NEW YORK – The Rangers returned to their roots Wednesday night.
And because they did, they’re returning to Washington with their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal tied at two games apiece. The Rangers edged past the Capitals, 4-3, in a classic Game 4 postseason contest in front of a rabid crowd of 17,200 at Madison Square Garden.
New York’s roots are stunning: 33 blocked shots – ten of them coming in the final 12:39, during which the Capitals threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Rangers in a futile attempt to tie Game 4. The Rangers registered 38 hits.
“They have a lot of guys that can do a lot of pretty impressive things on offense,” said center Brian Boyle. “You’re just trying to protect as best you can. When all else fails, we got Hank back there.”
“I think that’s going to be a big part of it here, as we go through the next few games – however many games there is,” Tortorella said of the physicality. “That’s what playoffs is; it’s about attrition, and handling that type of situation.”
Perhaps most importantly, they held Alex Ovechkin to only one shot on goal in 23:36, while blocking five other attempts from one of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL. After holding Ovechkin to only three goals and one assist during the seven-game conference semifinal last season, the Rangers have held Ovechkin to only one goal and one assist through the first four games of this conference quarterfinal.
“I think I really have to play better,” Ovechkin said. “When we have a chance to play in their zone, we have to use it. Tonight we didn’t do it. Now, I think we have lots of reasons to score goals.”
“Obviously he’s a pretty dynamic player for them, so we want to finish hard when we can,” said Dan Girardi, who leads the NHL with 19 blocked shots this postseason. “We’re not going to go out of our way to hit him, but we want to make the game hard for him. He’s going to keep coming. You just have to keep hitting him and he’s going to keep making plays.”
“He’s an elite player,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said of Ovechkin. “He’s probably used to taking big hits. We need to be physical when we can on him. He’s a strong player on his skates, he sees the ice so well, he’s a tough player to hit because he’s so mobile. Any time we can get a lick, we have to take it.”
“Those two are studs,” Boyle said of the Rangers’ top defensive pair. “Really all our D have done a great job against him. It’s a group effort. But, those two are pretty stellar, obviously.”
It wasn’t easy. After the Rangers took a two-goal lead with 13:58 remaining, the Capitals inched to within one 89 seconds later. New York held serve from there, fending off an attack from one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the NHL.
“You just have to make up your mind. No more [goals],” said stalwart Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves). “Whatever comes next here, you have to step up and make the save. I thought the guys played unbelievable. They worked really hard and blocked a lot of shots.”
“It’s one of our foundations for our success,” McDonagh said after logging 31:29 of ice time, his third career 30+ minute postseason contest. “We trust guys being in the lane, we read off that as a unit of five out there. Guys get more excited on the bench at times for a block than they do for a goal and nice offensive plays, because we know it’s such a huge part of our success.”
Even more impressive, the Rangers did it without their best defenseman. Marc Staal, who returned Monday, asked out of the lineup before Game 4 because he didn’t think he would be able to help his team win.
“We know what Marc is to this team, but he’s going to have ups and downs on his comeback,” McDonagh said. “It’s a very humble and gutsy decision by him to sit out, knowing he doesn’t want to hurt the team. If he’s not ready he’s not just going to play because he’s Marc Staal.”
“You need to defend against them, no matter who you’re playing, you need to defend,” Tortorella said of his team’s terrific defensive effort. “Part of our defending is blocking shots. I thought we did a pretty good job of it. There were times we struggled, but we didn’t break.”
The Rangers won 64% of the game’s faceoffs, the first time they’ve won more faceoffs this series. Derick Brassard, who had two assists for his second straight multi-point game, won eight of nine, while Brian Boyle won 11 of 16 to lead all Rangers.
The Rangers held the Capitals scoreless in two power plays. They’re 10-for-12 (83.3%) on the penalty kill this series.