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.
Go out, relax and play your game.
That was Dave Farrish's message to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they trailed the Boston Bruins 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. His message to the 2015 New York Rangers is similar, except it's a different situation. The Maple Leafs, who tied the best-of-7 series 3-3 before losing Game 7 to the Bruins, were the underdog, whereas the Rangers are the Presidents' Trophy winners picked by many to win the Stanley Cup.
Instead, the Rangers trail the Washington Capitals 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Second Round entering Game 5 on Friday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Farrish's advice to the Rangers is not to worry about losing, but to leave their best effort on the ice. One win is what they need to shift the pressure to the Capitals in a series where momentum can, and has, turned quickly.
"I'm sure that's what they're thinking about right now, getting the momentum turned the other way and getting it going in their favor," Farrish said. "They have to come in and play loose. They really have nothing to lose now. They're behind the 8-ball in this one, but they just have to come out loose and continue to play their game. Maybe they'll make a few minor adjustments to their lines, but it's just a matter of going out and making sure every shift counts, and that's the bottom line.
"I think they can try to forget the pressures about being first or Presidents' Trophy winners and focus on going out needing everybody playing an 'A' game and try to get a win. If they can do that, they can reverse a lot of trends and make it a series."
The Rangers were also down 3-1 last year to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round before winning the next three -- twice on the road -- to take the series in seven games en route to the Stanley Cup Final. This time, however, they're facing a better Capitals team, one poised to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998.
For the Rangers to stay alive they must break through the phalanx that's the Capitals defense and the human brick wall named Braden Holtby. Derick Brassard is the only Ranger to score in the past 164:20, or since Dan Boyle's power-play goal in Game 2. Rick Nash has one goal in nine playoff games, Martin St. Louis has none and a Rangers team that averaged 3.02 goals in the regular season is scoring 1.78 per game in the postseason.
As well as the Capitals have played defensively -- they blocked 25 of the Rangers' 66 shot attempts in Game 4 -- they're ahead 3-1 because Holtby owns a 1.26 goals-against average in the series.
"The X-factor in hockey compared to basketball or other sports is the goaltender. That's the difference," Farrish said. "Henrik [Lundqvist] has played really well but Holtby has really been unbeatable. It's one of those deals that start to get into your head. You start playing less relaxed and with a little more pressure on you. You have to go out relaxed and play, not get uptight and tense about feeling like you can't lose. You have to go out and be relaxed, try to win the hockey game and play loose. They have to go out and give it their best effort and win one hockey game."
Holtby's biggest save of Game 4 came at 8:01 of the third period when he stopped Carl Hagelin on a penalty shot. Though the Rangers continued to play hard until the end, the missed opportunity cut them deep.
"It's a whole different game if he scores there," Farrish said. "It adds to the credibility of Holtby getting into their heads and being almost unbeatable. You're not going to get a better opportunity than that."
A bigger opportunity awaits the Capitals on Friday in New York City. It's been said the fourth game of a series is the hardest to win, especially given Washington's postseason history the past 17 years. But Farrish believes this is a different team, one that added character to the locker room and has learned from its past failures. There's an air of confidence surrounding the Capitals that has them believing they can end the series in five games.
"I think they're pretty excited about their opportunity," Farrish said. "They're rolling along. They're really comfortable with the way they're playing. When you get on a roll like that it feels like you're unbeatable, and I'm sure they're looking forward to going into New York and just continuing."