Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 5/5/12

Officially, today’s match-up between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will be Game 4 of their semifinal series, but technically it will be the fifth game of the series after the two teams slugged it out in a six-period battle that began on Wednesday night and lingered into the wee hours of Thursday morning. The Rangers, as we know, would win that thriller on Marian Gaborik’s tally with just 5:19 remaining in triple overtime. Depending on what the response is from each club today, that game could very well define this series when all is said and done.

For the Rangers, it is rather easy to get too high after earning a triple overtime win making the odds of a letdown rather high for this afternoon. Head coach John Tortorella urged in a teleconference on Thursday that this was not a concern for his team, however, as they are very well experienced when it comes to handling emotions and regaining focus after potential distracting moments occur. There’s a vast difference between going back to MSG with a 3-1 lead in the series and going back tied at two, so that’s something they will keep in the backs of their minds when they take the ice at the Verizon Center for this matinee. 

As for Washington, some major soul-searching needed to be done after a deflating loss on Wednesday. One could only imagine the mental state of a team after they left every ounce of energy and effort out on the ice for six straight periods of hockey only to lose and then go down in the series in front of their home crowd. In order to rebound, though, the Caps must forget what occurred in that game. As painful as it was, they cannot let the after-emotions get the best of them otherwise they will find themselves in an elimination scenario at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. They surely do not want any part of that. 

Game 3 was an incredible hockey game without a doubt, but as far as importance is considered, this afternoon’s tilt could be the most important of the series for both teams. You know how each outcome will affect each team in the series as presented above, and based on that, this is basically do or die for the Washington Capitals today. 

Don’t believe me? Check out this stat: The higher seeded team is 44-3 in the semifinals when going up three games to one, and they go on to win Game 5 to eliminate their opponent 64-percent of the time (courtesy of @ngreenberg). Not saying that’s sure to happen in this series, but those are some pretty heavy numbers, wouldn’t you say? 

It will be interesting to see how the Rangers hold up fatigue-wise throughout the rest of this series after that triple overtime game, especially today less than two full days later. John Tortorella rolled all four offensive lines in that game, but he only went with five defensemen and obviously Henrik Lundqvist had to play in six straight periods. That’s a lot of minutes for a lot of guys – something their bodies are not accustomed to going through – so there’s no telling just how they will react physically in this game. 

The main guy to keep an eye on in that respect is Ryan McDonagh, who skated for an absurd 53 minutes in Game 3, even after taking a thunderous hit from Matt Hendricks in the first overtime period. McDonagh is as important as anyone to this club’s success, so we can only hope that his young age and premier conditioning will kick in here and keep him going at the high level he’s been performing at throughout the postseason. 

And the same could be said of the Capitals, too, because they were worn down by the Rangers the later that game went. At about the midway point of the second overtime period, Washington began to struggle to contain the Rangers’ forecheck, which just kept coming and coming. It was evident that the Caps were not as well conditioned as their opponent, so fatigue could very well be an issue for them today as well. 

Other than that, there will be no other catalysts in today’s game. Both teams have to be happy with how they played in Game 3 and I wouldn’t imagine would be changing a whole lot for Game 4. 

Coach Tortorella, as it looks like based on yesterday’s practice, has even kept his lineup together, which I personally didn’t expect. As we discussed, Stu Bickel only played just over three minutes on defense on Wednesday night, yet it looks as if he will again be in the lineup for Game 4. It’s clear Tortorella doesn’t have much trust in Bicks, while he certainly did in Steve Eminger earlier in the year, so it’s puzzling that he did not make that swap. 

The bottom line is that Bickel needs to play more if he’s in the lineup, because only rolling with five defensemen in the playoffs is pretty much committing suicide. 

New York Rangers Lineup

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