NEW YORK -- Now the Washington Capitals must hold what the New York Rangers have given away -- control of their Patrick Division semifinal series.
After Thursday night's 5-4 victory in overtime at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals have a 3-2 lead in games and need only to win tonight (7:35) in Game 6 at the Capital Centre to clinch the best-of-seven National Hockey League playoff. Twice the Rangers led in games that would have given them the edge in the series, and both times the Capitals have resisted.
"We've been in this situation all year long," said Dino Ciccarelli, who scored the winning goal in overtime Thursday night. "We always play well when we've got our backs to the wall. The penalty-killing [unit] is doing a great job, we got one on the power play."
Thus, the Capitals have proven they can win when they must. Now they have to prove the same when the Rangers must.
"We're facing elimination now," said New York defenseman David Shaw, victimized on the overtime goal. "We have to play a strong game in Washington. We've won there before and we've played well there this year, and hopefully we can play well there again [tonight]."
Both teams own close victories in regulation in the series, and each has taken a shutout.
The Rangers introduced an all-rookie line that may see more ice time. Tony Amonte made his NHL debut, and Steven Rice appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. With Corey Millen, they formed New York's top line. At times, Amonte seemed to be running the power play.
Also, the Rangers may be welcoming back Normand Rochefort, a defenseman who might clear the Caps from the crease. Finally, they have Mike Richter in goal, unless they gamble on giving John Vanbiesbrouck a chance.
L But that would involve changing the best part of their game.
"Richter was unbelievable for the Rangers," Ciccarelli said. "I think the game could have been put away a little earlier. He's been spectacular. You can never count those guys out with the goaltending they have."
Intentionally, or not, Ciccarelli was saying something there. And he's right. It's Richter the Caps must beat. They can handle New York. They seem to want it more. After all, they came into an enemy rink and fired 55 shots, many of them testers. And they ruled the overtime period, nine shots to three.
Again, Mike Gartner has had trouble scoring in the playoffs. And it's possible the Caps have sidelined tough winger Joey Kocur. He left with a left leg injury when hip-checked by defenseman Mike Lalor.
Maybe the Caps don't think about all those factors, though. Coach Terry Murray talks as if he likes to focus on the game itself.
"We're going to stay with our game plan: working the puck down deep, getting it in as often as possible, and putting the puck on net whenever possible," he said.