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Game 3 takeaways: Rangers on the verge of delivering knockout punch to Capitals

Game 3 takeaways: Rangers on the verge of delivering knockout punch to Capitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This series has felt like heavyweight vs. middleweight since the start, with the Rangers on the verge of landing a swift knockout punch.

Friday’s 3-1 win over the flailing Capitals in Game 3 of this first-round tilt gave New York a commanding 3-0 series lead, with a chance to complete the sweep coming Sunday at 8 p.m. back at Capital One Arena.

It’s never felt particularly close, with the star-studded Blueshirts mostly having their way with the past-their-prime Caps. They teased Washington by allowing a first-period lead that lasted just 34 seconds, then stormed their way to a third straight victory with three unanswered goals.

“The consistency has been great, and we’ve had contributions from everybody in the lineup,” center Vincent Trocheck said. “Depth is very key in playoffs, and I like the way we started with the depth so far.”

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The Rangers’ top-two centers continue to shine, with Trocheck and Mika Zibanejad each notching a pair of points for the second consecutive game. And when they’ve needed him, goalie Igor Shesterkin has been there to thwart any hopes the Capitals have of making this a series.

Their advantage in special teams has been stark, as well, with the lockdown penalty kill going 6-for-6 in Game 3. Barclay Goodrow scored the winning goal on one of those PKs − New York’s second shorthanded goal in as many games − and Trocheck later added one on the power play.

Of the 60 total minutes played Friday, 18:31 were spent on special teams, with every penalty situation adding to the Blueshirts’ swagger while compounding Washington’s frustrations.

“You can get confidence throughout a game, throughout a series, throughout the season,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s not like we flipped a switch going into the playoffs. It was pretty good all year. It was pretty good down the stretch, and right now, the guys are doing a pretty good job.”

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 26: Barclay Goodrow #21 of the New York Rangers celebrates after scoring a shorthanded goal against the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game Three of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena on April 26, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Now the Rangers sit one win away from a trip to the second round, where they should get a chance to take on a team in their own weight class.

Squashing the Capitals’ hopes

The Capitals entered with their backs already approaching the wall, but they didn’t look like the more desperate team in the first period.

The Rangers were in control from the drop of the puck and spent much of the first five minutes on the attack, but briefly found themselves in a 1-0 hole after an odd play that resulted in a John Carlson goal. The shot from the Caps’ defenseman seemed to knuckle like a puck from one of the old “Mighty Ducks” films and catch Shesterkin off guard, as it hung in the air and beat him over the right shoulder.

That would be the only blemish for the 28-year-old netminder, who bounced back from the early goal by stopping each of the final 25 shots he saw.

“I’m not surprised,” Trocheck said. “He’s a spectacular goaltender. We need him to be the backbone of this team, and he’s been doing it for years now.”

The Blueshirts responded with the tying goal just 34 seconds later. It came from Chris Kreider, whose net-front tip of a Zibanejad shot upped his franchise-leading playoff goal total to 42 while tying him with Rod Gilbert for third-most postseason points with 67.

Exactly two minutes after that, the Rangers earned their second winning goal of the series in a shorthanded situation. It came off some good PK work from Goodrow and Trocheck, with Goodrow finishing off the rush to make it 2-1 New York and continue his strong start to the playoffs.

“We like to play aggressively, and we’re kind of always on our toes and not sitting back on our heels,” Goodrow said. “It seems like as of late, we’ve gotten a lot of chances, and obviously that’s a bonus. The first job is to kill it off, but obviously (K’Andre Miller) got a big goal for us last game, and then tonight we got another one.”

‘I do have thoughts’

The Goodrow goal came on the first of three Washington power plays in the opening period alone. The Rangers were called for seven penalties in all, upping their total to 18 through three games.

When asked about that high number and how he thinks the games are being officiated, Laviolette said, “I do have thoughts.” But when asked if he wanted to share them, he responded, “I do not.”

The non-answer was telling.

Rookie Matt Rempe has been whistled for three of those 18 penalties − one in each game − with at least two appearing to be based more on reputation than merit.

The 6-foot-8 forward put a monstrous hit on Caps defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk at the 12:08 mark of Friday’s first period, which, if anything, may have passed for boarding or charging because it occurred a moment after the puck was passed, perhaps even elbowing if the refs thought his arm came up at the point of contact. But what mostly looked like a hard, playoff check was oddly called for interference.

Special teams excellence continues

The unfortunate result was van Riemsdyk exiting the game with an upper-body injury, but the Rangers didn’t seemed phased by the penalty.

Their PK has been excellent in this series, with relentless pressure up the ice preventing the Capitals from setting up possession and causing turnovers that lead to shorthanded rush chances. The Blueshirts have gone 13-for-15 on the penalty kill (86.7%), including stopping all six Washington power plays in Game 3.

“The PK has been really good,” Trocheck said. “I think pressure is big. It rattles power plays. It’s one of the things that every power play struggles with. It’s one of the hardest things to go against. On entries, getting pressure at the blue line is huge. It disrupts the power play’s entries. It disrupts flow and makes them frustrated.”

Not only have the Rangers defended well shorthanded, limiting the Capitals to eight shots on goal across 12 minutes of power-play time in Game 3, but they’ve also shown a knack for generating offense in those situations.

It’s a trait they’ve had for a couple seasons now. It became especially noticeable when Kreider began penalty killing in 2021-22, with the entire group embracing that hunting mindset.

“I don’t know if we’re doing anything different,” Zibanejad said. “I think we’re pressuring, especially when it’s off rebounds and recoveries and stuff. I think we’re doing a good job of winning those puck battles and getting those opportunities to go. And when we get the chance, usually maybe we just send it down and go change (lines). But now we see that we have a chance, and when you get a chance for a two-on-one, you try to take it. Even if you don’t score the two-on-one or if you don’t score the opportunity, I think you can kind of take away momentum from their power play and give it our way. I think that’s something that we’ve been doing well.”

The Rangers’ power play hasn’t been too shabby, either. A perfectly executed give-and-go between Trocheck and Zibanejad resulted in the former’s second goal of the series, upping the lead to 3-1 with 4:38 remaining in the second period.

“I’m just trying to get through the slot and see if he can see me, if he can find me,” Trocheck said. “And if not, then kind of get another set or stay in that front. But basically, that’s him finding me. I’m just skating through the middle of the ice and seeing if he can catch my tape.”

The Rangers were outshot 14-5 in the third period, but between the PK and 27 saves from Shesterkin, the outcome was never in doubt.

No. 31 hasn’t seen more than 28 shots in any game this series, but he was tested on a few notable occasions Friday and answered the bell each time. The most memorable was a full split to stop a point-blank chance from Max Pacioretty in the second period when the score was still 2-1.

“I was lucky,” Shesterkin said with a smirk.

“We’ve played really (well), but we need to win one more game,” he added later. “We’re focused on the next one.”

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Game 3 takeaways: Rangers on the verge of delivering knockout punch

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