NEW YORK -- Ask a member of the New York Rangers about the opposition, and the answer is always the same: "We're focused on what we can do, not on the other team."
But when defenseman Dan Girardi was asked if his 20:35 of ice time -- about six minutes fewer than his regular season average and fewest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals had to do with Alex Ovechkin playing a postseason career-low 13:36, the answer was a resounding yes.
"I think that's a good explanation," Girardi said Tuesday after an optional practice at Madison Square Garden. "He didn't play a lot. I think that's the matchup we're trying to get. It's just how it worked out. That's how their coach wants him to play. You have to ask (Capitals coach) Dale Hunter."
Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been the Rangers' shut-down defense pair all season, but with Ovechkin not on the ice to be shut down, it resulted in Girardi watching more than playing. The only other game this season in which Girardi played fewer minutes was in Chicago on Feb. 16. Girardi played just 18:55 as a tired Rangers team let a third-period lead slip away in a 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks.
Against the Capitals, Girardi played well and finished plus-1. Ovechkin's game-winning goal came on the power play after center Brad Richards took a penalty.
Despite Hunter's plan of attack, Girardi said he has to continue to play his game.
"I think I just got to not change anything, no matter how much he plays," Girardi said. "I think I just have to be ready on the ice no matter who's out there. When he's out there, I'll try to do a good job on him. Whoever's out there, I'll try to do a good job on him."
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal held Girardi's role in the previous two seasons as the team's No. 1 defenseman, but that changed when Staal missed the half of this season due to a concussion. During his comeback, Staal said the biggest adjustment was playing fewer minutes and having more time to think about his next shift, whenever it may be.
For Girardi, playing one game in that situation didn't change his approach.
"I just play my shift, go to the bench, and watch how the game's going and when I'm told to go again, I play," Girardi said. "It's nothing special for me."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Of the 16 teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, none had fewer regular-season road wins than the Washington Capitals (16-21-4).
But in winning Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night against the New York Rangers and evening the best-of-seven series at a game apiece, the Caps improved to 4-2 on the road this postseason.
As the series now shifts to Verizon Center for Games 3 and 4, the Caps will look to match that road success on their own sheet of ice, where they went 1-2 in Round 1.
"If you look at a lot of series, the road teams are winning a lot of games," Jason Chimera said. "You've got to take that road mentality and play simple. You can't be out there to impress fans. This is not the time of year to impress fans. It's the time of year to win games."
Road teams went 31-17 in Round 1 and are 3-4 so far in Round 2. The common theme when it comes to road succees, according to the Capitals, is sticking with a simple game plan. The challenge now is to bring that same mentality to Verizon Center.
"I know we're in front of the home crowd and they may want to see some flash and some dazzle," Troy Brouwer said, "but we have to keep our game the same as we were playing on the road because that’s what’s been successful for us -- be patient, defense first, capitalize on our opportunities and just play a solid game.”
Added Chimera: "For whatever reason, at home, you maybe over-extend yourself a little bit, try to do a little too much, and it leads to their chances. So we've got to take that road mentality at home and I think that'll help us."
Playoff success at Verizon Center has been hard to come by for the Capitals who have gone 11-13 since 2008 despite owning one of the best regular-season home records over that same stretch (133-48-24).
"It's really hard to put a finger on it," Mike Knuble said. "I don't know if home teams feel more pressure like we've got to perform -- I don't think we feel that, and I don't think our fans are expecting that from us."
Knuble also noted that with Capitals coach Dale Hunter constantly monitoring the on-ice matchups, and trying to keep Alex Ovechkin away from New York's defensive tandem of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, the home-ice advantage of having the last change could also be a boost.
"It should be even more beneficial because Dale can get the exact matchup that he wants when he feels necessary," Knuble said. "It's early enough in the whole playoff thing we can right the ship here at home and be a strong home team and match the strong play we've had on the road."
Boyle was knocked out of the lineup with a concussion suffered during Game 5 of the conference quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators. He took part in the game-day skate Monday and reported feeling better, but was unsure of his status.
The Rangers have won three straight in his absence and will look to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with the Capitals.
In five games against the Senators, Boyle scored three goals. He will likely find himself centering the third line with wingers Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust.
NEW YORK -- One of the battle cries from some members of the Washington Capitals after the two practices since a 3-1 loss in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series has been the need for more speed through the neutral zone.
Washington's ability to create said speed does not start in the neutral zone, but in the Capitals' own end. Ovechkin's line was pinned back by a consistent wave of offensive pressure by the Rangers, and they often spent most of a given shift stuck more than 150 feet away from Lundqvist.
"When you're wheeling around in your own zone and trying to fight battles, it is a lot more tiresome than if you're having fun in the offensive zone creating chances," Washington forward Troy Brouwer said. "Anyone will tell you that. If you're spending most of your shifts in the d-zone, you're getting worn down and you won't have that ability to jump up in the play and create some speed. Guys got to make sure when there's loose pucks, we've got to be the first ones on them, recovering those pucks and getting them out and being good along the walls. That will help us create more offense in that way."
For Ovechkin's line to play less defense, they need to play better defense. A big issue for the Capitals when Ovechkin's unit was on the ice was an inability to get the puck out of danger and away from New York's aggressive forecheckers.
There was an instance where Ovechkin's group was able to break out of its own end crisply -- and the result was a perfectly executed counterattack goal for Chimera. When something like that didn't happen, the line often spent so long playing defense that there was no energy left to play offense.
If Ovechkin did carry the puck into the offensive zone, he went at it alone while Laich and Chimera headed for a change or were left far behind him.
"Actually in the first series … ideally, you want to get flying through the neutral zone, but it doesn’t always happen like that," Laich said. "Especially now when it's pretty tight -- sometimes you have to stay patient and go up the wall with the puck and chip it in and forecheck and create your opportunities. It's not going to be all night where we're flying through the neutral zone."
Brouwer is expected to replace Chimera on the top line. Ovechkin, normally a left wing, skated on the right side for a drill Monday morning. Moving him to the opposite side could mean less one-on-one battles with New York's top shutdown defenseman, Dan Girardi, but his partner Ryan McDonagh is no slouch and it would also mean Brouwer, a natural right wing, would also have to play out of position.
"I don't think there is anything in that," Brouwer said when asked if he might be on the left side for Game 2. "I know he likes to come down that left side so he has the shot available right from the beginning. Guys are reading that and they know he likes to open up and take that shot from the half wall. Maybe if we were on the other sides, and I know that we're not so it is not an issue, but maybe it would throw guys off a little bit."
Laich has been a versatile forward in Washington for the past few seasons, and Brouwer has proven to be similarly adept at playing on different lines in different situations since joining the team from Chicago. He has been deployed at times during the latter part of the regular season and this postseason on the team's checking line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks, but he has also moved up to the top unit on occasion.
"It shouldn't [change], but sometimes it does," Brouwer said. "When you're with skilled players like Brooks and [Ovechkin], you can be more creative as far as offense goes. If you're with [Hendricks] and [Beagle], it is more of a grind-it-out, predictable kind of line. You know exactly where the puck is going and what they will be doing with it, whereas with [Ovechkin] sometimes you don't have a clue. So sometimes there is a change in how you play.
"We have to make it so when we do get the puck out, we're not jammed right up against their d-men, because they do a good job of holding the red [line] and the blue [line]. When teams can do that, it is almost like having another defender because you can't go offsides and you've got to dump pucks. It is tough. We have to try and create more separation coming into the zone."
NEW YORK -- The only question surrounding the Rangers' lineup for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals is Brian Boyle, who has missed three games with a concussion but took part in the game-day skate Monday.
Boyle said he couldn't say for sure if he would play, but forward Brandon Dubinsky didn't participate in the practice and won't be in the lineup.
If Boyle feels ready, he'll return to the lineup in his customary role of third-line center. If not, the Rangers will probably ice the same lineup they did in Game 1 with defenseman Steve Eminger on the fourth line and John Mitchell moved up to Boyle's spot.
So here's an educated guess as to what the Rangers' lineup will look like if Boyle is back in the lineup.
As for the Capitals, Dale Hunter kept Alexander Semin on the fourth line for a second consecutive practice. Defenseman Jeff Schultz, who was a healthy scratch for Game 1, will replace Karl Alzner for Game 2. Schultz had played in Game 7 against Boston after sitting for three straight contests.
NEW YORK -- When Rangers coach John Tortorella arrived in February 2009, he was replacing Tom Renney, who has a well-earned reputation as a players' coach with a kindly demeanor that can endear him to those in the locker room.
Tortorella has been described as blustery, strict and strong in his beliefs, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist remembers meeting him for the first time and wondering how much of his reputation was true and how much was exaggerated rumors.
"Most of it was true," Lundqvist said. "Just how passionate he is. He can challenge you. I like that. I like to be challenged sometimes. It was refreshing to have a different style. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Just that first time he walked in and the first meeting. That's something I remember."
Tortorella guided the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference in his third full season with the club after an eighth-place finish last season and missing the playoffs two seasons ago. For that accomplishment, Tortorella was nominated for the Jack Adams Award on Monday along with Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators.
The 53-year-old Tortorella spent seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, guiding them to a Stanley Cup in 2004. He was dismissed following the 2007-08 season and briefly served as an analyst with TSN before coming to the Rangers for the final 21 games of the 2008-09 season.
Since then, Tortorella has sculpted a team in his image -- tough, physical, detail-oriented and willing to do whatever it takes to win. According to the Rangers' Brad Richards, who was with Tortorella during his entire time with the Lightning, very little has changed in his coaching style.
"The details and structure are all the same," Richards said. "Different personnel, but how the day-to-day things are ran and the accountability issues, all that's identical. You guys know him enough -- he's not going to change his ways too much."
Rangers center Brian Boyle came to the club before the start of Tortorella's first full season in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Since his arrival, Boyle has developed into a reliable third-line center with above-average goal-scoring ability. The 27-year-old had just four goals in 71 games in his first year with the Rangers but has 32 goals over the past two seasons.
"He had a vision, an idea of how he wanted to run the team when he first got here," Boyle said. "I wasn't there for that, but his first full year I was here for. I think we responded pretty well. We understand him pretty well and I think he understands us pretty well. He's helped my game a lot obviously. He turned me into an NHL player. He's very deserving."
NEW YORK --Brian Boyle, who has missed the past three games with a concussion, took part in the Rangers' game-day skate Monday but could not say for sure if he would play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals.
"I feel pretty good," Boyle said. "I have no idea what's going to happen. This is my first time through it. Honestly, I don't know. It's ultimately my call, I think, to let them know I'm ready to play. After that, it's (coach John Tortorella's) call what the lineup is."
Boyle suffered his concussion during the first round against the Ottawa Senators when Chris Neil hit him early in the third period of Game 5. Boyle has been practicing during this series but he did not participate in the morning skate before Game 1 against Washington.
"It's tough to say right now. It's tough to tell," Boyle said. "It's tough because you don't want to focus too much on it and stress yourself out."
Boyle, who had three goals in the first round against Ottawa, pointed out the Rangers are doing just fine without him.
"Well, we're 3-0 since I've been out," Boyle said. "So it hasn't been that difficult (without him playing). It's stressful to watch, but the guys are doing a great job."
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NEW YORK -- In his young yet stellar career, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has lost two games in a row just once, when he went 0-2-1 in his fourth, fifth and sixth games in the NHL.
Since that hiccup, Holtby is 16-6-2 including the playoffs and hasn't dropped two straight. The 22-year-old will look to avoid his second straight loss to the Rangers after a poor performance in a 3-1 setback in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Saturday.
"One of the things I've always been taught is bad games happen," Holtby said. "The key to consistency is not letting it happen twice. Bad things happen, but always be prepared for the next one."
All three goals allowed by Holtby were stoppable shots. Artem Anisimov beat him on a wraparound in the second period, Chris Kreider's long slap shot eluded Holtby's catching glove, and Brad Richards squeezed a shot through the goaltender's legs from a sharp angle near the left post.
Holtby said he was treating the situation as a learning experience.
"You learn way more from losing than you do from winning," Holtby said. "There's a lot to learn from that game, not only mentally but technically on some of the goals. It's just a matter of inches how I played them. It could've been a different game."
The goal Holtby lamented the most was the game-winning goal by Kreider, who said he fired a long shot instead of using the open ice to for a breakaway chance because he was exhausted at the end of the shift. Holtby attacked Kreider expecting the 1-on-1 chance, but wasn't ready for the slap shot.
"It surprised me," Holtby said. "I was out further thinking he was going to come in on a half-breakaway type thing. He released it, had a shot that fooled me, good placement, but one I definitely want to have."
Game 1 marked just the second time Holtby played at Madison Square Garden, which is notorious for having dim lighting in comparison to other NHL arenas. It didn't affect Holtby in the regular-season finale when he made 35 saves in a 4-1 victory, and the goaltender said that can't be an excuse for not playing well.
"Most of the new buildings are really bright and really white," Holtby said. "It is harder for a goalie, but both teams play with it. It’s not like (Rangers goaltender Henrik) Lundqvist at the other end has better sights than I do. It's hard, but both teams deal with it."
NEW YORK -- Alex Semin was an effective player for the Capitals during their first-round, seven-game series win against the Boston Bruins. He had three goals in the series and was showing a commitment to the defensive side of the game.
Semin was out of sorts Saturday during the Capitals' 3-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, however. He took two penalties, one of which was a retaliatory penalty after he was hit by Rangers captain Ryan Callahan that negated a power play, had zero points and was on the ice for Chris Kreider's game-winning goal in the third period.
On Sunday, Semin found himself demoted to the fourth line with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin at practice. Coach Dale Hunter said he was not sending a message with the move and defended his player's penalties.
"No, just mixing the lines up," Hunter said. "The one, he went for the puck and he hit a skate. The other one, both of them should've went. It was a cross check. If you watch the replay, the guy cross checked him first. But you can't retaliate. You just can't retaliate. The ref, he called one. He could've easily called two. But that's the way it goes."
Semin nearly scored during a second-period power play, but his wrist shot deflected off the arm of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the crossbar. Hunter said he expects Semin to continue to have an impact on the power play.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Rangers coach John Tortorella offered "no updates" on the status of injured forwards Brian Boyle (concussion) and Brandon Dubinsky (lower-body) after the team's optional practice Sunday.
Boyle appeared much closer to returning than Dubinsky, who was seen walking with crutches toward the training room once the media was allowed to enter the dressing room.
Dubinsky hurt himself in Game 7 against Ottawa and did not play in Game 1 against Washington Saturday.
Boyle went out of the lineup with a concussion prior to Game 6 against Ottawa, but said he is "feeling better each day." He skated hard Saturday morning and responded well. He was one of only 12 players on the ice Sunday.
Boyle said he has not had any setbacks, but he's not sure of what his status is for Game 2 Monday.
"It's progressed, but they're (concussions) not consistent with each guy," Boyle said. "Each guy feels different symptoms. So, I'm just trying to be honest with myself."
Boyle couldn't answer a question about if he would be able to play in Game 2 because he still has to talk with trainer Jim Ramsay as well as Tortorella.
"I wouldn't have really skated if I still felt foggy," he said. "I'm feeling better and better, so we'll see."
For our team, as a group, we've never been this far before, and so it's just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't. We've got a young group. They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did. It's a lesson learned.
— Lightning coach Jon Cooper after Rangers win in Game 6 forced a Game 7 that will be played at Madison Square Garden on Friday