WASHINGTON -- The New York Rangers are familiar with the situation they're in against the Washington Capitals but aren't fooling themselves into thinking they have been in this exact same circumstance.
"I think it's a little different this time around," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said.
In theory, yes, what the Rangers are trying to do against the Capitals is win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-1 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, exactly what they did against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round last season.
The Rangers are one-third of the way there after a 2-1 overtime win in Game 5 on Friday at Madison Square Garden. Washington has a 3-2 lead in this best-of-7 series with Game 6 Sunday at Verizon Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
In reality, the Rangers are coming from the opposite position as last season against the Penguins.
Pittsburgh was the favorite and 13 points better than New York in the regular season. Now the Rangers are the favorite after winning the Presidents' Trophy and are trying to rally against the Capitals, who had 12 fewer points in the regular season.
"There is a lot of pressure there, just with being the first team in the League," Girardi said.
The Rangers understand how to navigate their way out of danger regardless of their seed. They are 6-1 when facing elimination dating to Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round last season and 12-3 since Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012.
The Rangers may be the favorites now in a must-win situation, but their plan of attack to extend the series to Game 7 is exactly the same as it was against the Penguins last season.
"We don't ever doubt each other out there, and we believe that if there is any time left on the clock we can create something," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "Obviously, it was tough there knowing that our season was on the line with a couple minutes to go, but at the same time we've got guys that have been in those situations in the past where we needed a goal to tie a game or maybe win a game and I felt somebody was going to step up and make a couple plays. Sure enough, they did."
The Rangers feel the way to do it again Sunday is to play the way they did Friday, which means using their instincts to create plays in the offensive zone and their intelligence to open shooting lanes to test Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
Too often in Games 3 and 4 New York was stationary and it led to Washington blocking 52 shots in the two games at Verizon Center.
The Rangers made concerted efforts to be more mobile when they had the puck to create shooting lanes and to have defensemen jumping into the rush so they were attacking with numbers in Game 5.
Eventually they were able to use their offensive instincts (see center Derek Stepan setting up the game-tying and overtime goals) to get good looks on shots from the outside (each goal, by Chris Kreider and McDonagh, was scored from distance) that were guided through by screens in front of Holtby.
"If anything, I felt like [Friday] night what we take from it is we've got to continue to make plays and not overthink the offensive side of the puck," Stepan said. "When we get a lane to shoot it, shoot it. If we get a lane to make a play, we've got to make the plays. I know at times it's hard to watch because they might get a stick on it here or there, but we've got to continue to make plays.
"We've been talking so much about trying to get pucks on the net and shoot more. After [Friday] night our mindset needs to be make the right play."
If they do it enough Sunday, the Rangers feel it will put them in another familiar position, playing a Game 7.
Like their situations against Washington and Pittsburgh, no Game 7 is the same as another, but New York is 5-0, including 2-0 against the Capitals, dating to the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
"We were down 3-1 against [Pittsburgh] and they were one of the top teams in the League," Girardi said. "It felt good to win that first game, second game, and Game 7 anything can happen. The accomplishment of winning that series felt really good, and we know what that can feel like, so we just have to make sure we have a good game to give ourselves a chance."