The Rangers won the first game of their series with the Capitals, lost the second, and won the third before falling in this afternoon's Game 4. Sound familiar? It should: It's how their opening-round series against Ottawa had played out through four games. And in today's Game 4, the Capitals scored a third-period power-play goal to break a tie score, then protected their one-goal lead in the final minutes to secure the 3-2 victory. That might sound familiar as well; it's how they've won both their games in this series.
The Rangers fell behind by a goal three times in this one, but only answered back to tie the score twice: Once early in the second period on Artem Anisimov's goal, and again late in the period on Marian Gaborik's tally off an Anisimov pass from behind the net that called to mind the triple-overtime winner from early Thursday morning.
The positive takeaways from this game for the Rangers: They bounced back from a rough first period (in which they were out-shot 14-3) with a strong second. Their forecheck — such an important aspect of their game — looked good at times. And Gaborik, the team's best goal-scorer during the regular season, lit the lamp for the second straight game.
If not for some spectacular saves by Henrik Lundqvist, though, the Caps could have had more than three goals. Still, those three goals were enough this afternoon. (It must be noted that for all the things Chris Kreider has done right in his first weeks in the NHL, it was his awful turnover that led to the first Caps goal. He deserves a damn assist for setting up Alex Ovechkin for such a perfect one-timer.) The defensive-minded Caps shut down the Rangers during their last-gasp attempts late in the third, and as they've been doing all series, gave the Rangers a taste of their own medicine when Brooks Laich blocked a Dan Girardi shot as the clock wound down. (The Capitals blocked 27 shots in this game, compared to seven for the Rangers.)
Some of the refereeing will be scrutinized after this one. Carl Hagelin was (correctly) whistled for slashing in the third period — Mike Green would score the game-winner on the ensuing power play — but an Ovechkin slash on Brian Boyle earlier on went uncalled. Shortly after Green's goal, replays showed that Mike Knuble batted the puck over the boards and out of play with his hand, but the referees didn't call a delay of game penalty. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin's charge of Dan Girardi might get a look from Brendan Shanahan, though we wouldn't expect much to come of it. (Ovie has been suspended in the past, but there was body contact, and, perhaps most importantly in a system in which such things are considered, Girardi wasn't knocked out of game. Ovechkin was given a two-minute minor on the play.)
Like they did in the first round against Ottawa, the Rangers had a chance to put their foot an opponent's throat with a Game 4 victory and couldn't. In fact, the Rangers have yet to win a game in this playoffs when leading in the series. (In the first round, they won games when tied at 0-0 in the series, when tied at 1-1, when down 3-2, and when tied at 3-3. In the second round, they won Game 1, and then won Game 3 when the series was even at one.)
Today's Caps win sets up a critical Game 5 at the Garden on Monday night. It's not necessarily a must-win — the Rangers lost Game 5 at home against Ottawa then came back to win the final two games of the series — but surely the Rangers won't want to return to Washington in Game 6 facing elimination. Like the Senators before them, the Capitals are giving the top-seeded Rangers a fight. The conference semifinals are now a best-of-three.