It is often said that a playoff team does not truly play a "must-win" game until it plays an elimination game. However Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is as close as the Rangers will get to a must-win without facing elimination yet. The Rangers host the Washington Capitals in Game Three Monday night at Madison Square Garden having lost the first two games of the series on the road, scoring just one goal over 128 minutes of hockey. A loss Monday would put the Rangers on the brink of playoff extinction, facing a tremendous uphill climb against a surging Capitals team which has posted an incredible 17-2-2 record in its previous 21 games heading into Monday's action.
So, yes, Monday is as close to a must-win as the Rangers can get.
Of course the glass half-full look into the Rangers world is that all they did was see Washington win two home games. Should the Rangers hold serve on their home ice---where the Blueshirts posted a solid 16-6-2 mark during the regular season---then the series is even and it becomes a case of who blinks first and loses a home game as the series would then become a best-of-three.
That logic is valid, though the Rangers are not looking at winning two straight games right now---instead focusing on ways to pick up their first win of the series on Monday. It is a wise strategy not to think too far ahead because then they would have to deal with the fact that Washington has not lost two games in a row since a three-game slide from March 9-12.
The glass half-full way of thinking would also point to the fact that the Rangers played the Capitals to a scoreless draw through 60 minutes of regulation play in Game Two on Saturday and could have won if not for the fact that Rick Nash's shot with under four minutes to play found iron instead of netting. And add to the mix that the Blueshirts have done a quality job in keeping Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the rest of the high-powered Caps in check, and there is plenty of reason for the Rangers to have optimism moving forward in this series.
On the flip side, however, the rangers need to generate more offensive opportunities, and when the chances are there they have to cash in on them. The Rangers have scored on only one of their 60 shots in this series, and though Caps goalie Braden Holtby has been solid, he has not been tested nearly as much as Henrik Lundqvist has been at the other end of the ice. Carl Hagelin has scored the Rangers only goal of this series so far, late in the first period of Game One on Thursday, and even that goal was not a direct shot as it caromed off the skate of Capitals defenseman John Erskine and past Holtby.
The Rangers also need to start winning the special teams battle. In Game One the Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play and though they did a solid job on the penalty kill, the one goal they did allow in five chances helped turn the tide of the game as it tied the score 1-1 at the time. In Game Two the Rangers were 0-for-3 on the power play---including key failed chances late in the third period and early in overtime---and then surrendered the overtime winner to Mike Green while shorthanded.
Derek Dorsett, in his Rangers debut, and Brian Boyle provided the Rangers alift with their physical play on Saturday as both rugged forwards returned from injury. The Rangers were credited with a whopping 58 hits in Game Two---with Ryan Callahan credited with eight, while Darroll Powe and Dorsett had seven. They will need to continue this physical brand of hockey to try and slow down the Caps, and possibly wear them down in a longer series. The possible return of the injured Ryane Clowe would most certainly help in this area, as well. Clowe said it is possible he could play in Game Three after practicing again on Sunday.
There is no question the rangers will be buoyed by their home crowd and Washington will most likely have to survive a Blueshirt onslaught to start the game. A quick goal or two would keep the wave rolling for the Rangers on home ice, but if the Capitals survive that early push it will be incumbant on the Rangers to stick to their game plan and try and dictate play as much and as often as possible.
Only once in their history have the Rangers rebounded to win a playoff series after dropping the first two games. In order to even hope to break that trend this spring, the Rangers will need to win Game Three on Monday night.
Will the Rangers win on Monday or will they fall into a 3-0 hole? Share your predictions below.