After Mike Green’s goal put them ahead 3-2 late in Game 4 against New York Saturday afternoon, the Capitals’ task was straightforward: protect the advantage for the final 5 minutes, 48 seconds of regulation.
Washington’s willingness to block shots, a constant throughout the postseason, took center stage again and in the waning moments of Game 4. The Rangers were only able to get two shots on goal after Green’s tally. Washington players blocked six attempts on net in the same span.
“Yeah, a lot of red sweaters in front of me. That was a good thing,” goaltender Braden Holtby said of the effort. “Right out in the face of their D-men, we kind of read their plan of what they were trying to do. Our forwards up high really executed.”
The Capitals blocked a total of 26 shots in Game 4, compared to just 7 for New York. They’ve now gotten in the way of 244 shots to lead all teams in the playoffs, including the Rangers, who are second with 232 blocks.
While the Capitals continue to find ways to block shots, particularly those from opposing defensemen on the point, in Game 4 they managed to neutralize New York’s ability to do the same by altering the way they entered the offensive zone.
Washington focused on dumping the puck into the corner, winning the battle for possession and then taking advantage of the increased space away from the play along the boards. The strategy gave the Capitals more time and space to create offensive plays while making it difficult for the Rangers to scramble back and dive in front of shots.
“They like to play tight in their D zone, their forwards collapse a little bit,” Troy Brouwer said. “So our D men have a little bit more time at the points so if we can get pucks back to the point and go D-to-D and stretch them out a little bit, it gives our D men a better lane to the net. Plus if we have nothing, we can just throw it down behind the net and try to create a little more room on the cycle for ourselves.”
Multiple adjustments are made by both sides over the course of a series. A tactic that works in one game, or one period, might not the next. So it will be interesting to see how both sides counter in Game 5 Monday at Madison Square Garden.