It is much more than just a loss. All of the confidence the Rangers seemed to have after taking two games in Washington is gone. All of the frustrations experienced by the Capitals have dissipated. Look at the players and at the coaches and it is obvious which team is believes and expects to win, and which team is just hoping. Despite being up 2-1 in the series, the backs of the Rangers are once again up against the wall.
Why? Well, I will let you choose.
You can be the #2 seed. You have a potent offense, one that was shut down for two games but finally broke through with a four spot. You have a shaky defense but have been led by a rookie goalie who has limited a playoff team to 1 goal in two games. You lost two games but that was only because the opposing goalie stood on his head and kept his team in it despite being outshot by a huge margin. You are down 2-1 but if you win on Wednesday, you come back home with a tie series and all the momentum.
You can be the #7 seed. You have a weak offense that can't solve your opponent's rookie goaltender. Your defense has been solid and your goalie spectacular but it is too hard to contain such an explosive offense continuously and thus, you have surrendered 3, 0 and 4 goals respectively. If you play really well, you will force a hard fought game that you may or may not win but if you only give 85% you will lose. Badly. You are up 2-1 and if you win on Wednesday, you take a commanding lead.
Putting everything else aside for the moment, what is really crucial is that Game 4 essentially decides the series. The Caps will have trouble winning 3 in a row. The odds will just be that much against them. The Rangers will have trouble winning a 3 game series with 2 games on the road and the Caps with all the momentum. So forget the series score for the moment. Game 4 is all that matters.
Wouldn't you take the Caps here? Wouldn't you take the team favored to win an individual game? It would make sense to take a team that is coming off a road win that included dominance on both sides of the puck. It would make sense to take the team that barely loses when its opponent is perfect and wins big when they are not. It is a choice of picking the Rangers to play a perfect game and have a chance, or picking the Caps to win despite the perfect game or get help from Rangers' mistakes.
I hope I am wrong. I hope Varlamov starts playing like the rookie goalie he is. I hope the home crowd at MSG and the sense of desperation motivates the Blueshirts to victory. I hope Henrik can hold down the fort while the offense does enough. Not more and not less, but enough to scrape out a victory.
But if they failed, I would not be surprised. There is a reason that 7 seeds beat the 2 seeds so infrequently. It is because the weaker team's weaknesses come to the forefront during a seven game series.
Let's hope the Rangers can hide their faults for one more night.
Or else they will have a whole summer to think about how they could have.