I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never - in my life - in any sport - felt worse about my teams chances with a 3-1 series lead than I do about this 3-1 lead the Rangers have over the Capitals. Why is that? A bunch of reasons:
The 2009 NHL statistical leading goalie in the playoffs? Of course it is Washington's Varlamov with a 1.0 Goals Against Average over 3 games and a .962% save percentage.
Our own superstar Henrik Lundqvist? He's fifth in the NHL with a playoff GAA of 2.0 - double of Varlamov's. And Hank's save percentage is .946%. So as incredible as it seems - our future hall of fame goalie with a playoff shutout is statistically underperforming the caps Rookie. But that being said - Henrik has been as good as I've ever seen him - facing much tougher and more frequent shots that Varlamov and making incredible save after save.
The Ranger's League Leading Penalty Kill? We've allowed 4 goals in in the last 4 games. Meanwhile our own powerplay has not scored at all on Varlamov.
The Capitals have outshot the Rangers 149 to 99. That's 50 more shots on goal in 4 games. The Rangers are averaging less than 25 shots a game and the Caps have launched 50 more shots at Henrik in 4 games than we have at the Cap's goalies. And that's not counting all the Capital's shots we've blocked.
So, here's what we're looking at:
- The Caps have outscored us.
- They have completely outshot us.
- Varlamov has out goaltended us (120+ consecutive minutes of shut out hockey)
- But somehow we're up 2 games on Washington with a 3-1 lead.
And the time to finish the Caps may be, as Nugman says, right now. Right now Washington is reeling - wondering how they can lose a game they dominated - wondering how they lost two at home - wondering if the puck can ever get past Henrik Lundqvist - and wondering how the 7th place team that can't score has them on the brink of elimination and humiliation. When a team plays as well as the Caps have and they find they are losing the series - badly - it must be confusing and demoralizing.
At this point the Caps may start to question everything they thought they knew about the game of hockey. The second guesses creep in: Should they shoot more? Less? More high shots? More low shots? Should they attack more? Defend more? Because dominating the Rangers has, inexplicably, not been working for them.
(This is why - as we said before the first puck was dropped - when you have the better goaltender you always have a chance to win - no matter who you're playing or how good they are.)
The key for the Rangers in these games has been - keep it close early. The longer the Caps don't have the lead - the more the pressure will mount for them - their crowd will get on them - they will get confused and frustrated - and they will press. And they will exhaust themselves.
On the other hand, if the Caps get an early lead, like game 3 they could easily be off to the races. The danger here is that if Washington wins game 5 they will storm back into the Garden with a little more zip and confidence - having just beaten the Rangers and feeling they can do it again. And the pressure for game 6 falls back right back on the Blueshirts.
So, like Nugs says, the best thing is to win it now. Win it tonight. Because otherwise - well, those floodgates won't stay shut forever.
Dave Pucks Actual Keys To The Game
(real ones this time)
1 - Out Work Them (Grit)
2 - Hank - be the best goalie on the ice tonight (Goaltending)
3 - Avery - We wouldn't be here without you - but you nearly killed us with bad penalties - KEEP YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME (and out of your...)
4 - Win the first period. At least - stay even.
5 - Don't get in a run & gun with them - we' can't match the Caps in a wide open game
6 - Get a lead somehow and hang on, men, hang on.
This has been Dave Puck's Actual....
Let's steal one more. Let's end this now. Let's Go Rangers.