rangers game 3

Although the setting shifted from Madison Square Garden to Capital One Arena for Friday’s Game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers, the Caps weren’t able to flip the script. They dropped a 3-1 decision to the Blueshirts here on Friday, falling into an 0-3 hole in the best-of-seven set.

“I don’t think it’ll change much,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery of the plan moving forward, now that Washington is a loss away from elimination. “We’ll meet [Saturday], practice, and it won’t change from what we’ve been through for the last two months, for the better part of [time] since coming back from the break, of just one day. We’re not trying to win a series; we’re trying to win one hockey game, so that’s how we’ll prepare.”

Characteristically, Friday’s loss was similar to the one that preceded it in New York on Tuesday. The Caps played well at 5-on-5, but game circumstances again led to an abundance of special teams time. The Caps scored the game’s first goal, but not only weren’t able to build on that lead, they weren’t able to hold the lead for very long. And finally, the Caps were outplayed on special teams, giving up a pair of special teams strikes that accounted for the difference in the game.

Most damning, New York’s game-winning goal was a shorthanded strike for the second time in as many games.

Finally, already playing with four defensemen out of their lineup, the Caps lost another one in the first period when Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost for the night following a hard, high hit from Matt Rempe behind the Washington net, accounting for one of the Caps’ six unfruitful power play opportunities in Game 3.

After averaging a League-high 25:54 in ice time per game, Caps’ defenseman John Carlson has now exceeded the 30-minute barrier in each of the last two games as Washington tries to muddle its way through the game with five defensemen for the second time in three games.

“You can tell he is wearing down for sure,” says Carbery of Carlson. “It’s the second time this series where we’ve gone down to five [defensemen] early. So we’ll have to figure that out. We’ve got [Hardy] Häman-Aktell, who is here, so he will be an option for us.”

The Caps recalled Häman-Aktell after Vincent Iorio was lost early in the second period of Game 1 after a hit from New York’s Alexis Lafreniere. Washington lost Rasmus Sandin (lower body) and Nick Jensen (upper body) late in the regular season; the latter was also lost due to a questionable hit. Washington is also without Ethan Bear, who is currently in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program.

“I’m sick and tired of losing defensemen to ‘clean hits,’ that’s for sure,” says Carlson.

“Obviously, you want to manage the minutes as best as you can,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson of the attrition on the Washington blueline. “That being said, it’s like every game we’re playing with five [defensemen]. Guys are dropping like flies, so Johnny has done an amazing job of carrying this team, but it’s tough when you’re playing the whole game.

Carlson is also responsible for Washington’s lone goal in Game 3.

After a bit of a wobbly start, the Caps grabbed a 1-0 lead on a Carlson goal at 5:34 of the first period, a shot that clicked off the stick of Rangers’ forward Mika Zibanejad and fluttered past New York netminder Igor Shesterkin, who was a brick wall for the remainder of the game.

But again, Washington wasn’t able to build on the lead or to sustain momentum; New York’s Chris Kreider tied the game before the Carlson goal was even announced, deflecting a Zibanejad shot 34 seconds after Carlson’s opening salvo.

Less than two minutes after the Kreider goal, Washington went on the game’s first power play. Ten seconds into that man advantage – at 8:08 of the first period – the Rangers took the lead with their second shorthanded goal in as many games. On a 2-on-1 rush with Alex Ovechkin as the lone man back for the Caps, Vincent Trocheck fed Barclay Goodrow, who beat Charlie Lindgren to make it a 2-1 game.

“It’s tough,” says Carbery. “We’re trying to do the right thing. We’re trying to put a puck in there, but we just got exposed because we’ve got one guy back. Some of those situations, our lack of footspeed is obviously a huge issue.”

K’Andre Miller’s shorthanded goal was the game-winner on Tuesday in New York, and Goodrow’s shorty was the difference maker in Game 3.

“I don’t know if we’re doing anything different,” says Zibanejad of the Rangers’ offensive prowess when down a man. “We’re pressuring, especially when it’s off of rebounds and recoveries and stuff. I think we're doing a good job winning those puck battles, and getting those opportunities to go.

“And when we get the chance, usually we just send it down and go change, but now we see that we have a chance, and when you get a chance for a 2-on-1, you try to take it. And even if you don't score on the 2-on-1 opportunity, I think you take away momentum from their power play and give it our way.”

That power play was the first of three for the Caps in the first period of Game 3; they managed three shots on goal but couldn’t crack the Rangers’ penalty-killing outfit.

While Washington had two more unsuccessful power play chances in the middle period, the Rangers increased their lead to 3-1 on the second of their two man-advantage opportunities in the frame. Trocheck and Zibanejad worked a give-and-go down low, with the former finishing at 15:22 to give New York an insurance marker.

The Caps had two more power play opportunities in the third, but the results were the same. By night’s end, they were 0-for-6 with eight shots on net in a dozen minutes with the extra man.

“It still remains tight out here,” says Rangers’ coach Peter Laviolette. “It seems to be tight both ways, from a 5-on-5 standpoint. It seems to be a lot of specialty teams; those are the trends that have shown itself through the first three games. The power play has got to be on point, your penalty kill has to be on point, and you’ve got to really work hard at 5-on-5 to generate chances.”

Down 0-3 in the series, the Caps will be facing elimination when they host Game 4 here on Sunday night.

“Throughout the series so far, they’ve come up with the big moments, whether that’s answering, whether that’s coming up with the next one,” says Carlson. “It’s disappointing, and there’s nothing we can do about the past now.”

“Once you grab one game, anything can happen,” says Wilson. “But we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to put some pucks in the net, and we’ve got to be better at home next game.”