After securing back-to-back victories on home ice in Games Three and Four of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, the Rangers need a road win Friday night at the Verizon Center in order to take their first lead in this best-of-seven series with the Washington Capitals. A win on Friday night would not only do that, it would send the Rangers back to Madison Square Garden on Sunday with the first of two chances to advance to the second round of the playoffs, carrying a three-game winning streak and all of the momentum in the series.
However winning Game Five on the road will be no easy task for the Blueshirts considering the fact that all four of the games in this 2-2 series so far have been won by the home team. Plus the Rangers have managed only one goal over two games, and 128 minutes worth of action, at the Verizon Center in this series. And history is not quite on their side since New York has lost nine of its last ten playoff games played at the Verizon Center.
Yet it only takes one win, and should the Rangers be able to secure it, they will head back to The Garden with all of the confidence leading this series 3-2. And with how they imposed their will the last two games---in particular Wednesday's Game Four victory---the Rangers are a very confident team. If not for a late second period lapse and a flukey third-period deflection, the Rangers would have won Game Four by a much larger margin than the 4-3 final it ended up to be. The Rangers controlled play 5-on-5, won the special teams battle for a second consecutive game, and physically punished the Capitals yet again---leading one to wonder if the Caps could get worn down by the Blueshirts stout physical play in this series, especially with Ryane Clowe, Brian Boyle, and Derek Dorsett now added to the mix and playing regular shifts after all three started the series on the sideline due to injury.
Contributions are coming from up and down the Rangers lineup now. After an uneven start to the series, the Rangers have scored eight goals in the past two games with the scores coming from everywhere---top center Derek Stepan recording a pair of game-winning goals, Derick Brassard notching five points in the past two games, Carl Hagelin producing a three-point night in Game Four, Boyle and Taylor Pyatt contributing a pair of points each, and defenseman Dan Girardi scoring a hugely important power play goal in Game Four. Add to the mix the strong defensive play of Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and others in holding Alex Ovechkin to one shot on goal Wednesday and only one goal in the series so far---as well as the likes of Anton Stralman and John Moore stepping up in a major way on the blueline---and there is much for the Rangers to feel good about heading into Friday's game, and much to build on, as well.
That said, the Rangers are well aware that the Capitals can explode at a moment's notice, and do not take for granted at all the success they have had the past two games against Washington---in particular on special teams, which is considered to be the Caps big advantage in this series. It would be hard to believe that Washington will not come out flying, similar to how they did in Game One, on Friday night. The Rangers will need a way to meet and exceed that energy and intensity, as well as find a way to dictate the style of play and the game of puck possession as they in Games Three and Four.
Henrik Lundqvist has surrendered three goals in three of the four games played to date in this series, with Washington doing an excellent job of getting deflections behind him. On the other side of the ice, Braden Holtby has allowed eight goals in two games since earning his first career post-season shutout in Game Two.
One should not expect to see either Marc Staal or Darroll Powe in the Rangers lineup for Game Five, while Washington's Martin Erat is also questionable with an upper body injury.
Can the Rangers win a third straight game and grab a 3-2 series lead on Friday? Share your predictions below.