By Allan Muir
Five quick thoughts on the players and situations that could have an impact on tonight’s Rangers vs. Capitals matchup in Washington (8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network), one of two decisive games on tap tonight:
1. Ovechkin’s struggles: If Alex Ovechkin was looking for a way to make people forget his lousy start to the season, he’s found it: a lousier finish. The spectacular second half, the record-setting April, the Rocket Richard Trophy, the MVP nomination … none of that will mean anything if Ovechkin fails to steer the Capitals clear of another early playoff exit. It’s not a question of effort — he leads the series with 29 shots on goal and offered up a strong 200-foot game in Sunday’s 1-0 loss in New York — but there are no medals for trying hard at this time of year. Ovie gets paid to score goals, and he’s gone five games now without lighting the lamp. Excuses? Sure. He’s been blanketed by Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, and Henrik Lundqvist has been in beast mode. But this is a lousy time to be needing excuses. If he can’t stop the streak from going to six, Ovechkin is likely to carry this dry spell into next season.
2. Discipline, discipline, discipline: The Caps have given the Rangers 26 power play opportunities in this series — more than any other team — and while it hasn’t cost them dearly (just two goals), there’s no upside to gambling. And it’s not just the threat of offensive retribution that makes Washington’s lack of control an issue. It’s that it disrupts the flow of the Caps’ own offense, as was obvious on Sunday when they took five minors to none for the Rangers. This has to be a turn-the-other-cheek game for Washington.