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Rangers aim to take 3-1 lead back to Garden

Anton Stralman #32 of the New York Rangers

Anton Stralman #32 of the New York Rangers pounds the glass following his powerplay goal at 10:11 of the first period. (April 14, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- At the end of a brisk 40-minute practice Friday, John Tortorella gathered the Rangers at one corner of the rink at Verizon Center. The language was colorful, in the coach's way, but encouraging, not disparaging.

"We've got a lot more ahead of us," he said. "No ---- excuses."

How much further the playoff path will run for the Rangers -- who lead the Capitals 2-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series and seem to have recovered from the three-overtime Game 3 victory that lasted 114:41 and ended early Thursday morning -- might depend on the outcome of Game 4 Saturday afternoon.

The players appreciated getting the rest of Thursday off, with some going to movies, others taking in shops and museums, and one group visiting Arlington National Cemetery.

But on Friday, all were focused on building off the 2-1 victory in Game 3 in another game on the road, where they are 3-1 in these playoffs, before heading back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Monday.

"They're going to come out and try to even the series," Brian Boyle said. "I think we both realize that was not an ordinary game we played, but when all is said and done, it's 2-1; we want to win and have that 3-1 lead going home for sure."

The Rangers are 39-30 in Game 4s, 5-2 since 2007, and gaining a two-game lead going into Game 5 would be formidable. With a 3-1 lead in this round, NHL teams with home-ice advantage win Game 5s more than 63 percent of the time and have won the series 44 of 47 times, according to whowins.com, a site that tracks pro sports team results.

As John Mitchell, who brought out his finest offensive game of the playoffs in Game 3 with five shots on goal and two blocked shots, put it: "We played almost two full games, and you want to follow up on it."

Tired? Tense? Not Boyle.

"This is fun," he said. "There's no mental anything. We're having a great time. This has been a fun ride; we're just starting up the second round. Don't know what to expect. Whatever comes, comes."

And Ryan McDonagh, who played a mind-and-body-numbing 53:17 in Game 3 and said he slept well, said, "We're happy with the outcome and we moved past it."

Judging from practice, it appears that Tortorella will start the same lineup but might tweak the lines. Marian Gaborik, who scored the winning goal off a pass from Brad Richards, was back with Richards and Carl Hagelin. Artem Anisimov was moved up to the second line with center Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Captain Ryan Callahan skated with Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko. Brandon Prust joined the fourth line with Mitchell and Mike Rupp. Stu Bickel, who played only 3:24 in Game 3, remained on the third defense pair with Michael Del Zotto.

Regardless of where he plays, Callahan has grown into the captain's role, formerly held by Chris Drury, and the choice made at the start of the season by the coaching staff clearly was the correct one.

"All you had to do was be around him for a couple weeks. That was an easy thing," Tortorella recalled. "I didn't need to have the team vote. He doesn't say ----, really; what you see is what he is. It's easy for people to talk; it's much more important for a leader . . . to do."

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