Given the way the Capitals and New York Rangers have played this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, there’s every reason to believe Sunday’s Game 6 — in which the Capitals could advance or the Rangers could survive — will come down to such an eye-blink of an instance. Friday night, New York center Derick Brassard couldn’t clear a puck out of his own end, and Rangers defenseman John Moore couldn’t get his body between Washington center Mike Ribeiro and the goal. Thus, the difference: Ribeiro’s overtime winner that put the Capitals up three games to two.
The Rangers’ job: Forget that. The Capitals’ job: Capitalize on it. Given the feel of this series, the recent history of these two teams and the nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs, something very similar — one play made or not made, one rebound cleared or kept in the zone — could turn Game 6.
“It’s kind of situation where you can make a mistake, and a mistake can cost you a goal and cost you a series,” said Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. “It’s not like regular season, 82 games.”
This is, indeed, nothing like the regular season. The last four games of this series have been decided by a single goal. (The one blowout? The Capitals’ 3-1 victory in Game 1.) That fits into the narrative for these teams. Last year, when they faced each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the final six games were decided by one goal. Two went to overtime.
Remember the Capitals’ seven-game victory over Boston in the first round as excruciating? Each game was decided by one goal, and four went to overtime. In fact, since the Ovechkin-era Capitals began going to the playoffs in 2008, 39 of their 56 postseason games — nearly 70 percent — have been decided by one goal.
Such tension has an impact on the crowd, which has no idea if there will be hockey for another two minutes or another two hours. But it also impacts the players, even if they’re familiar with such circumstances.
“You find yourself more mentally tired after the game than you do during the regular season,” Capitals forward Jason Chimera said.
The two overtime games thus far in this series have ended relatively quickly — Mike Green winning Game 2 eight minutes into the extra session, then Ribeiro just before the halfway point of the first overtime period in Game 5. Ideally, the Capitals would like to finish the Rangers in regulation on Sunday.
But if they can’t, they won’t be alone. Through Friday night, 14 of the 48 first-round playoff games across eight series — almost 30 percent — had gone to overtime. Twenty-three of those games had been decided by one goal.