3 Rangers keys for Game 3 of playoff series against Capitals

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After holding serve at home, the New York Rangers go for the jugular on the road against the Washington Capitals, when they play Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round in D.C. on Friday.

The Rangers were 25-12-4 on the road during the regular season, third best in the NHL. However, they lost each of their games at Capital One Arena, 4-0 on Dec. 9 and 3-2 on Jan. 13.

The Capitals were 22-12-7 on home ice this season, taking points in seven of their final eight games there (5-1-2). Already a massive underdog, though, the Capitals have a huge mountain to climb to rally and win the series.

History is on the Rangers side with that one. Teams up 2-0 in a best-of-7 series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have advanced 86.4 percent of the time. The Rangers are 11-4 all-time when up 2-0, but did lose their past two such series — in the 2022 Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning (six games) and last season in the first round to the New Jersey Devils (seven games).

The Capitals are 2-7 all-time when losing the first two games in a best-of-7 series. One of those series wins was in 2009, when they rallied against the Rangers, who blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 to lose in seven games.

That said, the focus here is on the next game. So, let’s examine three keys for the Rangers in Game 3 against the Capitals on Friday.

Related: Why Sean Avery is fired up about Rangers in 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

3. Artemi Panarin must embrace villain role for Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

As the Rangers most dynamic offensive player, Artemi Panarin plays every game with a target on his back. Opponents always game plan to limit his scoring chances and overall impact.

But it’ll be a little different for Panarin on Friday in D.C. The Capitals and their fans will be sure to focus their wrath on The Breadman after Panarin blew up T.J. Oshie with a massive hit in the third period of New York’s 4-3 win in Game 2.

Panarin likely knows what to expect, even though the hit was deemed to be clean and no penalty was assessed on the play. But it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to the extra attention, and hatred, that comes with being a villain. If it throws him even a small bit off his game, then that works in favor of the Capitals, who need every small edge they can get. But if Panarin is unbothered by it all, and especially if he lands on the scoresheet, then it likely will be a good night for the Rangers.

One side note, if this game gets out of hand on the scoreboard, Matt Rempe and Co. will be expected to step in to protect their superstar forward.

2. Third line looks to join Rangers’ party

Eight different skaters have scored New York’s eight goals in the first two games of this series. That speaks to the impressive depth the Blueshirts have.

Of those eight goals, seven were scored by forwards, representing three of the four lines deployed by coach Peter Laviolette. The only line without a goal is the third line consisting of Kaapo Kakko, Alex Wennberg and Will Cuylle.

That line had a strong Game 1 together, with plenty of offensive-zone time and good scoring chances for Kakko and Cuylle in the 4-1 victory. Laviolette indicated Thursday that he believed there was a drop off in that line’s play in the 4-3 win in Game 2.

So, the Rangers want a bounce-back performance from their third line in Game 3. They have the size and physical inclination to play a nice role in this series, and throughout the playoffs, where grit, grind and skill is a recipe for success.

Note that Wennberg took a maintenance day and didn’t practice Thursday. He was replaced by Filip Chytil, who’s been practicing for two weeks after missing the final 72 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. However, Wennberg was on ice for the optional morning skate in Washington on Friday.

1. Rangers must take Washington crowd out of Game 3

It’s underrated how loud Capital One Arena can get, especially during the playoffs. And after missing the postseason in 2023, Capitals fans will be ready to roar for the home team Friday, trying to make an impact as the “7th man” against the heavily-favored Rangers.

Simply, the Rangers must ignore the hostile atmosphere, if not feed off it, and ultimately find ways to take the crowd out of the game. An early goal or two surely would do the trick. But even throwing a defensive blanket over Alex Ovechkin and Co., suffocating their desperate opponents, will go a long way.

Jimmy Vesey point out that the Rangers likely need to survive the first 10 minutes or so, when the crowd will be in a frenzy and the Capitals are expected to come out flying in what is an absolutely huge game for them.

The Rangers must stick to their structure, maintain their poise and go to work. Do that and let their skill ultimately take over makes for a wise game plan.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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