(SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Rangers hope to keep their Eastern Conference title defense alive on Friday when they return home to face elimination in Game 5 against the Washington Capitals.
The Rangers trail Washington three games to one heading into tonight's clash at Madison Square Garden. A second-round exit at the hands of the Capitals would be quite the upset, as New York not only is the reigning conference champions but also won the Presidents' Trophy after claiming the NHL's best record in 2014-15.
New York is counting on a repeat of last spring when it overcame a 1-3 deficit in the second round to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. It marked the first time in Rangers history that they were able to come back to win a best-of-seven series after losing three of the first four games.
Washington, meanwhile, has blown a 3-1 series lead in recent history, losing to Montreal in 2010 during the opening round. The previous spring, the Capitals overcame a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Rangers from the 2009 conference quarterfinals.
After taking the last two games, the Capitals currently find themselves one win away from reaching the conference finals for the first time since 1998. Washington beat Buffalo for its only conference title that season, but was then swept by Detroit in four games.
Andre Burakovsky has played a big role in getting Washington to a 3-1 lead in this series. Two nights after recording his first career playoff point, the 20-year-old rookie followed it up with another milestone performance in Game 4.
After getting the primary assist on the lone goal of a 1-0 win over New York in Game 3, Burakovsky's first two postseason goals lifted the Caps to a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
"I've been struggling a little with shots and I think I need to shoot more, and the guys have been on me telling me I need to shoot all the time," said Burakovsky. "Today, I think I had a couple of shots on net that worked out pretty well."
The Russian forward had gone without a point in his first six career playoff games this spring before breaking out this week. On Wednesday, Burakovsky tied the game at 1-1 with 3:31 left in the second period before giving Washington the lead by finishing off a breakaway just 24 seconds into the final stanza.
Braden Holtby, who was coming off a 30-save shutout in Game 3 on Monday, provided another brilliant effort with 28 stops for the Capitals, who improved to 5-1 within the friendly confines of Verizon Center this postseason.
"I think both goaltenders have played very, very well," Washington head coach Barry Trotz said. "I think both teams have confidence there. It gives you a little bit of a security blanket and you rally around those guys."
Holtby also came through with a big save on a penalty shot in the third period, allowing Washington to hold its one-goal lead.
Eight minutes into the final frame, Carl Hagelin raced into the offensive zone and was hooked by Caps defenseman Mike Green enough to warrant a penalty shot. Hagelin moved in on net and backhanded a shot which was cooly gloved by Holtby to keep the Capitals in front.
"You're going in there thinking you're going to score, and that was my thought process," Hagelin said. "I wanted to fake shot and then bring it to my backhand and (Holtby) was in the split there, and he made a good save."
Derick Brassard supplied the lone goal for the Rangers, who have seen each of their last 11 playoff games decided by only one goal, an NHL record.
The Blueshirts wasted another solid endeavor from star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedish netminder, making his 100th consecutive playoff start with New York, came up with 28 saves, but was let down by his offense.
New York ranked third in the NHL with 3.02 goals per game during the regular season, but is averaging only 1.78 GPG in nine playoff outings.
The Rangers hope to get their offense untracked tonight when they aim to force this series to a sixth game, which would be played Sunday in Washington.
This series marks the fourth time in the past five seasons that these clubs are getting together in the playoffs and it's the fifth postseason encounter between the Blueshirts and Capitals since 2009. New York won the two previous encounters in 2012 and '13, taking both series in seven games. The only time the clubs haven't faced each other since 2011 was last spring when Washington failed to qualify for the playoffs.
All told, the Caps and Rangers have met eight times in the postseason and each club has taken four series.