It's hard to say that any game in the playoffs isn't a must win. Almost every single contest has an impact on the rest of both the series and the playoffs. Game 1 of the first round might set the tone for the entire playoffs, or, like in the New York Rangers' case tonight, Game 3 in the second round of the playoffs might have a ton of momentum teetering on the edge of the result.
If the Rangers go into Washington and get a win over the Capitals, the Rangers would have a 2-1 series lead which would guarantee them at least coming back to Madison Square Garden tied at 2-2. A loss, on the other hand, would give the Capitals a 2-1 edge in the series with Game 4 looming in Washington.
You don't need me to tell you how much different those two scenarios are from one another. Essentially, if the Rangers win Game 3 then all the pressure is on the Capitals, if the Rangers lose, then all the pressure is on them.
Join me after the jump for more.
Which means, all the pressure in Game 3 is on the Rangers. Like it or not, they're the top team in the conference (and thanks to the Los Angeles Kings, the top team left in the playoffs) and are expected to win this series. The pressure comes with the team's status.
As it stands now, the Rangers haven't shown any reasons to be nervous. They played great in Game 1 and Game 2, and could have swept both games. In the end, they came a post and a crossbar away from winning Game 2. But, like I said in the notes after the game, if they play like that in Game 3 they probably walk away with a win.
That's much different than the feelings following the Rangers' overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 2 of the first round. What I'm trying to say here, is that this team is adapting before our very eyes.
Chris Kreider is a big part of that. Not even his offense (two game winning goals and an assist in seven playoff games) but just his ability to play 15+ minutes a night and consistently get scoring chances. It allowed John Tortorella to create two top lines and let guys like Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle slide back down to the third line, rather than being used on the scoring lines.
Boyle might get moved back up to the top two lines when all is said and done, but more of that will revolve around how quickly he can get his game back from his concussion.
Regardless, tonight's game is vital for the Rangers. They've proven themselves to be resilient in these situations before, now they just need to carry that over into Washington.