Game 4 Preview: Rangers - Capitals

Game 4 Preview: Rangers - Capitals
April 20, 2011, 12:35 am
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011 4:31 p.m.
By Mark ZuckermanStaff

The Capitals knew what they were getting into in their first-round playoff series with the Rangers. Few teams in the NHL are as dedicated to defense and clamping down on opposing stars as New York, which through three games has gone out of its way to harass Alex Ovechkin and Co.

"It's the playoffs," Ovechkin said. "Every shift, every second, it's like a war."

Whether Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin can find a way to muscle their way through that tenacious Rangers defense and find the back of the net may be the remaining key to this series.

If nothing else, the Caps would love to see their big three offensive stars make some more noise in Game 4 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden than they did during a 3-2 loss in Game 3 Sunday.

"They're doing a pretty good job of checking them, but you never win anything without your best players being your best players," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They are working pretty hard at it, and they're doing a pretty good job of nullifying them. But we've got to find a way, I'm sure."

Though Ovechkin did score in Game 3, it came on his lone shot of the afternoon (and that was a redirection of a Mike Green shot). Backstrom took two shots in the loss and has only four for the series. Semin did manage to fire off six attempts, though he's been held without a point since his dynamic effort in Game 1.

The Capitals are used to seeing opposing teams clamp down on their big-name stars, but it's rare for Ovechkin to be denied even the opportunity to score. This is, after all, the NHL's leader in shots on goal in each of his six seasons and a guy who averaged nearly six shots per playoff game until this year.

But New York's top defensive tandem of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi has effectively prevented Ovechkin from finding open space so far in this series, holding him to three total shots the past two games.

"We're trying to be physical on him, take his time and space away," Girardi told reporters after Game 3. "He's a good player, and he's going to find a way to get points. We've got to try to keep it to a minimum, and for the most part, we've done a pretty good job on him."

Between the defensive pressure and goalie Henrik Lundqvist's supreme skills in net, the Caps understand their best hope for scoring is not via slap shots from the point but via rebounds and other bounces in front of the net. They've talked about crashing the net for the last week, but they weren't so effective at it during their Game 3 loss.

"We have to come out way harder than we did in Game 3," Backstrom said. "We have to be more physical and make sure we take the puck to the net more and make sure we get traffic in front of Lundqvist. Those are the kind of things we've been talking about. We have to make sure we do it."

"It's tough to score," second-line center Jason Arnott said. "It's tough to get in there and have that empty net. Usually it's banging and crashing. We definitely have to do more of it, no question."

Not that anyone in the Caps locker room is panicking. They still hold a 2-1 series edge, having played impressive defense in their own right.

But if they're going to win this series -- and if they're going to make a deep run in these playoffs -- there is an understanding that big-time performances are going to have to come from big-time players.

"You can go down the line on the teams: When they have the success, it is their star players," Boudreau said. "Your star players are your star players, and they have to be the ones that get it done for the most part."