The Rangers played their best game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Washington Capitals in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. All four goals were scored by key Rangers contributors (Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Carl Hagelin, Dan Girardi) and Henrik Lundqvist played well. The defense tightened up at exactly the right time. Though they gave up a two-goal lead at one point in the game, they held off the Capitals enough to win.
This is a series where the team that plays better defensively has won, and the Rangers did that despite not having Marc Staal in the lineup on Wednesday. Their defense, led by Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, made the Caps look very silly and harmless offensively down the stretch in Game 4. Of course, if your defense plays even reasonably well, you're probably going to win with Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
The two clubs return to Verizon Center for a pivotal Game 5. The Caps' big guns (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer) have been limited to one goal apiece in this series, and therefore have not been able to kill the Rangers. The Capitals have been a much better team at home, however. This will probably be one of the more intriguing games of the first round, at least in the Eastern Conference.
Which Braden Holtby will show up?
Holtby was stunningly good in Washington early in the series. He gave up only one goal through the first two games. He gave up eight in Games 3 and 4 combined. That's far from good enough to get it done, especially when the fellow at the other end is Henrik Lundqvist. A return to form is an absolute must from Holtby if the Capitals expect to survive and advance. If he gives up another four goals in this series, period, much less four in Game 5, they might be finished.
Will the Caps defense continue to struggle on the back end?
The onus isn't all on Holtby. The Capitals defense has left a lot to be desired in their own end. They've contributed a few goals on the offensive side, but they've played pretty suspect and are as much to blame for the Rangers' offensive success as Braden Holtby. They need to tighten things up in Game 5, or they'll likely be facing elimination.
So... Alexander Ovechkin?
One goal in this series. For a man with 61 points in 55 career playoff games, absolutely unacceptable. Ovechkin has slowed down in the playoffs recently. After 50 points in his first 37 postseason contests, he has just 11 in his last 18. I'm not worried about his ability to get back on defense, but he needs to put the puck in the net. There needs to be a turnaround similar to the one he had halfway through this season, when he just went on a tear and destroyed everything, like Godzilla. The Capitals need him very badly in Game 5.
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
National TV: NBCSN
Washington TV: CSN-DC
New York TV: MSG
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