Following the New York Rangers' 6-0 drubbing of the Washington Capitals Sunday night at the Capital Centre, just one question was asked in the clubhouse: "Is the series over or has it just begun?"
It won't take long to find answers in tonight's fourth game of the series (7:35, HTS), which the Rangers lead 2-1.
Dubbed the "discipline series" by Caps coach Terry Murray, the Caps were anything but in Sunday's Patrick Division semifinal game after nearly taking a pair from the Rangers in Manhattan late last week with a controlled style of play, emphasizing patience and more patience.
Where the Caps once played defense, they took bad gambles. Where the Caps once turned the cheek, they retaliated. And Caps goalie Don Beaupre was invincible no longer.
"That game is over, it's behind us," Murray said. "The results weren't positive and we're not going to dwell on it. The series is still too close. They've been getting the breaks and the bounces for a couple of days and now we'll wait our turn."
It was hardly a scene of head-hanging in the Caps' locker room following the game.
"We knew coming in that this was going to be a seven-game series," Caps forward Kelly Miller said. "We're prepared for it. No, we didn't expect to lose 6-0. But tomorrow it won't be any different than a 6-5 loss. We knew they would get their wins and now it's our turn to come back and even it up."
Rangers coach Roger Neilson said he didn't like the results of his team's rough play at Madison Square Garden last week and told it to change direction.
"We were eager to play tough and it cost us," Neilson said. "Everyone realized it. They outplayed us when we were home and we were beating ourselves."
Sunday's game got rough when the outcome had been decided. One major altercation with 3:16 remaining saw seven men go to the penalty box and could set tonight's tone.
"Discipline is the key factor in the series," said Caps bruiser Alan May, who instigated the last brawl and refused to make any predictions for tonight. "If you take bad penalties in a tight game it's going to cost you. There's no arguing that point."