Caps’ Mental Toughness Being Put To The Test

Despite rolling into Madison Square Garden with a 2-0 series lead, the Washington Capitals knew a first round triumph was far from set in stone.

After a last-minute goal from Brandon Dubinsky gave the Rangers a much-needed Game Three victory, the Caps’ belief now holds even more weight. Both teams have set a methodical pace with an emphasis on responsible defensive and neutral zone play, leading to very few opportunities offensively.

Add to that the brutal physicality demonstrated on both sides and this could be anybody’s series.

“All three games have been wars and battles and it’s not a question of throwing different kinds of strategy at them,” said Bruce Boudreau. “We know what they’re going to do [and] I don’t think we’re going to change overnight.”

With each side blatantly showing their cards to each other, mental toughness could be the biggest key. The Rangers are aware they can’t matchup with all of Washington offensive talent so they have looked for other ways to gain an advantage.

Sunday they received some help from the referees and the Capitals themselves as Washington took eight penalties.

The Rangers only scored one power play goal, but the lack of discipline by the Capitals left several of their offensive threats busy killing penalties in the defensive zone.

“We have guys that kill penalties that we’re counting on [for offense] too in Mike [Knuble], and Brooks [Laich],” said Boudreau. “It certainly takes away part of their offensive game away.”

After a strong first period in the offensive zone, Laich’s even strength shifts were limited due to skating 5:37 on the penalty kill. Knuble did score to tie it at two apiece in the third period, but admitted the penalties threw the Capitals off their game.

“Guys were in the box and not everybody can get on the ice so it was kind of a strange game,” he said. “But again we can do more around the net.”

Even though both of Washington’s goals came from in close, Knuble wasn’t incorrect with his assessment. The Capitals haven’t crashed the net with much frequency, but when they have, the goals have come.

“[Lundqvist] is a great first shot goalie and he doesn’t let many in from [long-range] and you’ve got to make him move,” said Jason Chimera after Game Two.

Lundqvist saw the puck very well in Game Three, making several nice stops on Marcus Johansson and Jason Arnott. The only times he was beaten? In close on an Alex Ovechkin redirect and on a rebound at the doorstep. He’s been on top of his game thus far, and the Capitals have yet to establish a consistent presence around the net.

And with scoring at a premium, they must do so in an effort to find an edge in a matchup where both teams are hoping to outlast each other in a battle of wills.

“I thought we were really aggressive in Washington,” said John Tortorella. “We are not far off….It could be us 2-1. It is that close. We are not going about our business any different.”

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Filed under 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals, NHL, Opinion

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