Two things have remained true throughout the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in which the Washington Capitals lead the Rangers three games to two: 1) the home team has won all five games in this series, and 2) the team which has won the special teams battle has won each game so far in this series. To that end, the Rangers will be trying to make sure those two facts remain etched in stone when they host the Capitals in Game Six Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, facing playoff elimination. And then if they win Sunday, the Rangers can go about changing the script when they would head down to Washington for a decisive Game Seven on Monday night.
First things first, though, for the Blueshirts, and that is finding a way to extend their season in Sunday's matinee after dropping a bitterly painful 2-1 overtime decision in Game Five Friday night at the Verizon Center, their second overtime defeat in this series already. Certainly the players who remain from last year's team will look to their experience of winning three elimination games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs---Game 6 of the ECQF in Ottawa, Game 7 of the ECQF at The Garden, and Game 7 of the ECSF against the Capitals at Madison Square Garden. The only elimination game the Rangers lost last year was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when the Devils ousted the Blueshirts in overtime at the Prudential Center.
And speaking of overtime, the Rangers have now lost ten of their last 12 playoff overtime games dating back to May 4, 2007 following Friday's defeat in D.C. Interestingly the only two playof fovertime wins for the Blueshirts in that span came at the expense of the Caps, whom the Rangers defeated in triple overtime last year in Game 3 on the road, and in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
Regulation or overtime, it does not matter to the Rangers who had the Caps on the ropes early in Game Five, but failed to put the home team away. And in the end another brilliant performance by Henrik Lundqvist was layed to waste when the Rangers could not generate any semblance of offense in periods two and three before finally awakening in a thrilling back-and-forth overtime period. What started as an aggressive, attacking team on the forecheck---scoring just 53 seconds into the contest---ended up as a team not having the puck nearly enough, instead watching its goaltender give them a chance to win time and again.
The Rangers will need to once again be the up-tempo, hard-on-the-forecheck team it was In Games Three and Four of this series, which were also played at The Garden. In those games the Rangers created many more scoring chances and, not surprisingly, combined for eight of the ten goals they have scored so far in this series. However they likely will have to do so without rugged veteran forward Ryane Clowe who was kayoed from Game Five after absorbing a penalized hard hit along the back glass by Washington's Jason Chimera early in the first period. Clowe was missed in the first three games of this series, and seemed to energize the Rangers forecheck in Game Four when he returned from an unspecified injury. Now it seems that he will join injured forward Darrol Powe on the sidelines as the Blueshirts try and keep their season alive on Sunday.
The Ranger options to replace Clowe, should he not play, include talented rookie Chris Kreider---a playoff hero last spring, or grinding veterans Kris Newbury or Micheal Haley.
It would seem that Washington will have to play a second straight game without veteran forward Martin Erat, who suffered an upper body in just in Game Four at The Garden. Erat did not practice on Saturday after being replaced by rookie Tom Wilson on Friday night.
Both teams will be looking to their star players to finally make a difference in this series in Game Six. Rick Nash, the Rangers top goal scorer with 21 this season, has just one assist in the first five games of the series, and was held without a shot on goal until overtime in Game Five. Alex Ovechkin, the Hart Trophy Finalist and Rocket Richard Trophy winner with 32 goals this season, has just one goal and one assist in this series---going three games in a row without a point for the first time in his playoff career.
Will the Rangers extend their season, or will it come crashing to a halt here in Game Six? Share your predictions below.