The New York Rangers have played the top seeded Washington Capitals tough through four games of their opening round series. Unfortunately for them, toughness doesn’t equal wins and after collapsing after a 3-0 lead in Game 4 to lose in overtime, they find themselves on the brink of elimination heading into this afternoon’s Game 5.
For the Rangers to turn their fortunes around, the answers seem simple but there are a few things in particular that they can do to help stave off elimination today and use to to perhaps mount a comeback in the series. If the Rangers are going to make the Capitals relive last season’s playoff nightmare they’re going to need to do these three things to make it happen.
1. Get the power play working
Despite all the bluster going on between coaches Bruce Boudreau and John Tortorella, the fact is the Rangers are getting their chances on the power play and they’re failing miserably. Through four games they’ve had 18 power play opportunities and they’ve come away with just one goal. Scoring on 5.6% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many or any games.
We understand that the Capitals are playing with more dedication to defense, but when you’ve got an extra player on the ice to score with you should be scoring more no matter what. The Rangers have the second worst power play in the playoffs (only Boston’s is worse) and they’ll need to get Bryan McCabe and Marian Gaborik going and helping them find room on the ice to score.
2. Make Michal Neuvirth uncomfortable
We’re not advocating that the Rangers crash the net with reckless abandon and go out of their way to run Caps rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, but they’re not doing enough offensively to get in his head. The Rangers are having a hard time scoring goals, period, and rattling Neuvirth with numerous goals hasn’t fazed him (just look at Game 4 again). Stepping up the pressure and turning the area around his net into a scene out of Mad Max would do wonders for New York and their efforts to put the puck past him.
Through four games, the Rangers have scored just seven goals. Averaging under two goals a game just won’t get it done unless your own goalie is pitching shutouts all series. Henrik Lundqvist is good, but he’s not good enough to score goals for the Rangers to get himself a win. Making Neuvirth work a little harder to make stops and perhaps get in his head could help loosen things up for the Rangers.
3. John Tortorella should take notes from the past
When Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 his message to the team that season in the final year of the dead puck era was that “safe was death.” That message to his team to help push the pressure and keep the offense dialed in and working hard. In those days giving up just one or two goals would mean the game was virtually over as coming back from that was hard enough.
The Rangers should adopt a similar mentality given how the Caps are playing them. The goals are few and they need to push the pressure. Yes, the Capitals have intimidating offensive stars in Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and the Rangers have been playing like a team full of goalies blocking shots and getting in the way of their stars, but not being afraid to break it out and let guys like Brandon Dubinsky get free to take some shots and the offense going would do them a world of good. Not to mention it might make them less susceptible to seeing another “el foldo” with a multi-goal lead.