For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.
Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14.
He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.
Dave Farrish believed the New York Rangers would respond from their last-second loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 1 with a more aggressive approach in Game 2. It took the Rangers 38 seconds to assert themselves Saturday when Chris Kreider fired a rebound of Jesper Fast's shot into an open net that gave them a 1-0 lead, a game they won 3-2 to even the Eastern Conference Second Round best-of-7 series at 1-1.
Fast replaced J.T. Miller on the Rangers' second line to play with Kreider and Derek Stepan, a subtle move by coach Alain Vigneault that helped open up an offense that averaged two goals per game entering Game 2. Fast had an assist and two hits in 15:05 of ice time.
"I thought it was a great coaching move by Alain there," Farrish said. "He saw something in the kid and it certainly paid off. Just small adjustments like that make a difference in the hockey game."
The Rangers got the quick start they wanted and outshot the Capitals 15-4 in the first period to take a 2-0. The Capitals pushed back in the second and third periods, twice trimming the deficit to one goal, but the tempo was established. The Rangers played fast and won the one-on-one battles and the battles in front of the net.
"They were on their A-game early," Farrish said. "They did a lot of things right and caught them in a line change on the goal and really dominated. Washington had a lot of good flurries in the second period. They created a lot of good zone time with some cycles and were able to take a lot of momentum away from the Rangers, and take their crowd out at that point and give themselves a chance to get back into the game.
"I thought both teams really played the right way. I thought they were very well coached. Both teams were very responsible. There [weren't] a lot of odd-man rushes. Both goaltenders came up huge and made it a great hockey game. I thought it was a great game to watch."
The series moves to Verizon Center for Game 3 on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) and Farrish is expecting another close game, which has become a habit for the Rangers. Since Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings, each of their past nine Stanley Cup Playoff games has been decided by one goal, making them the first team to play in nine consecutive one-goal games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I think Washington is going to continue to be real physical on these guys but I think the Rangers have done a great job of playing their game, which is the speed game," Farrish said. "The one thing they did a lot better last game was the power play had a 'shoot-first' mentality and people going to the net, which resulted in a nice goal by [defenseman Dan] Boyle."
Goals have been a premium in the series thanks to Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist. Holtby made 32 saves in Game 2 but was outdueled by Lundqvist, who made 30 saves in his 98th straight postseason start. Lundqvist is 5-2 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in the playoffs. He made 26 of his saves after the first period and has allowed two goals or fewer in six of seven games.
Holtby is 4-4 with a 1.73 GAA and .942 save percentage, leaving the Capitals and Rangers with little margin for error offensively.
"They've been incredible," Farrish said. "They've both been excellent and really haven't given up any real bad goals … The game winner was a little bit of a leaky goal on Holtby but it was a turnaround, spin-o-rama sort of thing. But the saves that they both made were phenomenal. They've got great focus, they're both great athletes and they're really going to make it a series. If one of them trips at all it will be detrimental, but I don't see that happening."
Kreider and Capitals rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov each have emerged as sparkplugs and potential X-factors in the series. Kreider leads the Rangers with 13 playoff goals since he made his NHL debut in Game 3 of the 2012 first round against the Ottawa Senators. Farrish said Kreider is a faster version of Rick Nash, a combination of speed and strength that has proven to be a game-changer on more than one occasion.
"He could be real, real dangerous out there, so I'm sure the Washington defensemen are aware when he's out there," Farrish said. "You have to keep that in the back of your mind because he has the ability to go around you not just with speed but with size and strength and take the puck to the net, which he doesn't mind doing. If he stays on his game like this he's certainly going to be an important factor for New York."
Kuznetsov has found his stride with four goals in nine playoff games, highlighted by a three-point performance in Game 5 of the first round and the game-winner in Game 7 that eliminated the New York Islanders.
"You need that secondary scoring from other groups on the ice and he's provided that now," Farrish said. "You can see he's getting his confidence in his play and you can bet he's going to be a factor in the rest of this series as well."