The Capitals know exactly what they’re up against when they walk into MadisonSquareGarden Sunday afternoon with a chance to end the Rangers’ season and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
The Garden will be pulsating with emotion during a spirited national anthem followed by a frenzy of towel swirling.
But instead of weathering the anticipated storm from the home team, Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said maybe the Caps should try a different approach.
“I think the thought process should be to let them weather our storm and try to figure us out,” Alzner said. “That’s the mindset we want.”
Each team has taken advantage of its home ice in this best-of-seven series, with the Caps winning all three games at VerizonCenter and the Rangers winning Games 3 and 4 at MSG.
Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, one of only two players in the series to win a Stanley Cup [Brad Richards is the other], said the fourth win is always the toughest to get and he said the Caps can’t afford to wait to see how the Rangers will come at them when the puck drops at 4:40 [CSN pregame show at 4 p.m.]
“We need to get off to a good start and put them away as soon as possible,” Brouwer said. “Teams get desperate. They don’t want to lose and have their season finished. We need to go in there wanting to close it out and not give them life to force a Game 7.”
If the Capitals can win Game 6 they will earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third straight year.
They have not been to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1998.
The Capitals have taken a three games to two lead in a playoff series 10 times in their history. Six of those times they went on to win the series. During the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps have gone up 3-2 in a playoff series twice and are 1-1, including last year’s seven-game victory over the Bruins, when the Caps lost Game 6 at home and beat the Bruins in Boston in Game 7.
“To be honest I don’t even know what happened since 2008,” Ovechkin said. “We’re more mature, more experienced and that helps us.”
The two biggest star forwards in this series – Alex Ovechkin and Rick Nash – have combined for just one goal in the first five games. Meanwhile, Rangers grinder Derick Brassard leads all players with six points and the Caps’ third line of Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward and Jason Chimera has combined for 11 points.
“We’re trying to play him hard,” Alzner said of Nash, who has no goals on 19 shots, one assist and is a minus-2. “When he’s in the corner we’re trying to give him a few shots because he is such a big guy. He’s a good player and we’ve been fortunate to keep him in check.”
Ovechkin has one goal on 24 shots, one assist, and is a minus-2. Asked if he’s feeling the pressure to score, Ovechkin shrugged.
“Pressure is for everybody right now,” he said. “We know if we win wer’e going to be moving [on] and if we lose we’re going to come back here and play.
“[Sunday] is going to be our biggest game of the year and we have to give up everything to win.”
Asked what he learned from the Caps’ two losses in New York in Games 3 and 4, Ovechkin smiled.
“The ice is not that good, I can tell you that right now,” he said. “The atmosphere is unbelievable. We just have to control our emotions and not take lots of penalties.”
In the first two games of the series each team was awarded seven power plays. In Games 3, 4 and 5, the Rangers were given 14 power plays; the Caps seven.
“Hopefully, the refs let us play five-on-five,” Chimera said. “Nobody wants it to be that lopsided.”