WASHINGTON - The Rangers are in deep trouble.
Rookie Andre Burakovsky scored twice as the Washington Capitals took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, winning Game 4 at Verizon Center Wednesday night, 2-1, and putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination.
Game 5 is tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers have scored only five goals in four games in a season when they won the Presidents' Trophy. Prior to last season, when they rebounded against the Penguins, the Rangers had lost all 15 series when they trailed 3-1.
Burakovsky, who had 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, gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead 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.
Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who shut out the Rangers with 30 saves on Monday, was outstanding again, with 28 saves. The defining moment came when he got his glove on Carl Hagelin's backhander on a penalty shot at 8:01 of the third period to preserve the 2-1 lead.
Joel Ward almost made it 3-1 with 8:24 left, but his backhanded rebound on the doorstep hit the post. Lundqvist, who also made 28 saves, was pulled for an extra skater with 1:35 left.
The Capitals stole Game 1 at the Garden, 2-1, on Ward's goal with 1.3 seconds remaining, but the Rangers rebounded for a 3-2 victory in Game 2 in New York. That wasn't unusual: All nine Rangers games in this season's playoffs have been decided by a goal.
In the second, the Rangers took the lead. Derick Brassard scored his fifth goal of the playoffs at 6:12 to snap a Rangers scoreless streak of 100:05. Rick Nash flipped a pass out of the Rangers' zone that Martin St. Louis gloved and then skated down ice. He found Brassard in front with Alex Ovechkin pursuing, and Brassard beat Holtby over his glove. Brassard had scored the last Rangers goal at 6:07 of the third in Game 2.
After Keith Yandle failed to convert Hagelin's pass with Holtby out of position, Dom Moore was penalized for goaltender interference at 9:52. Nash almost scored on a shorthanded rush, testing Holtby between the pads, but the Caps stormed back and Lundqvist had to stop Ovechkin twice in a row from the left side.
In the waning seconds of the second period, in which the Capitals outshot the Rangers 14-7, Holtby kicked out a Derek Stepan tip with his left pad.
From the opening faceoff, it was clear that coach Alain Vigneault was tweaking the lines to create more offense. Moore started the game between Kevin Hayes, moved to the right side from center, and Hagelin. J.T. Miller moved to center on the fourth line between Tanner Glass and James Sheppard.
At 1:36 of the first, Karl Alzner went to the box for tripping Girardi, but the Rangers managed only one shot, a Yandle slapper that Holtby, who made 13 saves in the first period, gloved with 34 seconds left. The Rangers are 1-for-9 on the power play in the series.
A scary moment came with 3:55 left in the first period when Brooks Laich's rising shot from the left side caught Lundqvist near the neck. He grimaced and shrugged it off.
Marc Staal later made a sharp defensive play, sweeping the puck off Evgeny Kuznetsov's stick as he was readying an open shot.