As fans of The Odd Couple know, one should never assume. However, I think it is safe to assume that Washington goaltender Braden Holtby found Game 3 to be a bit more of a straining game in comparison to his Game 2 shutout.

For the first time in 11 playoff games between the Rangers and Capitals one team scored four goals. The last time it happened was In Game 4 on April 20, 2011 when Washington erased a 3-0 deficit as Jason Chimera scored the game winning goal in double overtime.

Some people will claim there is no such thing as a “must-win” game until you are facing elimination. Considering only three teams have ever overcome a three games to none deficit, last night’s game was ever inch a must-win game.

“We knew we had to win this one,” Henrik Lundqvist related to Tracee Hamilton of The Washington Post. “It was a must-win. We really stepped up as a group and they kept coming. They’re a good team and you have to respect that, but we scored some big goals tonight.”

The game’s first star, Derick Brassard, echoed his goalie’s sentiments.

“It was do-or-die for us,” Brassard said to the AP. “We competed really hard for 60 minutes. We stuck up for each other, and that’s what we need to do.”

The Blueshirts received an emotional list with the return of Marc Staal to the lineup after missing 27 games. Staal’s importance to the Rangers cause was not lost on the Capitals.

“He plays great shutdown, he’s got a great stick, he makes the right plays, he can chip in offensively,” Karl Alzner related to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Post. “He did some damage against us last year in the playoffs. I just like his game. Even if he’s 60, 70 percent I think he could really help them out.”

Whyno also wrote that Alzner called Staal one of his favorite NHL blue liners.

The hearts of the Rangers faithful skipped a couple of beats when Staal absorbed a huge hit from Troy Brouwer. Despite banging his head on the boards, Staal shook of the hit and ended up playing 17:17. The one thing that was overlooked was how Rick Nash hit Brouwer right after the hit on Staal.

Not too many people would have been willing to give the Rangers good odds to win a high scoring matchup against the Capitals. Those odds would have been even steeper if you were betting on the Rangers to win the battle of the special teams while losing the five-on-five game within a game.

The Rangers managed to dig deep and find a resilience they have not shown since last year’s playoff run. It would have been easy for a team as fragile as the Rangers to not bounce back every time the Capitals countered. However, the Blueshirts managed to fight off the Capitals comebacks.

“Every time we had a goal they would come back and kind of deflate us,” Rangers nemesis Mike Green told Whyno.

The Rangers were able to climb back into the series because they finally had a clue on offense. While they still had a tendency to settle for play on the perimeter, the Rangers offense kicked into gear when they got it into their thick heads to attack the Washington net.

Brian Boyle’s goal, which was a byproduct of a power play, ended the Rangers goalless streak at 124:06. It was the type of goal that shows the benefit for driving to the net rather than playing to the perimeter.

The other three Rangers goals were pretty much carbon copies of each other as the Rangers cycling and forechecking paid off because Rangers forwards put themselves in perfect scoring positions by going to the slot.

While the Rangers were 1-6 on the power play, for the most part the Blueshirts were more active and were playing with a purpose and a heartbeat with the man advantage. The Blueshirts “official” power play goal was a result of the perfect recipe for power play success: faceoff win plus player movement plus puck movement equals goal.

All of the Rangers positive work on the power play could have come undone if the penalty kill weren’t 3-3. They were aggressive when they needed to be and were patient when they needed to be – especially on the power play at the end of the game as the Capitals pulled Holtby for a six-on-four advantage.

The Rangers effort in the final 1:54 brought back memories of last year’s Black-and-Blueshirts mentality.

“If anything, [the Rangers] did a really good job, obviously, protecting [Lundqvist],” Coach Adam Oates explained to Whyno. “We probably just could’ve tried to figure out a better way to get to the net, just to start the process of now they’ve got to recover, maybe there’s a rebound, second wave. Probably a little too cute with it.”

If Rangers fans didn’t know any better, Oates’ lament to Whyno could easily have been made by John Tortorella in reference to his team’s power play.

With the special teams battle turned upside down, so to was the five-on-five play as the Capitals’ forecheck game pinned the Rangers in their zone far too long for comfort. I was glad to hear Brian Leetch echo the sentiments that I have been extolling for some time now.

While Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti seemed at a loss to explain why the Capitals were pinning the Rangers in their zone, Leetch explained that since the Rangers forwards drop down low to protect Lundqvist and clog the shooting lanes, the Washington point men are open – which leads to the Rangers chasing the puck in their own zone.

Here are my random Ramblings from Game 3:

• This was the one game where I wanted NBC to cover because I needed to hear what Pierre McGuire had to say about Alex Ovechkin’s embellishment of Brad Richards’ slashing penalty. The only problem I have with the penalty call on Richards is that it should have been high sticking, not slashing. However, Ovechkin should have been hit with a diving penalty much like Derek Dorsett was in Game 2 and Sidney Crosby should have been assessed in OT of Game 3.
• Derick Brassard Stat #1 – The Elias Sports Bureau reported that the last time a Ranger scored three points or more in his playoff debut at Madison Square Garden was Sergei Zubov in 1994. erick Brassard Stat #2 – The AP reported that Brassard was the first Rangers to score four or more points in his Rangers debut since Doug Bentley did against Boston on January 24, 1954.
• What is up with the Daily News running a trumped up story about Bernard King “dissing” Carmelo Anthony instead of the rangers Game 3 win – like Newsday and the NY Post. needless to say, my buck went to the Post today. I urge everyone to do the same thing if the Daily News is going to lead with non-stories instead of hockey.
• The Rangers inability/unwillingness to cover the Capitals point men makes Mike Green more dangerous that Alex Ovechkin. They can’t continue to leave Green alone for shots from the point.
• What is with all of these Nicklas Backstrom commercials for Geico? Does he have dirty pictures of the gecko and the cavemen?
• Darroll Powe received a concussion after being hit with a Joel Ward elbow. Do not expect a suspension because it will be termed an inadvertent elbow along the same line of Michael Del Zotto’s hit to James Neal. It is the second concussion Powe has received at the hands of the Capitals – the first came after a collision with Matt Hendricks on February 17. Powe’s injury should pave the way for the return of Ryane Clowe, if he is healthy.
• The NHL changed its playoff format in 1987 to make all series the best-of-seven. Since that time, Washington has won the first two games of a series six times – and all six time the Capitals lost Game 3. In addition, they ended up losing four of those six series. Of course, one of those series victories was against the Rangers in 2011.
• If the Rangers big guns are going to continue to struggle offensively, they are going to need scoring from their secondary players – as well as continued pinching of their defensemen. Prior to the game-winner, Derek Stepan had only one goal in 27 playoff games. Richards is now without a goal in his last nine playoff games and Rick Nash has just one goal in seven playoff games.
• Last night’s victory was the Rangers seventh straight at home – a stretch that has seen them score 30 goals in those games. The Blueshirts will attempt to win two playoff games in a row for the first time since the Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators in Games 6 and 7 last year.

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