April 28 vs. New York Rangers at Capital One Arena

Time: 8:00 p.m.


Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

Game 4, First round Eastern Conference series, Rangers lead, 3-0

New York Rangers (55-23-4)

Washington Capitals (40-31-11)

Down three games and several defensemen, the Caps take to the ice with their season on the line on Sunday night at Capital One Arena. A week ago in New York, the Caps opened their first-round series with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. They fell 4-1 in the opener of the series last Sunday, and they have dropped two more games since.

Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 3 – the Caps’ first home playoff game in nearly two years – puts their season in peril; it’s win or head home until training camp in the fall for the Capitals.

The Caps conducted an optional Saturday practice as they prepare for Sunday’s Game 4.

“Bit of a recharge day today, a little skate, optional,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery. “And the way we’ll handle it as a staff is to let today the dust settle, and really take advantage of tomorrow, and building up the day. Guys understand the messaging of the same way it’s been for us for multiple months, of us finding a way to win one game, and being excited and energized about that.

“We’re not going to pretend to not know the situation and the scenario, without there being a tomorrow. But I also know this group, and I’ve learned that in these situations, you know what you’re going to get from the entire group. And that’s what I expect to see [Sunday] night.”

Despite missing defensemen Nick Jensen (upper body), Rasmus Sandin (lower body) and Ethan Bear (player assistance program), the Caps managed to eke out a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia in a similar situation in their regular season finale just under two weeks ago. That April 16 game in Philly was akin to Sunday’s Game 4 in that a loss could have ended the Capitals’ season, but since that game, the Caps have lost two more defensemen to injury, and they haven’t been able to notch a victory.

Vincent Iorio was injured early in the second period of Game 1 last Sunday and Trevor van Riemsdyk departed Friday’s Game 3 midway through the first period after taking a high and heavy hit from New York’s Matt Rempe. Beginning with Iorio in late March, the Caps have had to recall four different blueliners from AHL Hershey to get them through the final weeks of the regular season and the playoffs: Iorio, Lucas Johansen, Dylan McIlrath and Hardy Häman-Aktell.

After losing van Riemsdyk – who has been ruled out of Sunday’s Game 4 with an upper body injury – the Caps may have to turn to Häman-Aktell to fill in on Sunday. If neither Jensen nor Sandin is able to return for Game 4, the Caps would be down to six healthy blueliners, with four of the six having fewer than 100 regular season games played in the League. Washington is also down to its last defenseman on an NHL contract in Hershey right now – Chase Priskie.

Jensen hasn’t played since April 13 and Sandin hasn’t played since April 7.

“They’ve been out so long now, that if they’re able to go [Sunday], great, and we’ll get them right back in there,” says Carbery. “And if they can’t, it’ll be status quo.”

Despite being sellers at the March 8 trade deadline, and despite an ill-timed late season slide, the Caps managed to squeeze their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs after an absence of one year. Facing the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the first round, the Caps knew their margin for error was slim and that they’d need to minimize mistakes, seize and carry momentum, and play to their collective ceiling if they were to prevail in the series.

The Caps also knew they’d need to play as much of the series at full and even strength against the Rangers, who were a top three club on both sides of the special team coin during the regular season. Three games into the set, the Caps and Rangers are averaging just 42 minutes per game in 5-on-5 time, easily the lowest of any of the eight first-round series.

Since New York skated off with a 4-1 Game 1 win, the Caps have been outscored by a combined 7-4 in the last two games. Five of the seven goals Washington has yielded in those games have come via New York’s special teams; the Rangers have struck for three power-play goals and a pair of shorthanded strikes as well. Those two shorthanded goals – from K’Andre Miller in Game 2 and from Barclay Goodrow in Game 3 – stood up as the game-winners in the Blueshirts’ two most recent victories.

What’s also been disheartening for the Caps is that they’ve scored the game’s first goal in each of the last two games, but not only were they not able to build upon that slimmest of leads in either of those instances, they quickly lost hold of whatever momentum they might have seized with those opening salvos.

Connor McMichael staked the Caps to their first lead of the series at 5:09 of the first period of Game 2, but New York’s Vincent Trocheck answered back less than three minutes later, and the Caps were chasing the game the rest of the night. In Friday’s Game 4, Washington went up 1-0 at 5:34 of the first on the 20th career goal of John Carlson’s playoff career. That lead lasted only 34 seconds before Chris Kreider responded with a tying tally, and Goodrow’s shorthanded goal enabled the Rangers to take a 2-1 lead to the first intermission.

Through three games, Washington’s lead time in the series is 3 minutes and 21 seconds, the lowest among all teams that have played three or more games in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. New York’s lead time is 89 minutes and 18 seconds, tops among all teams with three games played. The Caps’ effort level is there. But to stay alive in the series and in their season, they’ve got to help themselves.

“I don’t mind our jump in this series, other than Game 1,” says Carbery. “I felt like Game 1 we were tentative, and it didn’t look like us. Game 2 and Game 3, now part of it is score effect, because you see what they do and how they play when they get a lead; it’s just 1-3-1 constantly. And they’re not really pushing the envelope, they’re just back with numbers, so we carry the play. We out-chance them [in Game 3].

“Is it a fair indication of the way the game went? A little bit, at 5-on-5. We have the chances at 14-10 at 5-on-5, so we out-chance them, and special teams plays a huge role. But the energy and the group’s fight from the start to the finish – to stay with it, to forecheck, to reload, to do the things that we have to do from an energy standpoint – I haven’t had an issue with over the last two games. I thought we’ve been right there.

“The way we found to win those type of games during the regular season, we did something to put us over the hump, whether it was a goaltending performance, whether it was maybe special teams just put us over, and we’d win that game 2-1. In these two games, the margins are very thin, and we haven’t had those two things. And that’s where you end up on the wrong end of these situations.

“I haven’t minded our 5-on-5 game. We’re making some mistakes on special teams. The shorthanded goals, those can’t happen at this time of year. We’re not doing nearly a good enough job on the power play; they’re neutralizing [us]. Puck recoveries have been a real struggle; they’re pressuring [Alex Ovechkin] and he’s having to put it on the rim. We’ve got to do a better job of being able to alleviate pressure.

“Those little areas, and us not being able to grab hold of one of those, is costing us potentially winning games.”

Sunday’s Game 4 gives the Caps one more chance to address those little areas, to seize and carry momentum, to limit the amount of special team time, to play with a lead, to add to a lead – to win one game. They’ll be seeking to follow in the skate steps of the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, both of which managed to stave off elimination with Game 4 victories on home ice on Saturday.