Rangers 3 keys for Game 4 of playoff series against Capitals

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

With a win against the Washington Capitals Sunday at Capital One Arena, the New York Rangers can finish a sweep of the Eastern Conference first round and become the first team to advance to the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Rangers have not swept a best-of-7 series since 2007, when they eliminated the Atlanta Thrashers in four games but that’s the Rangers goal here. Any extra day or two of rest they can get for what they hope will be a long playoff run, is vital for the Blueshirts.

The Carolina Hurricanes failed to sweep the New York Islanders, losing in double OT on Saturday. Ditto for the Florida Panthers, who lost Game 4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3. The Hurricanes and Panthers appear to be the top competitors in the Eastern Conference for the Rangers, is finishing off the Capitals sooner rather than later should benefit the Blueshirts down the road.

So, how do the Rangers go about finishing off a sweep of this series?

Let’s examine three keys for the Rangers in Game 4 against the Capitals.

Related: History firmly on Rangers side, up 3-0 in playoff series against Capitals

3. Rangers must continue to dominate special teams play

The Rangers have scored five special-teams goals in this series — three on the power play and two shorthanded. They were a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill in their 3-1 win in Game 3. That’s a great recipe to win a game and a series.

They need to keep it up and win the special teams battle again in Game 4. If they do, there’s a good chance the series will be over because the Capitals struggle so mightily to score at even strength. Washington has just five goals in this series, only three at even strength.

The Rangers did give up a pair of power-play goals in Game 2, but it was still K’Andre Miller’s shortie that was the difference in a 4-3 win. Interestingly, Barclay Goodrow’s shorthanded goal was the game-winner, as well, in Game 3. How often does that happen where back-to-back game-winning goals come from the penalty kill?

2. Rangers speed and depth key 1-2 punch against Capitals

Capitals coach Spencer Carbery hit on something important postgame Friday. Washington is really slow, and New York consistently takes advantage of that with its own impressive team speed. It was evident on each shorthanded goal, and in more subtle ways, like how quickly the Rangers set up in their own zone and step up in their transition game.

The only way for the Capitals to grind out a victory is to slow things down, win the neutral-zone battles, and go to work deep in the Rangers end. They must find a way to negate the Rangers team speed, and somehow generate some plays off their own rush, like when John Carlson scored in Game 3.

Even if Washington finds some success slowing New York down, it still has to contend with the Rangers overwhelming depth advantage. The Rangers are rolling four very effective lines and three outstanding defense pairs. Meanwhile, the Capitals top offensive threats, Alex Ovechkin and Dylan Strome, are struggling to produce and their defense corps is further depleted with Trevor van Riemsdyk now out with an injury after being blasted by Matt Rempe in Game 3 — though Rasmus Sandin and Nick Jensen are “on track” to return from injury in Game 4, per Carbery.

1. Rangers need to play with Game 7 urgency, mentality to finish off Capitals

There’s no question that the Rangers are the superior team. They never seem not in control, even during times when the Capitals are surging, like in the third period of Game 3. The Rangers are that much better, as long as they don’t let up.

The Capitals will come with their best effort Sunday, perhaps buoyed with some of the zone-time success they had in Game 3. Toss in some Charlie Lindgren magic and that could make for a more difficult afternoon for the Blueshirts.

But if they play up to their level, put in another full 60 minutes, stay out of the penalty box and impose their will, the Rangers will suck the life out of the building and out of their opponent.

The Rangers should play Game 4 like it’s Game 7.

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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