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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
W2W4: Capitals vs. Rangers, Game 4

By Mike Hume

Yes, there is hockey being played in this series. After a two-day hiatus that has riled fan bases on both sides, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals resume their first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden. Here’s what to watch for when the puck drops in what is sure to be a rowdy and raucous affair Wednesday night.

Can you hear me now?

Verizon has a serious sponsorship opportunity at the Garden tonight after the Monday comments of Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. The words may have been throwaway lines on talk radio, but they will almost certainly ignite the MSG crowd. Note to fans bringing small children tonight: Bring earmuffs.
With an electric environment likely, a fast start will be big for both teams. While the first goal is always important, the surrounding circumstances could raise the stakes for tonight’s initial marker.

Let’s get physical

Though Boudreau was critical of the officiating in Game 3 and what he saw as the Blueshirts targeting the head of Mike Green, the Rangers’ punishing play worked directly to their advantage. The Sean Avery-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust line generated a sustained forecheck and definitely irked the Caps with some hits after the whistle, and some of them certainly went unnoticed or uncalled by the referees. With the topic generating a lot of ink and pixels over the past two days, I’d expect Wednesday night’s crew to be particularly vigilant. If the Rangers want to continue their chippy approach, they’ll need to do so carefully, lest they find themselves on the short end of the Caps’ highly skilled power play.

Special teams

Speaking of the power play, the Rangers still need to see some improvement from theirs. Brandon Dubinsky’s "ugly" game-winning goal largely got the unit off the hook, but the Blueshirts struggled to produce with the man advantage throughout Game 3. Most noticeable was the failure during the 5-on-3. Whether it’s Bryan McCabe, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Matt Gilroy, Marc Staal or someone else entirely, whoever is manning the point on the power play needs to make quicker decisions with the puck. Too often the Rangers point men held onto the biscuit instead of pulling the trigger on a quick shot or sliding it along to an open teammate. That allowed the Caps to get settled in shooting lanes and obstruct scoring chances. Quick puck movement will open things up, and tire out the Caps’ PK.