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 has closely watched six games between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Second Round to draw a conclusion that the team that wins Game 7 will be the one that wins the majority of the battles on the wall and doesn't crack in its structure on the forecheck.
Game 7 of the best-of-7 series is Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"That's where the battles are going to be and that's where the test of wills is going to come, winning those one-on-one battles that result in a good forecheck for both teams," Farrish said. "It's going to really come down to which team is going to be able to execute that and not get caught with too many men in deep to give up those 2-on-1s or 3-on-1s going the other way. That's something I'm going to be looking for, which team cracks and gives up the offensive chances against."
The Capitals had the better forecheck for 35 of the final 40 minutes of Game 6 on Sunday at Verizon Center, but they were trailing by two goals entering the second period and by three goals less than five minutes into the third period.
Washington pushed, whether out of desperation or because the Rangers let them, with an aggressive forecheck that resulted in sustained time in the offensive zone and a distinct advantage in shots on goal and total shot attempts.
The Capitals outshot the Rangers 28-8 and had 70-23 edge in total attempts in the final two periods. They outshot New York 10-0 and out attempted it 34-1 after Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle scored to make it 4-1 with 15:36 remaining in regulation.
Farrish said the successful forecheck was a result of two things: Washington's ability to finish its heavy checks, and the coach's decision to send an extra man in on the attack and to allow the weak-side defenseman to pinch.
He said he expects the Capitals will try to use the same forechecking system in Game 7.
"Earlier in the series they were sending one guy and now it looks like they're sending one-and-a-half, they call it," Farrish said. "Now it looks like they almost have a four-man forecheck system similar to the Rangers, where three guys are getting up on the puck in the corner to recover pucks and anything that goes around on the weak-side is getting pinched by the defenseman. Both teams are doing it and that's why it is causing so much havoc in the defensive zone … but I think Washington has really been physical on the forecheck and they've had some great hits, like the one on [Ryan] McDonagh in the third period. They have been creating havoc with some of their hits. They have really been finishing checks hard. They go through people really hard."
The Rangers plan is to counter Washington's forecheck with speed and quick-ups to break out of the defensive zone, but Farrish said that's difficult to do when the Capitals are being so aggressive.
"It's hard because you can't hold up anymore and their forecheckers are really good at finishing on the body," he said. "All of the players in Washington really don't mind hitting. Everybody has really been a pretty effective hitter so there's really not much you can do other than just absorb the initial check, bring your group of five into the defensive zone area, and try to work your way out one little chip at a time. Beat one guy and work your way out probably on the weak-side, recover and try to go from there. You can't just throw the puck along the boards and hope it gets out."
If the Rangers are effective in doing that it will give them a chance to get the puck in the offensive zone to either cycle or use their forechecking system, which has also been effective at creating turnovers in the series, particularly in Game 6.
Rick Nash and Boyle scored early in the third period after the Rangers forced the Capitals into turnovers in the defensive zone. McDonagh scored the overtime winner in Game 6 after Capitals forward Curtis Glencross gave the puck away to Rangers right wing Jesper Fast in the neutral zone.
"Those are the things that have hurt Washington," Farrish said.
But they clearly haven't destroyed the Capitals' confidence. The belief in Washington is evident not only by what the Capitals are saying (see Alex Ovechkin's comments on how they will come back and win the series), but by how they played from behind Sunday.
"The Rangers are certainly a lot more confident because they're back in their building but they have to be a little bit wary of the fact that Washington really dominated them the last two periods of the last game, and I don't know whether home-ice advantage is going to be a solution to that or not," Farrish said. "Obviously Washington knows New York got a couple of good breaks, but if they play like they did in the second and third they have a real good chance of winning.
"I don't think there is any more pressure on one team than the other. New York, obviously finishing first overall [in the regular season], I don't think that's a big deal in their mind right now -- because they won the Presidents' Trophy doesn't make that much of a difference in the playoffs. Conversely, I think Washington, which had a 3-1 series lead, really cares about the fact that it let two games slip away and still has an opportunity to win one game and win a series. I think both teams will be positive about their chances and it'll result in a great game."