Coming off a 3-1 loss in Game One on Thursday night, the Rangers continue their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Washington Capitals with a Game Two Saturday afternoon matinee at the Verizon Center, seeking to steal home-ice advantage and send the series back to New York for Games Three and Four all even at one win apiece. However to do that the Rangers will need to be a much better team than they were on Thursday night, certainly more disciplined and much more opportunistic, as well.
Though their penalty kill was terrific most of Thursday night, the Rangers tempted fate too many times by allowing the vaunted Capitals power play five man advantages, and eventually were burned on an Alex Ovechkin power play goal which tied the game at 1-1 early in the second period. The Rangers preached discipline heading into this series, facing the league's top-ranked power play, and they failed to show that discipline---starting right away with a too many men on the ice penalty just 34 seconds into Game One.
That said, the Rangers should feel very encouraged by how well their peanlty kill performed. Extremely aggressive in challenging the puck carrier and the points, the Rangers not only thwarted the Caps repeatedly while Washington was on the power play, Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and Darroll Powe all were involved in prime shorthanded scoring chances on Thursday night. A playoff series always is full of adjustments from game to game, so it would be expected that Washington will try to counter the Rangers aggressive kill in Game Two, but the visitors have to feel good about their disrupting the Caps' flow with the man advantage so far in the series.
Hagelin was far and away the Rangers best player in Game One---not only scoring the Blueshirts lone goal, but tracking down puck after puck on the forecheck and just missing on two other prime scoring chances. The Rangers will need more from their other top forwards on Saturday, however. The Rangers fired 36 shots at Braden Holtby in Game One, but few came on rebounds or second opportunities, and many were from long range. To his credit, when challenged, Holtby was a difference maker---especially with key stops on Ryan Callahan during a second period scramble and on Rick Nash from the low slot also in the second. In his first playoff action in four years, Nash led the Rangers with eight shots on goal.
At the other end of the ice, Henrik Lundqvist is still taking blame for two of Washington's three goals. He faulted himself on not stopping Marcus Johansson's eventual-game winning goal---a breakaway shot which ticked off his glove---and Jason Chimera's crushing goal from the side boards 46 seconds later. What Lundqvist failed to mention, though, was the fact that he singlehandedly kept the Rangers in the game when Washington threatened to blow them out of the building over the first ten minutes or so of the game. The Caps fired the first nine shots of the game on goal, and 12 of the first 13, even though Hagelin scored the game's first goal.
A better start is imperative for the Rangers on Saturday, especially with the Caps smelling blood and looking to send the Blueshirts home in a 2-0 hole. One thing the Rangers will not want to change is their physical play, in which they were credited with 41 Game One hits---seven by Steve Eminger.
It is possible that the Rangers lineup could be bolstered by the return of one or more from their list of walking wounded. Ryane Clowe skated Friday at practice and would not rule himself out of Game Two, while Brian Boyle skated for a second straight day and Derek Dorsett finally discarded the non-contact jersey in practice. And of course Marc Staal looks like he is getting closer and closer to playing again. Any of these players returning to the lineup would give the Rangers a favorable boost.
The Caps are now 16-2-2 in their last 20 games and are playing at an extremely high level with tremendous confidence. They were clearly the better team on Thursday, made the fewer mistakes, and were much more opportunitistic with their scoring chances. And Holtby was solid when called upon, not surprising when considering how calmly and how well he performed against the Bruins and the Rangers last spring.
And the Capitals have recent history on their side as 68 percent of NHL teams that have won Game One of their playoff series since 2006 have gone on to win their series. Interestingly the Rangers won all three of their Game Ones last spring, and followed it up by losing all three Game Twos. They will look to reverse that trend on Saturday afternoon.
Will the Rangers even this series with a win Saturday, or do they head home in a tough 2-0 hole? Share your predictions below.