WASHINGTON D.C.—The Washington Capitals beat the New York Rangers 2–1 on Wednesday, taking a commanding three games to one lead in their second-round series, which heads back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Friday night. The Caps now have an excellent chance to close it out and grab a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here are three thoughts about the game:
1. The Capitals’ third line scored the game winner again.
After forward Jay Beagle tallied the lone goal in Washington’s Game 3 victory, his linemate Andre Burakovsky was the hero tonight, scoring twice to give the Caps all the offense they needed in front of another solid performance by goalie Braden Holtby.
The first goal by Burakovsky, a 20-year-old rookie, came with 3:31 remaining in the second period with assists from Beagle and defenseman Tim Gleason. The winning tally was unassisted, 24 seconds into the third period. The scores were the first two of Burakovsky’s playoff career.
Prior to the past two games, Washington’s third line of Beagle, Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer had struggled offensively, failing to score a goal through the first nine games of the postseason.
Earlier Wednesday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters that Burakovsky still had “that boy strength” and “doesn’t have that man strength yet.” On Wednesday night, Burakovsky showed he’s certainly getting there as he provided Washington the kind of secondary scoring that makes them a much greater threat to New York's Stanley Cup hopes. No longer can the Rangers focus primarily on stopping Alex Ovechkin's top line.
2. The Rangers can’t handle the Capitals' physical style of play.
The Capitals came into this game with more than 105 hits, the most of any team in the playoffs, and finished Game 4 with a 37-31 edge. That physicality has seriously frustrated the Rangers, who prefer to play a quick game and score in transition.
The Rangers’ were playing to their strengths when forward Martin St. Louis beat Ovechkin and sent a pass to Derick Brassard, whose shot hit the crossbar but went into the back of the net, giving New York a 1–0 lead at 6:12 of the second period.
Washington’s physical play almost cost them when Mike Green brought down Rangers’ forward Carl Hagelin on a breakaway at 8:01 of the third period with the Caps leading 2-1. Hagelin was awarded a penalty shot, but goalie Braden Holtby made a glove save to bail out his defenseman. Holtby has been spectacular in the series, and he went 100 minutes and five seconds between allowing goals in Games 2 and 4. He has also been helped out tremendously by his teammates, who blocked 25 shots to the Rangers’ 7 on Wednesday. The Capitals currently lead the league with 215 blocks, 42 more than No. 2 Calgary, and 85 more than the Rangers, who were known for that kind of physical sacrifice under their previous coach John Tortorella.
3. Both teams have a history with a 3-1 series.
Although the Capitals will take their 3-1 lead back to New York, they have been known to cough up such an advantage in the playoffs. In 2010, they fell to the eighth-seeded Canadiens. Ten of their current players remain from that team, and hopefully for Washington the sting is still fresh in their minds.
On the flip side, the Rangers were down 3-1 to the Penguins last season and came back to win the series, but this Capitals team is proving to be much tougher.
The Capitals will surely take a lot of confidence into Game 5 at MSG on Friday night after grabbing two tight victories on home ice and not allowing the Presidents’ Trophy winners to take back their advantage.