After dropping the series opener against New York, the Capitals bemoaned a lack of energy on their part. They weren’t hungry enough, players said. They didn’t ratchet up their intensity level to something befitting an Eastern Conference semifinal series.
In Game 2, however, Washington answered its own bell and came out with a better performance and left with a necessary 3-2 win that evened the series as it switches to Verizon Center for the next two contests.
Monday night it was the Rangers’ turn to wonder how they could amp things up further.
“They were more desperate than they were [in Game 1],” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “I thought they competed a lot harder – we expected that. We knew they were going to come out hard. At the same time, I think we need to raise our level.”
Brooks Laich, who was particularly critical of the Capitals’ showing in Game 1, said he felt like they responded well in Game 2. Washington weathered the Rangers’ punishing forecheck early to build a two-goal lead in the first period. While they allowed a goal in the final minute of play, it was a still strong start for the visitors at Madison Square Garden.
“We made them chase us a little bit. And they had to open it up a little bit and we did a good job, for the most part, protecting the lead,” Laich said. “We really wanted to push back and get the win. We weren’t pleased with our effort last game, so we wanted to push back and definitely get the split at least even here. They’re going to raise their play another level, and we have to do the same on home ice.”
Home ice is where the Capitals must now start to exert some dominance this postseason. Washington has already proved it can rise to the challenge of winning in tough road buildings – having won three of four games at TD Garden in Boston in the first round and now splitting at Madison Square Garden to kick off this series.
To keep pushing forward and perhaps make things a little easier on themselves, though, the Capitals will need to rekindle some of the home cooking that helped them go 26-11-4 in the regular season. Washington was 1-2 at Verizon Center in the first round and the Rangers would like to find a way to tilt that in an even more negative direction.
“We have to grate more. It’s a matter of trying to win every battle,” Callahan said. “All year we responded after losses and this is no different. It’s a tough place to play in Washington. They usually come out strong there. We’re going to have to be ready.”