WASHINGTON - In the NHL playoffs, when you face the same team in close games every other night, head coaches and their staffs huddle and tinker, fiddle, tweak, looking for an advantage. You'll see more of that in Game 3 of the best-of-seven second-round series between the Rangers and Capitals on Monday night at Verizon Center.

Each team won a game at Madison Square Garden, and the series has been pretty even. What might tip the scales Monday night?

"The first two games, you sort of feel each other out, like with the Islanders," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "Then you start seeing little twists in their game. On Saturday, the Rangers changed a couple D-pairs, switched forwards. We may counter lineup-wise or tactically. That's sort of the chess match."

So, pawn to king 3? Your move, Alain Vigneault. Does the coach who makes the best adjustments win?

"Sometimes that can be a bit overrated. Both teams are trying to do what they think is best for their team. Every little matchup is analyzed and scrutinized," Vigneault said Sunday afternoon after the Rangers arrived at their hotel. "At the end of the day, players got to go out and make plays. There's plays that have to be made out there. Offensive plays, defensive plays, blocking shots. The team that is capable of making more plays, at the end of the night, usually wins."

Nonetheless, Vigneault hinted that he might do some juggling. "I've got an idea, but I've got to share it with them [the assistant coaches] first," he said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Players adjust, too. Take Chris Kreider, who said the Capitals' bruising style draws him into a more physical game. "There are certain teams where it's hard to finish the hit because they're moving pucks so quick and then they're moving their feet and getting out of the way," he said. "But they're definitely a team that wants to engage physically, so sometimes it makes it a little bit easier. A lot of guys on their team will play heavy. It allows me to play heavy if they're going to engage physically."

As one of the fastest players in the league, Kreider also has to adjust his pace. "I think there's some times where I find myself getting a little bit ahead of the play and not timing situations as well as I can . . . getting a little antsy . . . working hard, but not really working smart,'' he said. "Sometimes, especially in that last game, there's a lot of flow. The game is moving pretty quickly. I just kind of find that my timing is a little bit better."

Even if teams are familiar with each other from past series, as these two clubs are, "every series is different, every game is different and you've just got to learn to adjust and play differently," Marc Staal said. "I think they're as talented a group back [on defense] as I've seen probably since we started playing all these series against them this last bunch of years."

For the Rangers, who have played nine consecutive playoff games decided by one goal, chances are adjustments will make a difference for one of the teams.

"Going on the road for the first game, you want to get started on the right foot, go in there and win a game," Staal said. "They did in our building, and now it's our chance to try and do the same there."

Notes & quotes: Mats Zuccarello, who has missed four games after being struck in the head with a shot, did not make the trip and remains out indefinitely . . . Defenseman Nate Schmidt was called up from AHL Hershey because of a minor injury to Caps defenseman Tim Gleason, but Trotz said Gleason most likely will dress Monday night.