Not going to lie here, I thought the Rangers should have been able to handle the Caps at even strength fairly easily based on these two team's play in the regular season. This hasn't been happening, though as the Rangers have been outchanced 39-36 by the Caps at evens heading into tonight's game. They aren't getting dominated but they were outplayed in two out of three games and were able to scrape out an ugly win on Monday. Those kind of wins always go a long way in the playoffs, though and it gave the Rangers a chance to climb back in the series. The Rangers are also a better team than what they showed in the first three games, so this series could very well go the full distance if the Rangers could return to their level of play during the regular season. Last night, we saw just that.
The Rangers looked more like the team that many expected to see this playoffs as they had complete control of things for about 75% of the game. Their offense came back to life in recording a total of 23 scoring chances and keeping Washington's better forwards quiet for the majority of the game. They were able to do this well in Game 3, as well but didn't create much offense at even strength. This ended up being the difference maker last night as they did not allow the Caps to have much sustained zone time at all.
In addition to that, the Rangers got something they've received little of this series, which is good bounces. Their first goal came after Taylor Pyatt knocked down a bad clearing attempt from Braden Holtby and it allowed Brad Richards to eventually score on an empty net. They got another one in the third period when Carl Hagelin was able to draw Holtby out of position and quickly get the puck to Derek Stepan, who fired the puck into an empty cage for the Rangers fourth goal of the game, which ultimately ended up being the game-winner. These kinds of chances & breaks weren't happening to the Rangers in the first three games, so being able to get these bounces likely played a role in the team's confidence. The Rangers obviously can't rely on bounces to advance but they have to like their chances now that the score is tied and their team just played easily their best game of the series.
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers Game Four
This game was all Rangers for the first two periods. They outchanced Washington 17-9 and held Washington to only three total scoring chances for the first 30 minutes. Washington began to wake up after Carl Hagelin made it 2-0 in the second period and started to build more sustained offense. Score affects likely played a role here because the Rangers were basically just trying to defend their lead at that point and unfortunately for them, their strategy failed as the Caps were able to get two late-second period goals to tie the game off a couple of bad mistakes by the Rangers defense.
However, the bounces continued to go in the Rangers favor in the third period as they scored a power play goal on their first scoring chance of the third period and reassumed control of the game for the next 10 minutes or so and got another goal from Derek Stepan. After that, however, they began to back off a little and reverted back to a more defensive style. I can't say that it was executed well since the Caps were able to get a fair bit of chances and Henrik Lundqvist had to do his part to keep the Rangers on top, but they still got the win in the end. I understand the mindset of employing the defensive shell when playing with the lead but it seems kind of pointless when you end up surrendering six scoring chances in a ten minutes span. Kind of like how the prevent defense in football. A win is a win, though and I thought the Rangers looked better than they have all series.
Also worth noting is that the Rangers (barely) won the special teams battle, which was going to be a deciding factor whether you like it or not. The Rangers power play, as a whole, looked bad but that goal from Dan Girardi at the beginning of the third period proved to be huge while the Caps ended up getting outchanced on their one power play opportunity in the first period. Much like the last game, it's an ugly win for the Rangers special teams but it ended up being a deciding factor.
Rangers Individual Scoring Chances
|4||Michael Del Zotto||11:12||2||7||2:42||2||0||0:00||0||0|
Best EV Forward: Ryan Callahan +6
Worst EV Forward: Ryane Clowe -5
Best EV Defenseman: Ryan McDonagh +6
Worst EV Defenseman: Michael Del Zotto -5
The old sports cliche is that your best players have to rise to the occasion and I think most of the Rangers top layers did just that. Callahan, Hagelin & Stepan had a phenomenal game at even strength and led the way for the Rangers offense by producing two goals. That being said, neither of them were as good as Ryan McDonagh, who did an amazing job at containing Ovechkin's line and helped chip in offensively on top of that. John Tortorella basically kept him stapled to the Capitals top line even when he wasn't with Dan Girardi, and he still managed to dominate that line in head-to-head competition.
Derick Brassard also had a great performance despite playing with a revolving door of linemates. Brassard has mostly given other teams fits on the power play over his career, but his game at even strength last night was very impressive. His play-making skills are second to none and they have been on full display in these last two games. What's even more impressive is that he managed to be on the ice for seven scoring chances while playing with third liners for most of the game. I would say that he could have a shot at taking over Brad Richards' spot but there are two problems with that. First of all, he played more minutes than Richards in the first place and secondly, Richards was stuck with Pyatt & Clowe on his line for most of the game and the latter had a brutal game defensively.
On the subject of bad defense, Michael Del Zotto got absolutely destroyed by the Capitals third line. His coverage on Perreault's first goal was...interesting to say the least but even outside of that embarrassing gaffe, he was making a lot of mistakes in his own end for the entire game. Just a brutal performance by him all-around. Girardi & McDonagh are the keystones of this defense but their lack of depth here is showing in a bad way with Marc Staal still not at 100%.
Capitals Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Mathieau Perreault & Eric Fehr +4
Worst EV Forward: Alexander Ovechkin -6
Best EV Defenseman: Mike Green +7
Worst EV Defenseman: Steve Oleksy -7
I mentioned after Game Three that the Rangers best hope was to "contain" Ovechkin rather than shut him down completely, but they were able to do just that last night. Adam Oates didn't do a lot to get Ovechkin away from Girardi & McDonagh, but he did try to double-shift him with the fourth line and I think that kind of just made things worse since Tortorella was still able to shadow him with McDonagh then and he ended up not doing much with worse linemates.
The Caps big guns were neutralized, but their second and third lines both contributed well. Eric Fehr was promoted to the second line after Martin Erat went down and you can see that he did a lot of good things. He always seems to be one of the Caps better territorial players even with limited minutes and he took advantage of getting more ice-time last night. The other line that had things going territorially for the Caps was the third line of Mathieu Perreault, Joel ward & Jason Chimera. This line actually produced two goals and the bulk of Washington's scoring chances. Chimera & Ward both are great skaters and were able to use this to their advantage against the Rangers depth players and they were pretty great at establishing zone time & puck possession. It's always good to get these kinds of contributions from your third line but when that's your best line in a playoff game, it probably isn't a good thing.
The Caps third line played well but their third defense pairing got torn apart at even strength. Part of the reason for this was Tortorella being able to get his first line out against them but they also had trouble containing Richards & Brassard's line on top of that. Oleksy & Hillen were basically the opposite of how they played in Game Three where they performed well in limited minutes. That obviously wasn't the case last night.
The Caps tough-minute defenseman, John Carlson, also had another rough game. He has seemed to have trouble when playing away from Verizon Center this series and I can't quite figure out why because he gets the tough matchups regardless. Oates relieved some of the pressure on him by putting Green/Alzner on Stepan's line for some portions of the game and these two had a very good performance offensively.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
The Rangers first line beat Washington's tough-minute defense pairing to a pulp and outchanced the Backstrom line handily. Tortorella was also able to get some of his better forwards out against the Caps third defense pairing long enough for them to do significant damage, I'm not sure if he'll be able to do this while playing on the road, though. I'm also not sure if he'll be able to keep Del Zotto away from the Capitals more dangerous forwards without the benefit of the last change and that could lead to some bad results if he continues to struggle against third-liners. Tortorella doesn't seem to have an issue with riding Girardi & McDonagh like pack mules so they are always out against Ovechkin, though.
|2||NYR||9:47||Hagelin - GOAL||16||29||62||4||44||30||85||42||25||27||61||70||5v5|
|2||WSH||6:52||Perreault - GOAL||19||15||29||4||44||30||85||42||25||4||74||70||5v5|
|2||WSH||0:18||Brouwer - GOAL||21||22||61||6||17||30||9||16||20||27||52||70||5v5|
|3||NYR||19:01||Girardi - GOAL||16||22||36||4||5||30||19||20||4||74||70||5v4|
|3||NYR||13:58||Stepan - GOAL||21||24||62||5||17||30||19||90||8||38||61||70||5v5|
|3||WSH||12:29||Perreault - GOAL||19||29||61||4||17||30||85||42||25||27||52||70||5v5|