In a back-and-forth series in which the first four games are essentially a wash, the fifth instantaneously becomes the most important. That's how the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, currently tied at two games apiece, will view tonight's Game 5 match at Madison Square Garden. Based on how momentum has swung from night to night in this series, winning tonight does not necessarily indicate that the series will end in favor of that team. But it positively gives that club an advantage over their opponent with the opportunity to close this thing out on Wednesday, and the Rangers certainly do not want to be the ones down a game headed back to Washington later in the week. This game could very well decide their fate.
After a thrilling triple overtime win last week to take a 2-1 lead in the series, the Rangers disappointed on Saturday when they fell, 3-2, to the Caps at the Verizon Center. Many blamed the officiating for the outcome of that tilt, and there's no arguing that it had an impact, but it comes down to the Rangers not being able to avoid letdown in Game 4 of yet another series. We saw it on Saturday, we saw it two weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators, and the Blueshirts now find themselves in a very familiar situation. Saturday's loss was a tremendous opportunity lost, no matter what the officials may or may not have done.
If you recall, Game 5 was a night to forget for the Rangers in the quarterfinals. They were boo'd off the ice by an unhappy MSG crowd after an embarrassing display on home ice. Luckily they were able to rebound from that and save their season, but they may not be so lucky if they fall into the same hole against this Capitals team. The Caps are playing the Rangers much tighter than Ottawa did, and they are also a tough team to beat when they are at home in the playoffs. The odds will be heavily against New York should they lose tonight, and they do not want to have to push yet another series to a seventh game.
As pointed out in this morning's column, the Rangers need to regroup here and reestablish their game. Washington is beating New York by stealing pages right from coach Tortorella's book, and it's given this team a very hard time offensively to this point. After every game you hear the players state that more traffic is needed in front of the net, as well as more shots, but we have yet to see either of those executed. Braden Holtby, while good, has had it easy to this point, which simply shouldn't be as a rookie netminder.
The Capitals have played well defensively, and they deserve that credit, but it's the Rangers who are shooting themselves in the foot. Between the amount of times they miss the net and the number of times they make one pass too many, the forfeited scoring chances build up quite quickly. They are trying to be too perfect right now, and that is likely a result of the Caps getting in their heads by playing a symmetrical game to their own. The Rangers must simplify everything, from top to bottom, and return to the basics that made them such a tough team to play against during the regular season.
Lineup-wise, everything is expected to remain the same for the Rangers. Chris Kreider was welcomed into John Tortorella's dog house in Game 4 after a costly turnover in the slot, so he's someone to keep an eye on tonight. Kreider is a kid who learns and responds quickly, so you would imagine he is chomping at the bit to get out there and make a positive difference tonight at MSG.
Henrik Lundqvist is another player who is expected to come up huge this evening, as he allowed an ugly goal to Alex Ovechkin in the first period on Saturday. You bet he's determined to steal one back in this one.
New York Rangers Lineup