“To create offense, you need to be sound defensively, and we weren’t even close,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News. “It was a good old-fashioned spanking tonight. Now we need to take our medicine and get back to work and try to figure some things out.”

“I thought they played very well defensively, and I thought we stunk defensively. That was the key to the game. They defended very well in front of their net, and we were chasing our tail all night long, spinning and watching the puck. Against a team like that, the way they move the puck, you can’t be watching the puck. … That was a big problem for us.”

I don’t often start a column or game recap with a quote, but given last night’s game, the coach pretty summed up his team’s effort in their 4-0 loss to Washington. It was a game that saw the Blueshirts spend most of the game as spectators as opposed to participants. The Capitals played like a team that sensed the need to play with urgency.

“The first two games, we played two really good regular season games,” David Steckel related to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. “Tonight we played a playoff game. We rose to the occasion and got it done.”

All you needed to know to measure Washington’s desire and desperation level was to watch Alexander Ovechkin’s mad dash to hustle back and deny Lauri Korpikoski’s shorthanded breakaway attempt.

While the Rangers managed to keep Ovechkin out of the goal scorer’s column, they were unable to do the same for Alexander Semin who put the game out of reach with his two first period goals and joined with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to be major thorns in the Rangers side all game long.

“I think we outworked them,” Backstrom said to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times. “We worked harder, and we were fighting for our lives. That is something we have in our team, and hopefully we can do it again Wednesday.”

It seemed as if the two teams swapped uniforms in between Games 2 and 3. Instead of playing tentative, and at times uninspiring hockey, in Game 2, the Capitals responded with a more aggressive approach which was apparent in their ability to get high quality shots on goal – rather than settle for shots from the perimeter.

Conversely, the Rangers seemed content with playing to the outside and concentrating solely on firing a quantity of shots, not a quality of shots, at rookie Simeon Varlamov. While Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti raved about Varlamov’s play, he did not face the sustained pressure that Henrik Lundqvist faced at the other end. If not for the King’s play in the second period, a 4-0 final could easily have been worse.

Despite the Rangers lackluster play, the game did turn on one sequence of events where the fortune of the game turned on one play. Midway through the first period Ryan Callahan nearly tied the game, but his shot at an open net was deflected by Backstrom off the post and the puck slid tantalizingly along the goal line. Washington stormed the other way and capitalized (pun intended) on Backstrom’s goal-saving play.

“It definitely changed the momentum a bit,” Callahan said to Carpiniello. “The whole game is momentum-changing plays … and I felt in that play, we could have had a 1-1 tie and two seconds later, they’re up 2-0 so it definitely did [change the momentum].”

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau agreed with Callahan, but added an extra caveat.

“It was a momentum changer,” Boudreau commented to El-Bashir. “But at the same time, how often does that happen? It’s the luck of hockey and the luck of the sport. Some guy hits the post on a great opportunity and you go down to the other end and score so instead of 1-1 you’ve got 2-0 and your team is going in after the first period with a lot of confidence.”

Confidence is something the Rangers don’t seem to have and you have to wonder now if Varlamov has gotten into their heads given the fact the rookie netminder has extended his shutout streak to 112 minutes and counting.

It is no coincidence that the Rangers lost their first game of the series in the first game where their power play did not match that of the Capitals. If the Blueshirts intend to turn this series into a battle of power plays, then they are going to help boost the percentage of teams that have recovered from a 2-0 deficit since the start of best-of-seven series (12.7%).

Simply put, the Rangers are not good enough offensively to get into a battle of power plays – no matter how good their penalty killing has been this season. During the second period, the teams played less than seven minutes at even strength.

It is not only the fact that the Rangers yielded two power play goals to Washington, it is also that their own power play languishes and is turning into a detriment. Not only is the power play not scoring, but is not generating enough chances to shift the momentum within a game – and last night it provided an extra impetus for the Garden crowd to sit on its collective hands and silence its collective voices.

The one way to make sure the series does not become a battle of power plays is to stay out of the penalty box and eliminate the unnecessary penalties – an idea two Rangers veterans lamented about following the game.

“In the playoffs and and against this team, you can’t spend time in the box,” Scott Gomez explained to Katie Strang of Newsday. “It’s so fast out there and tough, but we’ll get over that. Penalties are part of the game, but we have to find a way to limit them, because we can’t take that many against them.

Teammate Markus Naslund agreed with his fellow assistant captain in discussing the penalty problem with Strang.

“That’s a big factor. We can’t sit in the box. We got away with it in the first game, but it’s something we have to be better at. They had two power play goals. A big part of the momentum going either way is the discipline.”

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