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For Capitals, Rangers, numbers don't add up

Saturday, 04.25.2009 / 2:05 PM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The numbers are so staggering that even Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom agrees this best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal round series against the New York Rangers is just flat out, off the charts, mind-boggling bizarre.

"Kind of weird, yeah," Backstrom said. "I don't know what to say, it's just weird."

The Caps have outscored the Rangers, 12-7, including a pair of 4-0 whitewashings. They have outshot the Rangers, 170-119. Don't even try to count how many scoring chances the Caps have had compared the Rangers.

Yet, when the series resumes Sunday afternoon back at Madison Square Garden for Game 6 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN, RDS), the Rangers -- minus coach John Tortorella, who was suspended for the game by the NHL on Saturday night for squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle that struck a fan during the third period of Game 5 -- will again have a chance to close out the Caps. The numbers are one thing, but facts are facts and the Rangers still lead this series, 3-2.

"The thing I thought of was the '60 Yankees against the Pirates (in the World Series)," said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who is apparently a baseball history buff as well as a Jack Adams Award winner. "If you go back and look through your history the Yankees won three games by 10 runs and they lost the series because Pittsburgh won four games by one run."

Well, the Pirates won two games by one run, one by two and another by three. But the Yankees did win three by at least 10 runs and outscored Pittsburgh, 91-60, in the series.

So, you can see Boudreau's point.

"It doesn't mean a thing if you win by one or 10," the coach added. Except, the confident and relaxed Caps are feeling good about themselves and the Rangers, despite being in control of the series, appear to be in a bit of disarray with questions surrounding their lack of offense, turnover prone power play and discipline.

Plus, there is the whole Sean Avery sidebar. Will he or won't he play in Game 6 after coach John Tortorella benched the controversial left wing in Game 5?

And, is Chris Drury healthy enough or do the Rangers need to shelve the captain, who played only 7:21 in Game 5 and was a minus-3. He saw only 11 seconds of ice time in the third period when the game was out of hand.

"Absolutely," Backstrom said if he can sense a noticeable shift in momentum after Game 5. "I mean, we won, we survived another day. They're still up 3-2, but we're on our way back."

There are two keys to the Caps' confidence.

First, they finally can see that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is not a machine. Lundqvist, who had stopped 141 of the first 149 shots he faced in the series, let in a doozey when he couldn't stop Matt Bradley's 25-foot shot from about a foot above the goal line to the left of the goalie. After giving up four goals on 14 shots, Lundqvist didn't play in the third period.

"We saw that Lundqvist is just a human being, so that's good," Backstrom said.

Secondly, the Capitals again saw how differently a game can go when they're playing with the lead. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 12:07 into the game and that forced the Rangers to run around trying to score goals, which is exactly what the Caps want.

The team that has scored first in the last four games has gone on to win, which isn't surprising considering the regular season stats.

The Caps were 34-8-3 (.756 winning percentage) when scoring first and the Rangers were 15-21-4 (.375) when giving up the first goal.

"They're a totally different team when they score first," Caps defenseman Brian Pothier said. "I think what they do is they take all five guys and contract and they really limit us to perimeter shots. They don't have to make really any attempt to push for that goal because they have the lead.

"We saw that Lundqvist is just a human being, so that's good." -- Nicklas Backstrom
"When we get the lead first, they're doing a lot more; they have to stretch, they have to push, they have to try and create some opportunities and that opens up their fortress a little bit. So, it's huge (scoring first), especially against that team. It's a big obstacle to overcome if you let them score first."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

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