Going into tonight’s Game 3 with the Capitals, it’s hard not to be excited. The Rangers, in the bottom half of the league in terms of road success during the regular season, return home to the Garden with a perfect 2-0 record. It’s a record the Rangers have worked hard to earn, overcoming the potent Washington attack with fine goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, and a continuation of the league’s best regular season penalty kill.
A loss tonight on home ice though, and the series takes on a whole new perspective.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella knows full well that there’s plenty of work to do. Back in 2003, while behind the bench of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tortorella found himself in the same position as Bruce Boudreau does now. Down 0-2 after consecutive losses on home ice, the Lightning reeled off four straight one goal wins to take the series 4-2 and advance over the very same team the Rangers meet tonight.
The message is clear. Win that fourth game, and don’t give up trying until you do.
That’s not to say the Rangers don’t have the odds on their side. Only 13 precent of teams have advanced after losing the first two games in a best of seven series. The Rangers are 10-1 when leading a best of seven series 2-0, and have closed out the Devils (4-1) and Thrashers (4-0) in the past two seasons when reaching that mark in the first round.
Still this is a Washington Capitals team that can explode offensively at any time. The Caps finished the regular season with the third best offense, and second best power play. They’ve outshot the Rangers 70-45 through the first two games, and have had more of the somewhat vaguely defined scoring opportunities in each game.
Tortorella’s tactics have worked well to this point. Pressuring Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green lead to 12 turnovers in Game 2, and clearly frustrated the former at times. Staying out of the penalty box has also helped keep the Capitals quiet. During the regular season Washington scored 31 percent of their goals on the man advantage, compared to just 22 percent for the Rangers – the Blueshirts actually have outscored the Capitals 2-1 on the power play so far.
For all the positives for tonight’s home team, it’s important to remember that a lucky bounce here or there, a missed or phantom call, and this could be a very different series.
Add in some additional pressure or excitement for the Rangers who play in front of their home crowd for the first time this season, and it could easily be one of those little things that does either team in. For sure the Capitals are facing their own pressure as the #2 seed, but sometimes getting on the road can help a team relax a little.
To say the Game 3 result is pivotal perhaps is overstating things this early in the series, but a 3-0 lead sure looks a whole lot better than a 2-1 one.
So good luck to the men in blue tonight, and lets put the Capitals on the brink.
RANGERS BABY RANGERS!