For the second time in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs the New York Rangers have an opportunity to put a stranglehold on a series following an emotional Game 3 win. Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout over Ottawa was followed by their marathon victory over the Caps. While Game 4 on Saturday afternoon is not a “must-win” game, it sure can be classified as a “boy-it-would-be-really-nice-win” game.

The sooner the Rangers can wrap up this series, the sooner they can start healing up the bumps, bruises and lacerations that come with playoff hockey. It also gives Brandon Dubinsky and Mats Zuccarello some extra time to recover from the injuries that have kept them out of the lineup.

There has been a lot of discussion centering on does momentum carry over from one game to another. If this game had been played on Friday, we might have had a clearer insight into this debate. As it stands, Saturday’s game won’t settle the issue, but it will lend some insight into the psyches of both teams.

Capitals associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig shared his perspective of being on the losing end of a marathon overtime game.
“I haven’t been on the winning end of one of those, so I don’t know how it feels after you win one of those, but I know it’s pretty deflating after you lose,” Kolzig explained to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times on Thursday.

“Just continue to play the same way. That’s all you can say. You’re going to have games like that. You’re going to have games where your team bails you out. It’s just keeping your emotions in check and playing with a steady level.”

Kolzig not only feels Braden Holtby’s pain, but can top it after suffering a quadruple overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996.

For their part, the Capitals seemed to realize that what’s past is gone and the important thing for them is to focus on the task at hand.
“It’s a challenge,” Karl Alzner said when speaking to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post following the Game 3 loss.

“But with the two days off, it’s a little easier to forget and focus on [Game 4]. “You replay it tonight; then tomorrow you got to forget about it. You can’t keep looking back on games. If you look back, then you’re going to be playing that game [all over again] in the next one. You have to look forward.”

Rangers Coach John Tortorella does not expect the Game 3 marathon to play any part in his team’s Game 4 performance.

“This is playoff hockey. It’s no big deal. They’ll be no problems with our club,” Torts stated during Thursday’s conference call.

I guess winning triple overtime games must agree with Tortorella because he was rather talkative, for him anyway during today’s talk with the media. In fact, he even drew some laughs from the writers in attendance.

When asked about whether Ryan Callahan is more of an on-ice leader or vocal guy, Tortorella responded, “He doesn’t say shit, really. What you see is what he is. It’s easy for people to talk – it’s more important for a leader to do.”

Elliotte Friedman of CBC.ca had an interesting take on why Tortorella seems to be so adversarial when dealing with the media of late.

Friedman wrote, “Convinced the edgier-than-ever John Tortorella media conferences have to do with his recent $20,000 fine. There were always things he wouldn’t discuss, but this is a new level. You could always find something he’d have a (great) opinion about.”

Looking ahead to Game 4, I have a few observations on things to be on the lookout for on Saturday afternoon.

First off, is there anything more annoying than that guy in Washington who blows that stupid plastic horn? Can’t the Rangers send John Scott over to that guy so he can hit him over the head every time “Dizzy Gillespie” put that horn to his lips?

Ottawa fans may be cool people and their “Alfie” chant was a classy move, but they have spawned a monster. First it was the Garden crowd doing a countdown to “Ovie sucks” and now the Verizon Center crows is doing their version of the countdown in support of their captain. Can we all agree to call a truce?

Now that those rants are over, let’s take a look at what might happen on the ice during Game 4.

We can expect to see the Rangers continue to activate their defense on offense. However, they must make sure that their forwards are paying attention and cover up for the pinching/rushing defensemen. That is especially the case if the Capitals are going to look to stretch passes on their breakouts in attempt to key breakaways and odd-man rushes.

The Rangers need to win the battle of the special teams. With offense at a premium, special team performance may very well decide this series. After scoring on their first man advantage, the Rangers forgot what they did on that power play – especially when they squandered the overtime power plays.

The Rangers have to find a way to get shots from the high traffic areas. Draw a rectangle from the hashmarks of the faceoff circle down to the goal line and this is where the Rangers need to concentrate their attack. Shots (on goal) from the point will be more effective with players stationed in this area.

They also need to stop playing on the perimeter so much. That goes for both the power play and even-strength. Far too often the Rangers attack veers off wide to the boards rather than directly at the defense down the middle of the ice.

I have noticed one bad habit that Brian Boyle has fallen into during some faceoffs. He has a tendency to bend so low that is practically toppling over. As a result, he does not have good balance and is slower to react if he loses the draw. That is what happened on the draw that cost the Rangers Game 2 against Ottawa.

One thing I noticed as overtime progressed was that Holtby seemed to be dropping into the butterfly a little quicker than normal. I am not sure if it was a natural reaction as the game dragged on or if I might have been imagining things.

One thing I am sure of is that when he dropped down he seemed to be jabbing at the puck with his glove rather than letting the shot come to him. It bears watching during Game 4 because it could be a rookie netminder getting a little anxious in goal.

Given the enormous amounts of ice time the Rangers top four defensemen saw, you can beat Washington will be ratcheting up their forecheck and looking to be very physical against the Blueshirt blueliners – especially given a comment made by their coach.

“They did play one guy too much. We basically played six D. …You just want to finish your checks on their D and hopefully tire them out,” Coach Dale Hunter said to El-Bashir.

I have one final piece of advice for the Rangers. Should they find themselves in overtime and they are pinned in their zone as they pass the midway point of the overtime period, merely ice the puck and take advantage of the mandatory ice maintenance break – just the Capitals did twice during Game 3.

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