Rangers can’t let up as series’ move to Washington poses new playoff challenges


Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery seemed encouraged by his team’s performance in Game 2 on Tuesday, despite the fact that it resulted in a loss and sent the Caps home in a 2-0 series hole.

Giving Washington hope would be the most dangerous thing the Rangers could do at this point in the series.

And with the change in scenery, the series dynamic changes, too.

John Carlson (74) and Alex Ovechkin (8) fight with Ryan Lindgren during the Rangers’ Game 2 win over the Capitals. AP

It’ll be up to the Rangers to manage both if they hope to advance to the playoff’s second round sooner rather than later.

“We’re going back home now, we’ll get an opportunity to be able to control the matchup for [Alex Ovechkin],” said Carbery, who went on to analyze his captain’s struggles in more depth than perhaps any other Capitals coach ever has in Ovechkin’s 19-year NHL career. “He can flip it. That’s one thing about Ovi, he can flip it in one game and can all of a sudden be a difference-maker and help us and be a driver in winning us a game on home ice.

“There’s no doubt we’re in a difficult spot going back home, but being able to play on home ice — and [MSG] is a great building to play in on the road and you can tell — but this year playing in Washington, coaching this team, there’s been some games that I was caught off guard by the energy in the building and our fan base. Game 3 back in our building, a playoff game, I’m excited to see what that looks like.

“This team, similar to what happened [Tuesday night] — the mistakes, all the little things that happened, the icings, all the things that I talked about — fights to the bitter end. We’re right there against the best team in the National Hockey League. I don’t think it’ll be any different in Game 3 or the rest of the series.”

It’s true, the Capitals never let the Rangers run away with Game 2. They were arguably one call or puck bounce away from forcing overtime, where anything could’ve happened.

The key for the Rangers will be to ensure that Game 2 doesn’t act as a springboard for the Capitals.

“I think it’s really important just for us to go slow,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said on a conference call with reporters on the Rangers’ day off Wednesday. “We go game by game. We don’t talk about anything like that, with regard to outcomes. I think we focus more on the process of making sure that we’re trying to do the right things.

“Areas that we can be better at to try and improve our game, whether it be offensively or defensively, just trying to get better inside of the series. They played a big game [Tuesday night], it was definitely more of a spirited game and I would expect the same thing going into their building.”

Washington will have the last change at Capital One Arena, where they’ll be able to control the matchups. If that doesn’t set Ovechkin up for a better game, chances are the challenge levied upon him by his coach will do it.

Matt Rempe moves the puck down ice as Capitals left wing Sonny Milano gives chase during the first period of Game 2. Jason Szenes for New York Post

Not only will the Capitals’ desperation likely hit another level, but the change in environment will be an element the Rangers have to navigate.

How is Matt Rempe going to handle being the villain on the road in the playoffs? How will Laviolette, who has pushed all the right buttons and coached a detailed two games, impact Games 3 and 4 without dictating the matchups? How will the Rangers as a whole generate their own energy to feed off of with the crowd against them?

And after the Garden echoed Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren’s name to torment him, Igor Shesterkin will likely receive the same treatment.

The Rangers head to Washington up 2-0. Jason Szenes for New York Post

The series will change this weekend, but the Rangers cannot.

Their playoff fate depends on it.

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