GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It was in the third period Wednesday when John Moore, watching from the New York Rangers bench, took note of how and why Ryan McDonagh was effective in limiting what easily could have been a quality scoring chance for Alex Ovechkin.
"Ovechkin got the puck in his own zone and was kind of winding it up, but [McDonagh] was right in his face," Moore told NHL.com Thursday. "He's using his skating to stay in his face and be physical with him. That's really critical with those players. You can subconsciously give them time and space by respecting them a little too much, but if you look at the way [McDonagh and Dan Girardi are] playing them, they're right in their face, good stick, bodying up on them every chance they get. I've definitely noticed that."
It's good that he has, because Moore, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and perhaps Steve Eminger (if Marc Staal doesn't play) should plan to see more of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson in Game 5 against the Washington Capitals on Friday at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS2).
As the home team, the Capitals gain the advantage of having the last change, meaning Washington coach Adam Oates will have the ability to get Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson away from McDonagh and Girardi as much as he wants to, especially on faceoffs.
It wasn't a major point of emphasis for Oates in Games 1 and 2, when Ovechkin combined for 12 shots on goal and scored on the power play. However, the Rangers did all they could to keep Girardi and McDonagh on the Capitals' top line in Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden and they managed to limit Ovechkin to a combined three shots and zero points, leading to identical 4-3 wins to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2.
McDonagh and Girardi combined for roughly 60 minutes of ice time in Game 4, about two-thirds of which was spent on the ice against Ovechkin's line.
"Not controlling the matchups, the onus falls on guys like us and making sure we're solid and can play dependable minutes," Moore said. "We're going to have to be on our toes."
That's true, but the Rangers' biggest key to keeping Ovechkin off the score sheet and therefore frustrated will be to stay consistent with their forecheck. That falls on their forwards, and that's no different than it was at any other point in the series, no matter the arena.
As much credit as Girardi and McDonagh get for their play against Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson, the Rangers' forecheck was much better in Games 3 and 4 than it was in Games 1 and 2. The forecheck not only led to more offensive chances, but it meant the Capitals' top line had to play in its defensive end, which obviously is not the favorite part of the ice for any of those three players.
"They don't want to play there. They want to play with the puck," Del Zotto said. "Our neutral zone and staying strict as far as our systems, we kind of got away from that in Games 1 and 2. We were a little sloppy there and it allowed them to free flow through the neutral zone, gain some speed. Backstrom, whenever he has the puck and he delays, he's a very dangerous passer. If we keep our neutral zone structure and we make them dump the puck in every time and not come out with the puck, that's huge for us."
McDonagh said the forecheck shouldn't change no matter who is on the ice for either team.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 15 | +/-: -1
"Anybody that likes to score goals and has his [Ovechkin's] ability, they wind up and get speed through the neutral zone," McDonagh said. "The last two games we've had better structure with our forwards through the neutral zone, so there hasn't been a lot of space there. If he gets through there we've been able to have good gaps because of our structure. We just need to continue to be smart with our positioning."
When Ovechkin and his linemates got into the offensive zone in Games 3 and 4, the Rangers were effective in blocking their shots.
Ovechkin had five of his shots blocked in each game. Girardi and McDonagh combined for 17 blocks, and Ryan Callahan was effective in Game 4 with a game-high seven blocked shots. He and Derek Stepan took a lot of shifts against Ovechkin's line.
"We're playing defense the way we always play defense," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "[Ovechkin] happens to be one of the top players on the team we're playing against. It doesn't change. We're just playing defense."
But now it will be interesting to see if Oates tries to change that by getting Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson away from Girardi and McDonagh. Oates pointed out that it's not easy considering the Rangers' top defenders play roughly 30 minutes each, but a key area will be faceoffs on New York's side of the red line.
If the Capitals can win those draws it will give them a much better chance of setting up in the offensive zone because it will limit the Rangers' forecheck. The onus then would fall on Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson to create like they did in Games 1 and 2.
"Our line has to create chances," Ovechkin said. "Last game, I don't think we created lots of opportunity for our line. Everybody knows [Backstrom, Ovechkin and Johansson] have to play better. We have the most minutes on the ice and we have to at least have like 10 shots on net. Everybody."