NEW YORK -- Say what you want about the ear-splitting noise level and raw emotion that comes with playoff hockey in Madison Square Garden.
The Caps have done quite well there in recent years. In their last 10 regular-season visits to the Garden the Capitals have gone 6-3-1 and they have more playoff wins at MSG [nine] than in any other NHL building.
“It’s obviously one of the best atmospheres in the league,” said Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who will start Game 3 tonight [7:30 p.m., CSN] as the Caps try to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“I believe we have the best at Verizon Center, but they’re passionate fans and they want to help their team win. Our job is to block all that out. We have a job to do: win a game. The atmosphere, the fans, that doesn’t matter. We have a goal in mind and we’re going to prepare for that.”
Including last year’s playoffs, Holtby has compiled a 2.13 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in seven career games at Madison Square Garden.
All nine of the Caps’ playoff visits to Manhattan have come in the last four years. They went 4-5 in those games, beating the Rangers in seven games in 2009, beating them in five in 2011 and losing in seven last spring.
In fact, Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the Caps’ crushing 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers in Game 5, a game in which they blew a one-goal lead with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Rangers took a 3-2 series lead with that win and advanced by winning Game 7 at the Garden by a 2-1 score.
Holtby said the Caps need to stay away from getting lured into an emotionally charged game that takes them away from their structured system of reading and reacting.
“We’ll try to simplify everything,” he said. “We’ve been successful on the road this year [12-10-2]. We know how to play in that building and we’ll be ready.”
Caps left wing Jay Beagle said he expects the crowd to be amped up at the start of tonight’s game.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s obviously a tough building to play in. Their fans are going to be fired up and the team’s going to come out hard, too. The first 5, 10 minutes they always come out really hard in their building and we have to be ready to match that.”
The Caps’ 1-0 overtime victory in Game 2 marked the first time in their last 12 meetings that the Caps beat the Rangers without getting a goal from Alex Ovechkin. Before that victory, which was won by Mike Green’s power-play goal, the Caps had gone 4-0 in games Ovechkin scored and 0-6 in games he had not.
In nine career playoff games against the Blueshirts Ovechkin has four goals and four assists. His only goal in this series came on the power play, where the Caps are 2-for-7 while holding the Rangers scoreless on their seven man-advantages.
What has winning the special teams battle meant to the Capitals so far in this series?
“It means we won two games,” veteran left wing Marty Erat said. “Five-on-five it’s going to be tight – [there have been just three even-strength goals in the first two games] -- so a lot of games will be decided on the power play and penalty kill. They’ve got good power play. They cannot put it together but we have to just elevate every game we play and see how it goes.”