If anything was emblematic of the Rangers' scoring woes in this postseason, it came at 8:01 of the third period of their 2-1 loss Wednesday night that put the Blueshirts on the brink of elimination.
With the Rangers trailing by a goal at Verizon Center, Carl Hagelin was awarded a penalty shot after being pulled down by Capitals defenseman Mike Green. It was Hagelin versus red-hot goalie Braden Holtby, who had denied the Blueshirts at almost every turn.
"I tried to fake a shot and went to my backhand," Hagelin said. "He went down into a split and reached for the puck and it went in his glove. Good save."
And with that save, Holtby, who has a 1.26 goals-against average this series, also snagged the hopes of the Rangers, who didn't score again and dropped Game 4 of the best-of-seven conference semifinal series in which the Capitals hold a commanding 3-1 advantage.
Game 5 is tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers have played an NHL-record 11 consecutive playoff games decided by one goal, dating to last year's Final.
"One win, that's it, in front of our home fans, that's what we have to focus on," said Rick Nash, who has one goal through nine games and one assist in the four games against the Capitals. "We've got to work even harder for offense. The chances were there tonight, but we've got to bury them."
Wednesday night it was Capitals rookie Andre Burakovsky who did the damage. He scored twice off turnovers after Derick Brassard had scored his fifth goal of the playoffs at 6:12 of the second period. A first-round draft pick in 2013, the 20-year-old Burakovsky tied the score at 1 from the slot with 3:31 left in the second period after stripping the puck from Chris Kreider along the boards, then scored just 24 seconds into the third period.
Ryan McDonagh's attempted pass near the boards was kicked back behind him and defenseman Dan Girardi. Burakovsky, who scored nine goals this season, collected it, stormed toward Henrik Lundqvist with McDonagh following and beat the goalie with a backhander.
"It's just one of those stretches, we have an offensive struggle right now," Hagelin said. "We had the lead, but we have to make sure we play better defensively. We've played strong at MSG all year, we know it's going to be a close one, but it's a matter of limiting our turnovers. They scored both goals on turnovers."
Martin St. Louis, who set up Brassard's goal that snapped a 100:05 scoreless streak for the Rangers, has no goals in nine games. "It's always frustrating," he said. "But we have to keep fighting. We had some good looks, we did, we just have to keep pushing and get more than one goal. I felt confident after we scored the first goal, even going into the third [tied at 1] I felt confident. We just didn't get it done, couldn't find a way."
Lundqvist, who made 28 saves, was pulled with 1:35 left, but the extra attacker didn't help. The Capitals finished with 25 blocked shots.
Last season, when the Rangers were down 3-1 in games to the Penguins, they rallied around St. Louis, who played with a heavy heart after his mother's sudden death, to win in seven games.
"It's been done before," St. Louis said. "It's not impossible."
But prior to last season, the Rangers had lost all 15 series when they trailed 3-1.
Hagelin said he thought the Rangers "played worse" in the first four games against the Penguins last spring compared to this series. "We've been right there, their goalie's playing well and they've been blocking a lot of shots," he said.
Said McDonagh: "It's the spot we've put ourselves in. We've got to find a way to dig ourselves out."