Although the deadlocked Patrick Division final shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 tonight, there will be few alterations in the Washington Capitals' plan of attack.
The team's No. 1 priority, as in Saturday's 8-1 victory at Capital Centre, will be to put pressure on the New York Rangers' defense, with special attention devoted to James Patrick and Reijo Ruotsalainen.
"Physical forechecking has to be a factor," said Coach Bryan Murray. "Ruotsalainen flies in their building. Patrick and Ruotsalainen get the play going for them, and Patrick has been playing very well. He's the guy we've got to get to. He lost his cool a bit last night, and we'd like to keep him frustrated.
"We had a game plan, and the great thing is that the guys paid attention to it from start to finish. We wanted to hit them and we did, but when we said the tough stuff was over, that was it. We didn't want to give them the opportunity to win a fight and perhaps build on it psychologically."
Often during the regular season, the Capitals have let up after taking a lead. But Saturday they scored three times in the third period while outshooting the Rangers, 13-4.
"We talked between periods about the possibility that Glen Hanlon would replace John Vanbiesbrouck in goal, and we stressed the importance of giving Hanlon a lot of shots," Murray said. "We wanted to make sure Hanlon wouldn't be a factor in this series."
Vanbiesbrouck was outstanding in the Rangers' overtime victory in Game 1, which gave them home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series. However, he was yanked after yielding five goals in 26 shots Saturday.
"I think our guys will get to know him as the series goes on," Murray said. "If we continue to get chances, it should catch up with him and hopefully discourage him."
Vanbiesbrouck, seemingly not discouraged yet, professed to be optimistic with the prospect of returning to the Garden, although he needed relief from Hanlon in the Rangers' last game there, a 7-1 loss to Philadelphia last Sunday.
"We probably have the best fans in the league," Vanbiesbrouck said. "They're as hungry as we are."
The Capitals probably would use other words to describe fans at the Garden.
"I don't like the place at all," said Washington winger Mike Gartner. "Nobody likes to get spit on, or have people throw beer at you."
But winger Gaetan Duchesne could see a bright side, saying: "The fans will be screaming the first part of the game, but if we put in a couple of goals, it should quiet the crowd and maybe even get them booing their own team."
The Capitals have had considerable success in the Garden the last two years, earning victories on four of their last six visits, and Murray thinks that trend should continue.
"The crowd can be a positive factor for them, but if we can get ahead and do what we are capable of doing and play smart, we could put them right out of the series.
"The good thing about our team is that we play well on the road. As a team, we have a lot of discipline, and our system can really be a factor. If we execute, the crowd could get down on them and make them come apart, as it did in the last game there against Philly."
Duchesne is expected to play an important role tonight with his assigned task of guarding New York winger Pierre Larouche. If necessary, Duchesne will shift between lines and come off the bench on the fly to guard Larouche, as he did against the Islanders' Mike Bossy at Nassau Coliseum.
Duchesne shut out Larouche Saturday and scored two goals himself. He said, "It's different playing against Larouche than playing Bossy. With Bossy, I shadowed him all over the place and I was always the third man [in the forechecking pattern].
"With Larouche, if I'm the first man in, I go and Gouldie [Bob Gould] or Davy [Christian] will pick him up," Duchesne said. "I'm concerned about Pierre, because he is a good goal-scorer and you can't give him too many chances, but he isn't Mike Bossy."
Winger Steve Leach is still debilitated from flu and did not practice yesterday. Since David Jensen arrived from Binghamton without his equipment and could not skate, Murray said he most likely would dress the same lineup that played Saturday.
Jensen will stay in Washington to practice with five others called up after Binghamton was eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs -- goalie Bob Mason, defensemen Paul Cavallini and Timo Blomqvist, and forwards Gary Sampson and Grant Martin.
There were some strange line combinations at yesterday's workout, and Murray said, "I may make a couple of changes, but nothing absolute."
The tentative units had Gould centering Duchesne and Craig Laughlin, Bob Carpenter between Greg Adams and Christian, Alan Haworth (who set a club record with five points Saturday) centering Yvon Corriveau and Gartner, and Jorgen Pettersson flanked by Dwight Schofield and Lou Franceschetti.
Pete Peeters will be in goal, and Murray conceded that he has no plans at present to use Al Jensen.
Saturday's loss was the worst of the season for the Rangers, who finished with the NHL's third-best defensive record, behind Philadelphia and Washington.
The Rangers' defense has been hit with injuries all season and still appears shaky. Captain Barry Beck is out with a bruised shoulder, and his replacement, Ron Greschner, suffered a fractured wrist Tuesday in Philadelphia. Rob Whistle has been missing since March 23 with a tendon problem in his shoulder.
Tom Laidlaw played Saturday for the first time since March 12, when back spasms forced him out. Willie Huber missed games in March because of knee and rib injuries. Jim Wiemer and Kjell Samuelsson spent most of the season in New Haven, and Larry Melnyk, despite his ownership of two Stanley Cup rings as an Edmonton Oiler, is strictly a journeyman. That leaves Patrick and Ruotsalainen to carry most of the load.
Why have the Rangers allowed so few goals?
"They play different from most teams, defending man for man in their own end," Murray said. "If you don't attack them quickly, they tie you up and frustrate you. It has a lot of faults, and if you run pick plays and design things for it, you can break it down.
"But if you only see it from one team, and everyone else uses zone play, you don't work on attacking it. In a long series, though, we can pay more attention and I think we'll find holes as the series goes on."