Four out of five games in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Capitals and Rangers have been decided by one goal, two have required overtime to reach a result.
For as close as the contests have been, there’s a different tenor based on the venue. At Verizon Center, the two teams have combined for no more than four goals in any single contest. But at Madison Square Garden, where Game 6 will take place Sunday at 4:30 p.m., they’ve combined to score seven goals per contest.
The Capitals struggled in their starts for Games 3 and 4 in New York, taking a flurry of penalties and failing to execute in their own zone. While Washington’s efforts at home in this series haven’t necessarily been flawless, they’ve been much more even keeled when playing on F Street.
“They made adjustments for Game 3 and it took us two games to figure that out,” Karl Alzner said when asked why the series seemed different at Madison Square Garden. “We thought we had it figured out in Game 4, but they came out really hard again. So it’s just all about being able to adapt. They changed and we didn’t get there quick enough. There’s no doubt that it’s a tough building to play in — they’ll have more energy and more emotion but we’ve got to use that.”
Players often note the difficulties of playing at the Garden, where it’s more dimly lit than other rinks and it feels as though the fans – every rowdy, blue shirt wearing one of them – are on top of them. The glass rattles with each big hit more than in other buildings and the Rangers clearly gain energy and momentum from the crowd.
Still, most teams feed off their home crowds and the Capitals downplay the notion that New York is any different when playing at home. The players simply emphasize the need to keep their own emotions in check and make smart decisions.
“The ice is not that good. I can tell you right now,” Alex Ovechkin said when asked what they’ve learned after the two previous visits to the Garden. “But the atmosphere is unbelievable the intensity is there, the speed is there. We just have to control our emotion and don’t take lots of penalties because we give them chances when they play 5-on-4. ….We just have to be disciplined and stay same way. “
In Game 3, the Capitals spent 10:08 of the first 28:32 on the penalty kill preventing them from establishing any sort of rhythm in the contest early. In Game 4, New York’s hard-hitting forecheck tied the Capitals up in their own zone and forced them to make rushed decisions that often led to mistakes.
Coach Adam Oates expressed his concern about the Capitals getting off to a strong start ahead of Game 5. They didn’t, allowing a goal in the first minute.
Heading back to New York with a chance to close out the series in Game 6, the Capitals know withstanding whatever the home team and home crowd throws at them early on Sunday afternoon will be key. For Washington to get off to a solid start, the players just need to keep things simple.
“We’ve got to dump the puck in — we’ve got to chip it and chase it,” Alzner said. “We’ve got to throw pucks on the net and hit. It’s sometimes hard to do that though, teams right at the beginning of the game, they get it and they throw it out because they don’t want to spend any time in their zone. …. Sometimes we get a little bit fancy and we want to skate the puck in the zone but the start of the game has to be all about chipping and chasing.”