuvirth. Marian Gaborik will be key in the first aspect, as his speed is a weapon against the Caps' D-men trying to halt the puck carrier at the blue line. For the second, quick, decisive movement with the puck is essential. If the Rangers continue to overhandle at the point positions, they will only be helping the Caps' defenders.
Gaborik finally got on the scoreboard Wednesday, but his ill-fated backchecking attempt in the second OT ended up costing the Rangers the game. Both Gaborik and the team would do well to forget about that last blunder, as huge as it was, and concentrate on the fact that he played, by far, his best game of the series and scored a well deserved goal. If the sniper performs like he did through the first two periods Wednesday, the Rangers will have a big weapon in their arsenal this afternoon.
Henrik Lundqvist did everything he could and then some on Wednesday, expending a ton of energy in his 49-save performance. Likewise, top D pairing Marc Staal and Dan Girardi both skated well over 30 minutes in the OT-extended game. After the long haul the Rangers faced to simply get into the playoff field, how much do they have left in the tank? That fatigue could prove particularly potent if the Rangers start thinking they need to win three straight games in order to advance to the second round. A quick goal or two could really put some spring back in the Rangers' step.
There's no doubt the Rangers face a monumental hurdle to climb past the Capitals, but John Tortorella's advice is sound: one game at a time. It's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. Step one is just to get the series back to the Garden for Game 6. And that step begins at 3 p.m. EST in the nation's capital. We'll see you there.