It is one thing to prepare to defend the opposition's plan of attack. It is an entirely different challenge to defend that team's plan of attack when it is a carbon copy of your own. This is the mind-boggling predicament the New York Rangers currently find themselves in four games deep into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It was a pre-known fact that the Dale Hunter coached Capitals played a similar style to that of the Rangers, and for the first game of the series, they did just that, but in their own unique way. As we know, the Caps went on to lose that game, 3-1, despite outshooting their opponent and having ample opportunities to score themselves.
For Game 2, though, some minor adjustments were instilled by the coaching staff and now the Capitals looked like the Rangers but with white jerseys. Everyone was selling out to block shots, the defense in front of Braden Holtby tightened up and they used their forecheck as a means of momentum. The Blueshirts were now in a situation where they were caught off guard and not entirely sure how to react to a team beating them at their own game, which ended up happening on Alex Ovechkin's late powerplay goal in the third period.
And maybe, just maybe, it was the two teams going blow-for-blow with the same approach that required six straight periods of hockey in Game 3 to find a winner. It does not warrant a rocket scientist to realize that six periods tied 1-1 means neither club was giving up very much in an extremely tight match-up.
Finally, this past Saturday, the Rangers hit perhaps their lowest point of the series, failing to take advantage of a colossal opportunity to go up 3-1 in the series by instead losing, 3-2, leaving the series tied going into tonight's Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. This particular tilt saw the Rangers defeated at their own game more so than any other, which is a bit worrisome with three, possible only two, games left to play in this series.
The Capitals blocked over twenty shots on Saturday while the Rangers blocked only 7. Huh?
New York prides itself on its shot-blocking and the commitment to do so by all players on the team. But to only block 7 shots and allow Washington to get 26 to their 20 for the game sends up red flags. The Capitals have clearly entered the minds of the Rangers by matching them with a symmetrical approach to their own, and it was blatantly obvious on Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
This series is now a best of three games with the Rangers having home ice in two of them. For the second straight series, time is running out on the Blueshirts to salvage their season and make it to the next round, but in this series more so than the previous one, they have an immense challenge ahead of them.
How they react to playing against, well, themselves will determine their fate. There was reportedly much frustration in that locker room on Saturday, and whether that was over officiating or the loss in general, no one knows. Regardless, it needs to be forgotten and this team needs to regroup. They need to get back to blocking shots and grinding down their opponent. They need to get back to being the tougher team to play against and revive their physical game. And most importantly, they need to get back to being a wall nearly impossible to penetrate in the defensive zone.
Because if they don't, the Capitals will first.