April 23 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden

Time: 7:00 p.m.


Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

Game 2, First round Eastern Conference series, Rangers lead, 1-0

Washington Capitals (40-31-11)

New York Rangers (55-23-4)

Two nights after dropping the opener of their best-of-seven, opening round Stanley Cup playoff series with the New York Rangers, the Caps are back at Madison Square Garden for Tuesday night’s Game 2. Following their 4-1 loss here on Sunday, the Caps are looking to square the series before the scene shifts back to the District for Games 3 and 4 this weekend.

Ahead of Sunday’s series opener, Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery talked about the two teams’ familiarity with each other, noting that the two squads are well aware of what each is all about and what each is trying to do on the ice, and that the team that executes will be in the best position to have success. On Sunday, that was the Rangers in most facets of the contest.

But beyond parsing the video for forensics, there’s no time to dwell on Game 1 with Game 2 looming just ahead.

“I think we lean on our veteran guys in these situations,” says Carbery. “Playoffs is a short term memory. It’s momentum swings, emotional highs, emotional lows. Whether you win 6-0 or you lose 2-1 in triple overtime, you’ve got to find a way to reset and get back to even keel, and that’s what we’ll do for [Tuesday].”

At playoff time, it’s important to manage the momentum swings during games, but the mindset between games is important as well. Players aim to avoid getting too high after wins or too low after losses, and a short memory is imperative. Although the Caps roster is liberally dotted with players who are getting their first taste of Stanley Cup playoff experience – as well as a few others who haven’t played postseason NHL hockey in several years – there are also a number of players who have won or have played for championships during their pro careers. They know enough to park and learn from losses, and to move on quickly from wins at this time of year.

“You can look around our locker room, and there’s a good chunk of us that went through all that last year,” says Caps’ defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who skated in his first NHL playoff game since 2016 on Sunday. “We obviously go in and play four rounds of hockey, and yeah, you have to have a short memory, but learn from your mistakes. That’s the biggest thing.

“I think a lot of us young guys in a first-year playoff game, you can kind of be tentative. And I think hopefully having that confidence – it’s still the same game to be played – you can trust and rely on your skills and hopefully that helps us get back to work.

Washington got through a scoreless – but penalty-filled – first period unscathed, but quickly fell behind when the Rangers struck for three goals in a span of 126 seconds, getting two on the forecheck and another off an offensive zone draw, with two of the tallies coming from New York’s fourth line.

The first two New York goals came on consecutive shifts early in the second period, and those goals swiftly and clearly swung the momentum – which had been hanging in the balance – to the Rangers.

“It’s a tough building to come into,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson. “They owned probably five minutes of that game, and we got behind. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to manage the atmosphere a little bit when they get rolling. Other than that, we did some good things; we probably have got to get a little more to their net and generate a little more offense.

“The first period wasn’t a bad road period, and they kind of jumped on us in the second a little bit. We dug ourselves a bit of a hole.”

Washington’s offense has been anemic of late; the Caps have been limited to two or fewer goals scored in 11 of their last 12 games, including Sunday’s Game 1 and the final 11 games of the regular season. Finding a way to start spending some quality time at the New York end of the ice is going to be imperative if the Caps are to threaten and to seriously test Rangers’ netminder Igor Shesterkin, who has allowed two or fewer goals against in 10 consecutive home playoff starts. He is one of only six goaltenders in League history to achieve that feat.

Four of Washington’s 20 shots on net in Game 1 came from neutral ice. Down 3-1 at the start of the third period, the Caps went more than 12 minutes – including a two-minute power play – without a single shot on net. Martin Fehervary – who scored the Caps’ lone goal of the game on a deflection in front – ended the long dry spell of 12 minutes and 34 seconds of playing time without a shot with an 82-foot wrister from the neutral zone.

Credit to the Rangers for bottling up the Caps’ top scoring threats, too. John Carlson had a few good looks and accounted for five shots, but the rest scuffled. Washington’s seven forwards with double-digit regular season goal totals combined for just four shots on net in Game 1, with another nine tries missing the mark and nine more being blunted by Blueshirts’ shin pads.

“I think the shots will come with the rest of the game plan,” says Wilson, who had two of those four shots plus the primary helper on the Fehervary goal. “Shots are never the be all, end all; you need to get yourself in a position to shoot pucks, and funnel pucks to the net, and get to the goalie. Obviously, if you’re in the neutral zone, you can’t shoot the puck. If you’re in the [defensive] zone, you can’t shoot the puck.

“So you’ve got to get to the [offensive] zone. We’ve got to get some more time with the puck, and then you’ll see pucks start funneling to the net a little bit more. We’ll tweak some things and hopefully get to their net a little bit.”

On Monday’s day between games, the Caps bused to Newark for an optional afternoon practice session at the New Jersey Devils’ practice facility. Injured defensemen Nick Jensen (upper body) and Rasmus Sandin (lower body) both participated, but once again both were clad in powder blue non-contact sweaters. Vincent Iorio, who departed Game 1 early in the second period with an upper body injury, did not take the ice on Monday.

Following Monday’s session, Carbery termed Jensen and Sandin “possibilities” for Tuesday’s Game 2.

“Depending on how it looks [Tuesday], we’ll evaluate them after morning skate, and then see where it is [Tuesday] afternoon,” says Carbery.

If neither Jensen nor Sandin can go in Game 2, Lucas Johansen – recalled from AHL Hershey last week – would be the next man up. Johansen spent the first half of the regular season on the Washington roster, getting into six games and collecting an assist.

Regardless of who is in or out of Washington’s Game 2 lineup, the Caps know what they have to do to be successful, and they know the areas of their game that require some shoring up.

“We went over our game plan this morning,” says Wilson after Monday’s practice. “I think guys are excited to get back out there and have another crack at it. There was good energy today, guys get what they need, and I think the feeling after the game was, ‘We’re ready to go again.’

“So we’ll just get back at it. The next game in the playoffs is always the biggest game, and it’s a big Game 2. The guys with experience have to lead the way, and everybody else make sure that you’re ready to go.”