NEW YORK Ask anyone in the Capitals dressing room what was missing in their series-opening loss to the Rangers and the answers were the same.
A lack of intensity. A lack of energy. A lack of whatever it was that got them through their first-round victory over the Boston Bruins.
On Monday night they found it.
They were more desperate than they were in Game1, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said after the Capitals evened their bet-of-seen series with a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden. I thought they competed a lot harder; we expected that. We knew they were going to come out hard.
Dont be mistaken. The Capitals took their share of lumps Monday night. The Rangers outhit the Caps 45-35 and Callahan led the assault with eight hits. Even rookie Chris Kreider got into the act with six body checks.
Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik were the two most intended targets, but both somehow skated away on the right side of the plus-minus sheet at plus-1.
Dale Hunters decision to roll all four forward lines no one took fewer than 13 shifts resulted in more energy, more intensity and more of what they hope gets them into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.
We really wanted to push back, said Brooks Laich, who was critical of the teams work ethic at Sundays practice. We werent pleased with our effort in Game 1 and we wanted to get the split. We knew they were going to raise their play another level and we need to do the same on home ice.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Monday nights win was the performance of goaltender Braden Holtby, who rebounded from a shaky 11-save performance in Game 1 to turn back 26 shots and get three huge saves from his posts and crossbar.
We hit two posts last game and they hit two this game, Holtby said. Thats how close it is.
The series resumes on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center before taking a two-day hiatus Thursday and Friday. Game 4 will be a Saturday afternoon matinee. One thing is certain about this series. The Caps will have a return visit to New York for Game 5 on Monday, May 7.
And the stakes will be much higher.