For the first time in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, the New York Rangers put forth a strong effort at even-strength and dominated for most of the contest, while the Washington Capitals came unglued with bad mental errors that led to some Ranger tallies, leading to a 4-3 win in Game 4.
With the pair of wins at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers turned the 2-0 deficit in the series into a best-of-three series, with those games coming over the span of just four nights, starting Friday in Washington. And the Rangers have turned in a pair of better efforts than they did on the road, while the Capitals continue to take bad penalties and poor decisions with the puck that are ending up in the back of their cage.
Braden Holtby, who allowed just one goal in the two games in Washington, started off the Capitals' woes with a pair of bad giveaways in the first period, one of which was an ill-advised clear through the middle of the ice - with the boards clear. The puck was knocked down by Taylor Pyatt, who fed Carl Hagelin. John Carlson had the presence of mind to stop in front to block the drive, but Holtby inexplicably slid through the crease and ended up on the other side of the empty net, allowing Brad Richards a chance to bury it without the netminder being in the crease.
Washington eventually fought back in the second period thanks to a goal by Troy Brouwer with just :18 left in the frame, but an overzealous Jason Chimera was called for interference as the period expired for crashing into Henrik Lundqvist.
Although the Caps had talked about taking bad penalties after Game 3, this one turned the momentum back to the Rangers' way, as Dan Girardi blasted a shot past Holtby just 59 seconds into the frame. New York eventually restored the two-goal lead when the Caps were caught scrambling around in their defensive zone, leaving Derek Stepan alone to blast the puck into the gaping cage for the eventual game-winner.
So, after the series shifted north with the Rangers reeling, now the Capitals need to dig in their heels at home or else will face elimination Sundayin a spot where the Rangers have won eight straight games, dating back to the regular season.
Washington's top two lines have largely disappeared in the last two games, with Alex Ovechkin seeming to struggle after an Anton Stralman hit in the first period of Game 3. After recording 12 shots in the first two games of the series, Ovechkin managed only three in the two games at Madison Square Garden, and appeared to be lumbering a bit and the once red-hot star wasn't very sharp.
The dominant forward for the Capitals Wednesday was Joel Ward, who set up Washington's first goal and nearly scored the equalizer late. But the Caps need more from their top forwards as well.
For New York, the trade that sent Marian Gaborik to Columbus paid dividends again, as Derick Brassard had a pair of assists for five points in the two games at MSG, and the Rangers clearly outplayed Washington for the first time in the series with a chance to even the series.
Even though Lundqvist hasn't quite been at his best this series, the Rangers are coming up with timely scoring and creating some power plays as the Caps are taking some ill-advised minors.
And in a short finish to the series, the fact the Rangers are playing better hockey as the series moves on - while the Capitals aren't - certainly seems to indicate this series is New York's to lose after looking like they were in deep trouble just a few days ago.