As we all get ready for Game 3 between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals on Monday at Verizon Center, the first two games of the series made two things clear to me. The first is that this series is going to go six or seven games, and the second is that it will probably be the best series we see in the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Game 1 was a thriller, but the way the Rangers bounced back from a tough loss in the series opener was impressive. This team made it to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago and it has a number of high-character individuals in the dressing room. Obviously, I know Martin St. Louis a bit and I know what he's made of, but Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh aren't going to quit either. That kind of character filters down to the rest of the lineup and that was evident in Game 2 on Saturday.
The Rangers weren't great in Game 1 for some reason. Their scheme wasn't good and they couldn't handle Alex Ovechkin, but they came out with a much better system in Game 2 and played much harder, especially early in the game. When Washington got its house in order and put pressure on after the first period, New York was able to weather the storm. The only major concern is that St. Louis and Rick Nash aren't scoring, a problem the Rangers had last year as well. Somehow, though, the Rangers are still finding a way to win, meaning the entire lineup is contributing, which bodes well for when Nash and St. Louis get going.
As for the Capitals, They've showed in Game 1 that they're playing as well as just about anyone in the NHL right now, but Game 2 was a missed opportunity. Washington looked to me like a team that took Game 1 and then just didn't come out with the same mentality early in Game 2. A weak first period cost Washington a chance at taking a two-game lead back home, which would have been huge against the Presidents' Trophy winners.
Of course, Washington played well for most of that second game and Ovechkin showed that even when he's draped with defenders he's still capable of some magic. I expect coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals have taken mostly positives from those first two games, and after looking at the tape and seeing what they did wrong they'll wake up a bit and have a great start Monday. As much character as the Rangers have, remember that the Capitals have it, too. They showed that in the first round with a dominant defensive performance in Game 7 against the New York Islanders. I expect them to show that kind of resilience and play two great games in Washington this week.
If what we've seen already is any indication, every game in this series will be close and hinge on a save here or a save there, a goal here or a penalty there. It will be tight and it'll be great fun to watch. After these teams split in New York, I'll be surprised if we don't have a split in Washington with a best-of-3 waiting to decide who reaches the Eastern Conference Final.