(SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Rangers entered the Eastern Conference semifinals as a considerable favorite over the Washington Capitals, but in Wednesday's Game 4 the Caps will be the team with a chance to take a commanding lead in the series.
New York is not only the reigning Eastern Conference champions but also entered the 2015 postseason with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to winning the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy since 1994. However, Washington has the upper hand in the best-of-seven set, holding a two games to one lead after shutting out the visiting Rangers on Monday.
The Capitals opened this series with a 2-1 win in New York before the Rangers bounced back to claim the second encounter by a 3-2 score. The series shifted to D.C. for Game 3 and it was another close battle, one that Washington won by a 1-0 count.
Braden Holtby was tremendous between the pipes, making 30 saves for his second career playoff shutout. His stellar outing gives the Caps a chance to grab a 3-1 stranglehold on the series before the clubs meet back at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. The Rangers, of course, hope to tie it up before hosting Game 5.
New York is no stranger to playing close games this time of year, as Monday's loss marked the 10th straight time the Rangers were involved in a postseason game that was decided by one goal. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the stretch of one-goal playoff games is the longest streak in the NHL's modern era.
The last time the Blueshirts were involved in a postseason game that was decided by more than one goal was in a Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in last spring's Stanley Cup Finals. New York went on to lose each of the final two games of that five-game battle by one goal to miss out on winning its first Cup since 1994.
The only goal in Monday's tilt came 7:31 into the second period when Jay Beagle's shot deflected off the skate of Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle and into the net. Beagle chased down his own rebound behind the net and had his shot from below the goal line hit off Yandle before slipping past Henrik Lundqvist.
"I was just trying to create havoc," said Beagle. "I tried to wrap it around and I got a little lucky and it went in."
Holtby managed to do the rest for the Capitals. He stopped 11 shots in the first, nine in the second and 10 more in the third. Holtby's other postseason shutout came against the Rangers on May 4, 2013 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. New York won that series in seven games.
"I felt good," said Holtby. "I was just trying to do my part and the guys played a really good game in front of me."
Lundqvist stopped 21-of-22 shots for the Rangers in his 100th career postseason game.
The Rangers were more active in the offensive zone than Washington, but the Capitals managed to frustrate Washington by blocking 27 shots. Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen led the way with a game-high seven blocked shots.
"Obviously we are disappointed that we didn't get a better result," New York head coach Alain Vigneault said. "Their whole team is making defensive plays that are making it tough for us to get some of our great opportunities to the net."
Although he wasn't alone on Monday night, Rick Nash's lack of goal production continued for the Rangers. Nash led New York with 42 goals during the regular season but only has one goal in eight games during the playoffs. It's a familiar pattern for Nash, who has amassed 378 goals over 862 career regular- season games but only six in 49 postseason tilts.
Nash said the Rangers need to make things more difficult on Holtby if they want to score more.
"We have to take our net presence up a notch," Nash said. "They're so good at boxing out, so we have to outwork them to get on the inside. They're letting Holtby see everything, so we have to get in front of him."
Nash isn't the only Rangers winger to struggle this postseason, as Martin St. Louis only has two assists through eight games. St. Louis carried the bulk of the scoring load for New York during its run to the Cup Finals last spring, notching 15 points (8G, 7A) over 25 games.
With Mats Zuccarello out since getting injured in the final game of the first round against Pittsburgh, St. Louis has moved to the top line in his place, playing right wing alongside Nash and centerman Derick Brassard. Zuccarello is not expected to play in this series.
This 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.