The New York Rangers were on the attack, pressing the action against the Washington Capitals, creating opportunities, throwing their weight around. For the first three minutes of the game, the Rangers were in charge. They were going to make up for the thrashing they took Saturday night in Game 2 of the best-of-seven Patrick Division series.
But then came Bob Carpenter.
The Capitals center scored at 3:06 of the first period on a breakaway, off a feed from Scott Stevens for 1-0 lead. Then, 3 1/2 minutes later, Mike Gartner scored after Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck botched a clearing attempt. The Rangers and their fans were stunned and silent, respectively.
"Geeeeez," said the Rangers' Don Maloney. "They're just buzzing around us. We get down right away and our whole confidence is shot. I mean it takes four games to win the series and we'll just have to regroup. But we got whipped two games in a row."
This time it read 6-3, Capitals, who have a 2-1 edge in the series heading into Wednesday's fourth game here.
Again, as in Saturday's 8-1 Washington victory, it was the Capitals' speed that had the Rangers either on their heels or chasing. Neither is an advantageous stance.
"They just seemed to have an extra step," Maloney said. "They were a mile per hour faster, and maybe that came from their being confident or maybe being ahead. We really have to have a good first period Wednesday.
"Their whole team plays well when they're up two goals. Those two goals in the first period took the wind out of our sails. I think we play really well when we're even or up, but when we're behind, everyone tightens up and starts questioning themselves. We have to get ahead and see how they feel in that position."
The Rangers weren't out of the game after the first period, but they were by the end of the second. And, like the first period, the Rangers had Washington scrambling in its end and got a couple good shots off during the first 2 1/2 minutes. But they got nothing out of it, as goalie Pete Peeters kept them at bay. Then came Carpenter, again.
On the Capitals' first serious incursion of the period into the Rangers zone, Carpenter wrapped the puck around the post to make it 3-0.
"That's discouraging," Rangers Coach Ted Sator said. "It doesn't help when you're pressing them offensively and not getting anything. Then they come back and score. It's especially discouraging when so many of them were absolutely point-blank chances."
It was another trying evening for Vanbiesbrouck.
"When you give up a couple goals early, it's frustrating," he said. "I couldn't get a pad on any of them.
"We got away from our game plan in the first period and it hurt us. To come in here and get a goal early was real big for them. They didn't want to let us get a goal and have to listen to this crowd."
The Capitals' advantage in speed was effective in stopping the Rangers as well as scoring against them.
"For me to join the offense, it needs to be coming out of our end, and if they're faster, it's tough getting out," said Rangers defenseman James Patrick. "I know I had tried to overdo it. I have got to stop myself and say to myself, 'Slow down and don't force the opportunities if they're not there.' "
After Saturday's loss, Sator and some of the Rangers had said that the fatigue of playing a five-game series against Philadelphia had caught up with them. Tonight, they offered no excuses.
"It was Washington making us tired," Maloney said, shaking his head while discussing the Capitals' advantage in speed.
"No, fatigue wasn't a problem," Sator said. "We had a lot of chances to score and didn't. We had 42 attempts [to 28 shots for the Capitals] and some at point-blank. The effort was there, the result wasn't. We have to be a nickel better on every play."