Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The New York Rangers are moving on. After playing the last two days with their backs up against the wall and on the brink of elimination, the Rangers finished off the Capitals in a 5-0 drubbing tonight that was capped off by a 35-save performance from Henrik Lundqvist that gave him his second consecutive shutout.
The Rangers will play the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which begins in Boston on Thursday night at 7:30 ET.
After being shutout in two games in the series and losing all three road games while combining to score just two goals (!!) in those three road games, the Rangers exploded for five goals in Washington tonight, coming from Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello.
Just like we all predicted, right?
I didn't think the Rangers started out all that aggressively, which was to be expected, but late in the first period came the biggest sequence of the game, in my opinion, when Henrik Lundqvist stopped a tough shot from Mike Green after Chris Kreider failed to pick up his man while coming off the bench during a line change. Kreider picked the puck up and carried it down the ice before delivering a beautiful drop-pass to Arron Asham, who fired a perfect shot to beat Braden Holtby for the first (and eventual game-winning) goal of the game. The Rangers survived the first period with a lead despite being out-shot 13-9, and tacked on another two quick goals in the second period after Taylor Pyatt slammed home a loose puck in front of the net after Holtby stopped Derek Dorsett's shot. Exactly two minutes later, Michael Del Zotto's pass that was intended for Mats Zuccarello in front of the net from the left point deflected off a Capitals player's skate and beat Holtby five hole style. I think we all felt very comfortable with taking a three-goal lead into the third period...until the Bruins came back to beat the Maple Leafs and scored three unanswered goals to tie the game with just six minutes left in the third period and their season on the line. But that small seed of doubt was short-lived because Ryan Callahan put the nail in the Capitals' coffin with a fourth goal just 13 seconds into the third period on a breakaway that came off a Caps turnover in the neutral zone. Just for fun, Mats Zuccarello added another goal when he almost shook Braden Holtby out of his pads on a beautiful move alone in front of the net. From then on out the only question left was if the Rangers could help King Henrik record his second shutout in as many days, which they did.
I thought the biggest difference between this game and the others was that the Rangers never let up on offensive pressure, which I've been clamoring for since before the series even started. They had their foot on the gas tonight and never let up until the final buzzer sounded. They kept attacking and kept chipping away, and it ultimately resulted in the biggest margin of victory for either team in this series. It also makes it one heck of a lot less stressful on the fans when they're not clinging to a one-goal lead for the entire third period as an added bonus, too.
Derick Brassard, who was easily the Rangers' offensive MVP in this series, capped off his outstanding playoff performance with two assists tonight and finished the series with two goals and seven assists for nine points. Even more impressive? All of his points came in the last five games of the series. Brassard has been nothing short of spectacular since coming over from the Blue Jackets in the Marian Gaborik trade, and the kid is showing why he was a former first-round pick.
What can really be said about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn't already been said? His comments after Game 5 that this series wasn't over even though the Rangers found themselves trailing 3-2 certainly rang true, and Lundqvist once again put this team on his back and got them through this series. The King registered back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7, which has only been done four times in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. From hearing Lundqvist talk and seeing his body language the past few days in net, you could just tell he was not going to be denied moving onto the next round. There was something about the way he played where I just felt like this guy wasn't going to be beaten. He had his game face on and rebounded with six straight outstanding performances after a shaky Game 1 to open this series that were capped off with a 27-save shutout in Game 6 and a 35-save shutout in Game 7. The Capitals admittedly threw anything and everything they could at Lundqvist these past two days and he stopped them all. It was just Henrik Lundqvist at his absolute best.
Some other thoughts and notes from the game:
- The Rangers came back to win this series after trailing 2-0 for the third time in franchise history, and the first since 1997.
- This marked the first Game 7 the Rangers have won on the road in franchise history.
- The Rangers got a ton of secondary scoring in this series after struggling in that area for a large part of the regular season up until the trade deadline. Unlikely heroes Taylor Pyatt, Carl Hagelin, Arron Asham and Brian Boyle all chipped in with big goals in this series (two a piece for Hagelin, Asham and Boyle) while the Rangers' top offensive players in Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan combined for just four goals in the series. The bottom six carried the Rangers through this series, but it's not fair (and extremely unlikely) to expect them to be able to do it again in the next round. That being said, it was great to see some of the secondary players step up big time for the Rangers in this series when all four struggled mightily at one point or another during the season to produce any sort of offense.
- Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi both deserve tons and tons of credit for the way they contained Alexander Ovechkin in this series. Ovechkin had just one goal in the series, which came in Game 1, and tonight he registered only one shot on goal. He was throwing his body around the entire game, though, and ended up with a game-high 13 hits (including one that I thought was a boarding call on Ryan McDonagh that required stitches and left McDonagh with a black eye), but I'll trade hits from Ovechkin over goals any day of the week. McDonagh and Girardi are back playing as good as they did towards the end of last year, if not better, and both guys are true warriors when you see the punishment they take and handout over the course of an entire game.
- In addition to McDonagh and Girardi, credit has to be given to both Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger for how good they were in this series. Stralman, to me, played his best hockey as a Ranger in this series and was a very underrated player in this series for the Rangers. I said before the series that the Rangers would need him to step up and help fill the void that Marc Staal left. Well, he did that and then some. Stralman has been a steady defenseman for the Rangers the past two years, and in this series he was an absolute anchor. Eminger, too, deserves credit for being able to step in on the third pairing and deliver a steady presence throughout this series, and he chipped in with two big assists in tonight's game.
- Rick Nash didn't score today, but he did register an assist and finished with a plus-two rating. Tonight was easily Nash's best game of the series. I still do believe there's some type of injury that he's hiding, but that doesn't really matter. The Rangers will need Rick Nash to be Rick Nash in the next round against the Bruins.
- I absolutely have loved what I've seen from Derek Dorsett so far. He brings a lot of physical play and has an edge to his game similar to Brandon Prust and Sean Avery, and tonight was easily his best game as a Ranger. He finished with an assist, a plus-1 rating and four shots in 15:32 TOI. He also hit the crossbar on the play that eventually led to Michael Del Zotto's goal. Dorsett was hitting everybody when he was out there on the ice tonight, and he's shown a lot more
- The Rangers finished the series 2-for-28 on the power play, which is obviously terrible. I really believe with the way Lundqvist played the Rangers could have won this series in five or six games if they had even an average power play. There's no doubt they'll have to dramatically improve things here heading into the next series against Boston.
- Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto both finished with a game-high plus-3 rating on the night.
- After playing just over nine minutes in last night's game, Brad Richards finished with just 11:12 TOI while centering the fourth line for the second straight day.
- Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers with a team-high five shots on goal and finished the series with one goal and four assists. His goal tonight was the first postseason goal of his career. I admittedly was never the biggest fan of Zucc, but it's ridiculous how much of a different dynamic he's added to this team since coming over from the KHL. Zuccarello's vision and playmaking skills are amongst the best on the team and, as we saw tonight and in just about all of his shootout attempts, he's got such quick hands. To me, he's played his way onto the roster next season already. I think he's been a fantastic addition and I'm willing to eat crow on this one.
That's it for tonight. More to come in the next few days as the Rangers get set to battle (and it will be a battle) the Bruins starting on Thursday. We all get a couple of days off to calm our nerves before doing it all over again. That, however, is a great problem to have versus having to wait until September to see the Rangers on the ice again.
Monday, May 13, 2013
It all comes down to this. The Rangers and Capitals will play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals tonight in Washington to decide who will move on and who will officially begin their offseason come tomorrow. After winning a thrilling Game 6 by a final score of 1-0 last night at the Garden thanks to a phenomenal 27-save shutout from Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers will have to be the first team in this series to win a road game if they want their season to live on. Tonight's Game 7 will be the Rangers' third Game 7 in their last four playoff series' dating back to last year.
Come on - you didn't actually think this team would make any of this easy, did you?
If there's one thing we've learned from this series it's that the Rangers cannot get away with playing the same type of game they have played at home as the one they'll play on the road tonight. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't try. The conservative approach has barely worked in their three victories at home in this series and it has fallen short in all three road losses. Sitting on a one goal lead in your own building with the crowd behind you is one thing, and trying to do it on the road is another. I said before this series started that the Rangers would need to attack and be more aggressive and they simply haven't. If they lose tonight, that will be the story of the series and ultimately what did the Rangers in. I think it's a mistake to go into a conservative dump-the-puck-deep-and-go-for-a-line-change style of play every time they take a lead, and I'm a firm believer that this team needs to be much more aggressive in trying to score that critical put away goal instead of expecting Henrik Lundqvist to be perfect in every game.
Some notes and things to look for in tonight's game:
- With their backs against the wall yesterday, the Rangers came out flying and fired anything and everything at net. I don't expect that same approach tonight. I think the Rangers will once again try and survive the first period and try to chip in an early goal without being overly aggressive. They'll try to weather the storm and let the emotions and intensity level of the Caps and their home crowd die down before they get going, in my opinion.
- The Rangers have managed to score a total of two goals in all three road games in Washington this series.
- Rangers announcer Joe Micheletti said after last night's game that he thinks Rick Nash (no goals, one assist in six games this series) is playing hurt because he isn't showing the same burst to get around defenders that he was earlier this year. It's a fair point, and Micheletti certainly has a lot more insight on what's going on with the Rangers since he sees the team everyday. Nash did suffer a groin injury while playing overseas during the lockout, and also appeared to jam his knee while going hard into the boards in Game 3. The more this series goes along and the more I see Nash struggle the more I tend to agree that he has to be playing hurt. He has way too much talent to be struggling this badly.
- Derick Brassard has obviously been the Rangers' best forward in this series, recording two goals and five assists for seven points in six games. Other forwards of noteworthy performances in this series: Mats Zuccarello (no goals, four assists, plus-2 in six games), Brian Boyle (two goals, one assist, minus-2 in five games), Carl Hagelin (two goals, two assists, plus-3 in six games), Derek Stepan (two goals, zero assists, plus-1 in six games) and Ryan Callahan (zero goals, two assists, plus-1 in six games). The captain has played a good physical series so far, but tonight is where the Rangers need Cally to step up with a clutch offensive performance to move onto the next round.
- It'll be interesting to see if any of the emotion at the end of last night's game will carry over into Game 7. I don't think it will, personally, since this game is too critical for guys to lose their cool and wind up taking mindless penalties, but you never know. The Capitals have definitely shown the most frustration in this series and have taken some dumb penalties, but the Rangers' power play has done nothing to make them pay for it.
- Neither Ryane Clowe or Darroll Powe traveled with the team to Washington, meaning both are obviously out tonight. The speculation is that both players are suffering from concussions.
- No update was given on Marc Staal's status (obviously), but I'd be shocked if he played tonight.
- Both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi played under 25 minutes last night. That means you can expect to see them a lot as the game winds down in the third period. I wouldn't be surprised if both guys finish with over 30 minutes of ice time tonight.
- Brad Richards played just 9:34 in last night's game, including just 5:35 on even strength, which is just stunning. John Tortorella hasn't been afraid to bench Richards, and if he doesn't get things going early tonight I would expect more of the same. Richards skated on the fourth line last night with Arron Asham and Chris Kreider, who both had a little over 4:00 of ice time. Richie has certainly fallen out of favor with Torts recently and it's fair to wonder what the future holds for him after this season.
Not much more needs to be said. Puck drops tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The time for talk is over, and it's time for the Rangers to go out there and show what they've got.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Some quick updates from practice today, courtesy of Andrew Gross on Twitter:
- Rick Nash missed practice today with a "maintenance day." Nash banged up his knee pretty good while attempting a check late in the second period last night and limped off to the dressing room, but he never missed any time. It's likely that he was receiving treatment toady.
- Darroll Powe also missed practice today, but the Rangers offered no update on his condition after he left the game early in the first period of last night's game. The general belief is that he most likely suffered a concussion. Powe, as you recall, missed time earlier this season with a concussion, as well, so they'll likely be extra careful with him no matter what type of head injury he suffered.
- Ryane Clowe (head injury, believed to be concussion), who was rumored to be close to playing yesterday in Game 3 but ultimately sat out and didn't even skate in warmups, skated once again at practice today. Gotta believe it's just a wait-and-see approach with Clowe from here on out to see how he feels after every time he skates.
- A day after skating in his first game since March 5, Marc Staal skated once again today in practice without any limitations. Not a surprise, but still nice to see that he came out of yesterday's game in good shape.
How was that for a nail-biting finish? With a one-goal lead and a 6-on-4 advantage for the Capitals on a power play with their goalie pulled in the final two minutes of the game, the Rangers just barely held on and won a critical Game 3 by a score of 4-3. The Capitals now lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, and now Game 4 on Wednesday night becomes just as important for the Rangers as tonight was.
The Rangers got goals from Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Arron Asham and Derek Stepan.
I'll give the Rangers credit because they never gave up. Every time they scratched and clawed to get back in the game it seemed like the Capitals were able to immediately answer with a goal of their own. The Rangers took the lead three times in the game and eventually it seemed like this was going to be a game they were destined to lose. But then Derek Stepan came through with the biggest postseason moment of his young career, and the Rangers are suddenly back in this series. Those final two minutes were ridiculously nerve-wrecking and I think I gnawed off just about all my fingernails. It was ironically a throwback to last year's Rangers team, where it came down to blocking shots, winning faceoffs and excelling on the penalty kill to win a game.
Of course, as great as this win feels right now, it means nothing if the Rangers don't go out and take Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Every game left is a must-win, and the Rangers can't afford to look at it any differently than that. If they can tie this series up before it heads back to Washington, it's a whole different ballgame and this series is anyone's to take. Right now, the Caps are still in the driver's seat.
For the most part, I really thought the Capitals were the better team. They were far and away the better team on even strength, often possessing the puck for ridiculously long stretches in the Rangers' zone and Henrik Lundqvist had stand his ground to try and get a break in play just to stop the momentum. The Capitals, though, took some really boneheaded penalties that was really the difference in this game. The Rangers really had chance after chance to put this game away earlier, but they were only able to convert once on their six power play opportunities. So, instead, the Caps hung around and hung around. The fact that they spent so much time in the Rangers' zone was especially troubling and made me have a continuously bad feeling about the game. But nevertheless, The King held his court and the Rangers got some timely scoring, ultimately outlasting the Caps tonight.
Some notes/thoughts from tonight's game:
- Before getting to the game itself, it was truly incredible seeing Marc Staal return to the ice for the Rangers tonight. It wasn't too long ago when some thought his career could potentially be over after taking a puck to his right eye in a game against the Flyers, and I think we can all remember how disturbing of a sight it was to see Staal writhing in pain and falling to the Garden ice holding his face when it happened. Well, in a must-win game, Staal returned and truly had to provide an emotional lift to his team just from being in the lineup. Staal finished with 17:17 TOI, which is more than I thought he would get in his first game back, and looked close to his old self. His eyesight in his right eye still hasn't fully returned, and it never might, but it's clear that Staal can still be a dominant defenseman for this team.
- Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby boasted that the Rangers didn't challenge him enough in Game 2 (which I think we all can agree with). Well, tonight they challenged him a whole hell of a lot. The Rangers stormed out of the gate and peppered Holtby with 14 shots on goal in the first period, and ended up with 30 total shots on goal in the game. The Rangers clearly did their homework because they were throwing everything at the net, and it's no coincidence that every one of the Rangers' goals tonight came on high shots.I think we all knew through the first two games it was a case of the Rangers making Holtby look a lot better than he really is considering the quality of their shots really weren't half as good as the ones the Caps were getting. Holtby is a butterfly goalie, and he has trouble with high shots. Hopefully, they remember that come Game 4.
- Alex Ovechkin finished the game with two shots on goal and a minus-1 rating with two penalty minutes tonight. I said before the game how important it would be for the Rangers to have another shutdown defenseman in Staal to help shutdown Ovie, and that was what happened tonight. Ovechkin couldn't get away from the Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi or Marc Staal-Anton Stralman pairings.
- Speaking of Stralman, wow did he have a great game. He delivered a perfectly executed hip check on Ovechkin in the first period and played probably one of his strongest games this year. He was solid, and there's no doubt playing with Marc Staal tonight helped him tremendously.
- By a show of hands, who had it marked down before the game that the Rangers would score four goals tonight and that two of them would come from Brian Boyle and Arron Asham, who had four goals combined in the regular season? I sure didn't. You've gotta give credit to both guys for grinding and being in the right place at the right time. Asham beat Holtby on a perfect shot just underneath the crossbar off of a beautiful feed from Derick Brassard from the corner. Boyle's goal came just at the expiration of a power play when he made a really nice move and fired a shot that just beat Holtby. As much as you need your goal scorers to step up, it always helps when your third and fourth liners chip in, as well.
- Speaking of Arron Asham, it's funny the way things work out. This morning it looked like Asham would be a healthy scratch to make room for Ryane Clowe (head injury) in the lineup, but Clowe missed tonight's game and didn't even take part in warmups, so Asham remained in the lineup. The next thing you know, he has a huge goal for the Rangers in the third period.
- Darroll Powe left the game early in the first period after delivering a hard hit to Joel Ward along the boards. It was hard to see where exactly Powe got hurt, but he was slow getting up and when he finally did make it back to his feet he fell before making it over to the bench. Powe already suffered a concussion earlier this season, and it certainly seems like a real possibility that he suffered another one tonight.
- Rick Nash registered the primary assist on Derek Stepan's goal (a perfect pass, by the way), which was his first point in the playoffs as a Ranger and his first since the 2008-2009 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Overall, Nash now has one goal and three assists in seven career playoff contests. Nash looked to hurt his leg while attempting to deliver a hit late in the second period and limped off to the locker room, but he was fine in the third period and didn't miss any time. I guess it's safe to say he's fine.
- Mats Zuccarello also registered his first career point in the playoffs - an assist on Brassard's goal.
- The Rangers officially went 1-for-6 on the power play, but Brian Boyle's goal came exactly at the two minute mark as one of those power plays expired. So, I guess you could say it was really 2-for-6. Either way, the power play definitely looked a lot more fluid. John Moore, in particular, was shooting every chance he got, which was a nice change from the usual pace.
- Henrik Lundqvist gave up three goals tonight, but man, oh man it could've been a lot worse than that. Lundqvist made several huge stops that could've changed the course of the game, and finished the game with 28 saves overall. Two of the goals he gave up were on deflections that changed direction on him, and the other came off a perfect shot from Mike Green that Lundqvist never saw because he was screened by Taylor Pyatt on the shot.
More to come tomorrow from practice, where hopefully we'll get an update on the statuses of Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Make no mistake about it. Game 3 of tonight's Eastern Quarterfinals matchup against the Washington Capitals is Game 7 for the Rangers - as is every game for the remainder of this series. After losing the first two games of the series in Washington, the Rangers find themselves in a must-win situation and need to win tonight in order to keep their hopes for this season alive. A loss would put them in an insurmountable 3-0 hole. If the Rangers want their season to extend beyond this week, it is vital that they win both of these two games at Madison Square Garden.
Ryane Clowe, who missed the first two games of this series due to what is believed to be a concussion, seems likely to be reinserted into the lineup tonight. Clowe didn't confirm anything to the beat reporters this morning, only saying he's "not sure" if he'll play tonight, but Arron Asham stayed on the ice with the other healthy scratches during this morning's optional practice after Clowe left the ice. That probably wouldn't be the case if Asham was going to play tonight. Marc Staal (eye) also took part in practice this morning, but did not speak to reporters, so his status is unclear. Needless to say, it would be a huge boost to get Clowe and Staal back for tonight, but we'll have to wait and see. If Staal does play, Steve Eminger would likely be scratched to make room for him.
Of course, it doesn't matter who plays tonight if the Rangers can't put the puck in the back of the net. The Rangers are 0-for-7 on the power play in this series and have scored one goal in six periods, including zero in the last five. It no longer matters if the Rangers come out tonight fired up and throwing hard hits - they need to score goals, and score them early. Braden Holtby has not been challenged at all in this series and through the first two games of this series it's been a case of the Rangers making another average goaltender look better than he really is. They need to throw anything and everything at the net and hope they can get bounces to go their way. Passing the puck around a hundred times on the power play isn't going to get it done.
Some of my other thoughts before tonight's game:
- Henrik Lundqvist suffered a stinger when he made a save in yesterday's practice, but he's believed to be fine. There's no way he would sit out tonight's game, obviously. For the Rangers to win, they need a repeat of Henrik Lundqvist's Game 2 performance and not a repeat of Game 1. Unless the Rangers shock everybody and have an offensive explosion tonight where they breakout with a ton of goals, this will likely be another close game in which King Henrik will need to be at his very best in order to keep the Rangers in it.
- I wouldn't be surprised to see Derek Dorsett get some increased ice time tonight, and perhaps even start the game off. I thought he played with a lot of edge to his game and was real physical in his Rangers debut in Game 2. The Rangers could use a spark plug like him to help set the tone early in this game. I also wouldn't be opposed to seeing him get some time on the power play. I don't see how it could hurt to park him in front of the net to screen Holtby.
- If the Rangers are going to win tonight, they will need a big performance out of Rick Nash, who is still looking for his first career victory in the playoffs. Nash hasn't been terrible in these first two games, but he simply needs to score. Getting eight shots on goal is all good and well, but the Rangers need him to start scoring. This team will not survive this series if Nash can't start finding the back of the net.
- As hot of a month as Derek Stepan had in April, he has been ice cold in the first two games of this series. Much like Rick Nash, the Rangers need Stepan to be the elite player he proved to be in April when he was named the third star of the month. The Rangers need their goal-scorers tonight, so this is the time when Stepan needs to prove that he can be relied on as a key part of this team's offense when they need him the most.
- Speaking of offensive players stepping up, I can't help but think that if tonight's game is close that this might be a game where Brad Richards breaks out. We all remember his heroics in the playoffs last year, specifically against the Caps, and he has a knack for this kind of thing. I wouldn't be surprised to see Richards come up with a big goal or a big play tonight for the Rangers.
- I think the Rangers have desperately missed Marc Staal in this series. They've basically had two defensemen in Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh who John Tortorella feels comfortable relying on to shutdown the Capitals, and that simply isn't enough with the offensive firepower that they have. Outside of McDonagh and Girardi, who both haven't exactly had stellar series' so far, the Rangers have been forced to role with four defensemen who ideally would be fifth and sixth defensemen if the Rangers had it their way. Anton Stralman and John Moore haven't been terrible in this series, but they have been asked to play over their heads. Getting Staal back would be a huge boost to help shutdown the Capitals' offense.
Friday, May 3, 2013
The Rangers dropped last night's Game 1 contest to the Washington Capitals 3-1 and now find themselves in an 0-1 hole heading into Game 2 tomorrow of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, the Capitals scored three unanswered goals and the Rangers were never really able to find their game. Their top offensive guns, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, failed to generate much of anything, and the team fell apart in the second period when the Capitals scored two goals in a span of 46 seconds.
To be honest, I really don't think the Rangers played well at all at any point in last night's game. They were obviously ridiculously lucky to get out of the first period with a lead, and it pretty much all went downhill after that. They got off to a terrible start, which I said in my three keys to getting a win last night was a major no-no, and played like a team that was totally unprepared for the Capitals' offense. The Capitals were firing anything and everything on Henrik Lundqvist last night, and it ultimately paid off when their third goal came off a ridiculously bad angle shot that Lundqvist simply has to stop. The Rangers, on the other hand, never played with any offensive game plan until the score became 3-1, and at that point the game seemed like it was totally out of reach with the way the Rangers looked last night.
The first period last night wasn't necessarily good, but it was what I expected. I thought it was vitally important for the Rangers to survive the first period and just get into the first intermission scoreless. Turns out, they did one better and somehow came out of the first with a 1-0 lead despite the Capitals dictating play and out-shooting the Rangers 14-8 in the period. That being said, I never felt comfortable with the way the Rangers looked. It's one thing to play a conservative first period on the road to wait for the energy of the home crowd to die down, and it's another to play a conservative first period because you're taking boneheaded penalties and look lost on the ice. The Rangers just could not generate any momentum last night and seemed to spend way too much time in their own zone.
- Before I get to the action of the game itself, I have to bring up the fact that the officiating was absolutely abysmal last night. The always-incompetent NHL refs called an uneven game that the Rangers came out on the wrong end of, as always seems the case. The charging call on Arron Asham that resulted in the Capitals' first goal was a total joke, as was the roughing call on Ryan Callahan at 10:44 of the second period. Callahan was cross-checked four or five times directly in front of the referee's eyesight in front of the net by John Erskine and the only call that was made on that sequence was somehow on Callahan. I guess getting cross-checked constitutes as a roughing minor in the NHL's world. On the Capitals' third goal, Anton Stralman was hooked to the point that he was spun around and lost the puck. And, of course, the referees failed to overturn what should have been the Rangers' second goal late in the third period on a shot from John Moore that would've been physically impossible for Holtby to keep out of the net considering how deep he was playing and reached behind him over the goal line to try and grab the puck. Not much more needs to be said. I fully expect the Rangers to get the short end of the stick every time out, but it's still frustrating to see a playoff game called so poorly time and time again with nothing being done to try and make sure it doesn't happen again.
- The biggest culprit for the Rangers' Game 1 loss was, without a doubt, the power play. The Rangers had a 5-on-3 man advantage for 56 seconds in the second period after the Capitals took a two-goal lead and went 0-for-5 on the power play overall with eight shots on goal. Even on goal would've completely changed the flow of the game. It was basically everything we've come to expect from a Rangers power play - too many guys standing around, too much passing and not enough shots. It seemed like most shots the Rangers did take were either wide or blocked. You simply cannot afford to let those types of opportunities come and go without taking advantage of them, and that's exactly what the Rangers did. A power play goal on the 5-on-3, in my opinion, would have changed the outcome of the game. The Rangers were playing like a team with no confidence, and a big goal would've definitely helped them with that.
- Carl Hagelin was, obviously, the only Ranger who did pretty much anything last night. His goal came with a bit of luck, as it deflected off John Erskine's skate during a wrap-around attempt, but it was a perfect example of what Hagelin brings to the table with his speed. He was making things happen all night, which is more than can be said for any other Ranger. It probably would've made sense to give him some power play time given how well he was playing, but for some reason John Tortorella thought otherwise. Unfortunately, I think the turning point of the game came when Hagelin failed to convert on a short-handed breakaway. A goal there would've put the Rangers up 2-0 and in the driver's seat, but Holtby just got a piece of Hagelin's shot to steer it wide and off the glass. Would've liked to have seen a different move from Hags there, but it is what it is.
- Rick Nash attempted 16 shots last night, with eight of them being registered on goal. For the most part he really didn't have a good game and wasn't noticeable, but I blame that more on the fact that the Rangers didn't consistently generate any offense until the game was out of reach. The Rangers will need Nash to carry the offense this series if they want to advance and they'll need to come up with a better game plan to put more pressure on the Capitals in their zone come Game 2.
- With Marc Staal out, the Rangers need Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to pretty much play a flawless series as the anchor on their defense. That wasn't the case last night. The Caps' second goal came when McDonagh and Girardi both got caught sleeping in the neutral zone and left Marcus Johansson alone in the middle of the ice to get free for a breakaway. McDonagh also took a holding penalty (still don't know how that was a hold) late in the first period because the puck got by him while he was trying to chip the puck deep in the neutral zone.
- Chris Kreider finished with 8:23 TOI with no power play time despite technically playing on the Rangers' third line. I truly don't understand why he isn't getting a better opportunity, but I'm resigned to the fact that Torts just does not trust this kid this year under any circumstances for whatever reason. If and when Ryane Clowe and Derek Dorsett are ready to return to the lineup both Kreider and Kris Newbury have to be the odd men out. If Torts isn't going to try and give the kid more ice time when this team is starved for offense, why even play him?
- Speaking of Clowe and Dorsett, I really hope they are ready to join the lineup for Game 2. The Rangers noticeably lacked an edge to their game last night and I think having a guy who could bang bodies and deliver some hits might have changed the momentum in the game a bit. At the worst, at least it would've put a hurting on some players on the Caps, who had no problem roughing up the Rangers any chance they got.
- Dan Girardi led all skaters with 29:00 TOI. The Rangers desperately need Marc Staal to come back to help pick up the heavy load of minutes Giradi and McDonagh have had to carry in his absence.
- Derek Stepan failed to record a point last night and now has one goal and nine assists in 26 career playoff games.
- Some good news from practice today: Ryane Clowe (undisclosed, but presumably a head injury) and Derek Dorsett (fractured clavicle) both participated in practice today. Clowe, wearing a non-contact jersey, didn't rule himself out of Game 2 tomorrow, but he also didn't give a definitive answer as to whether or not he thinks he'll be cleared by the Rangers' medical staff for contact in time for tomorrow's game. Dorsett practiced fully and was cleared for contact for the first time since being acquired by the Rangers on April 3. Brian Boyle (right knee) also skated on his own after taking part in yesterday's optional practice, and Marc Staal (right eye) skated in a red jersey just like all the other defensemen. It would certainly be a gigantic boost to the team to get any of those guys back any time soon. If I had to guess, it seems like Dorsett is the closest to returning (I guess I should say debuting?) out of the four.
Friday, April 26, 2013
The Rangers' race to the Stanley Cup playoffs finally culminated in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win last night against the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to the overtime heroics of, who else, but captain Ryan Callahan. After watching Carolina dominate most of the play in the Rangers' zone in overtime, Captain Cally roofed a wrist shot just under the cross bar streaking down the left wing to beat Dan Ellis. The Captain delivered a clutch performance when his team needed him the most, and his overtime celebration was absolutely priceless.
With the Rangers winning last night and the Islanders losing, the Rangers moved into seventh place in the conference. Depending on what happens the rest of the way with other teams, the Rangers could finish the regular season as high as sixth in the standings or as low as eighth. Their first round opponent will either be the Penguins, Bruins, Capitals or Canadiens, and the Rangers will obviously be opening the playoffs on the road no matter who they play. The Winnipeg Jets have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, and as it turns out they would have been eliminated even if the Rangers lost because the Jets wound up losing to the Canadiens later on in the night.
The game, like the Rangers' entire season, was far from easy and felt like it would be an incredibly frustrating loss until Brad Richards' power play goal that bounced off the boards and went in the net after Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis accidentally kicked it into his own net. I have to admit, after seeing the way the Rangers lost to the Panthers just two days earlier, this game had an eerily similar feeling and I was convinced that the Rangers were going to find themselves in a position where they had to beat the Devils on Saturday to be able to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed (the Jets' loss to the Canadiens wasn't final at the time the Rangers won). Thankfully, it didn't come to that. That doesn't change the fact, however, that for a majority of this game it seemed like this was going to be a frustrating loss where the Rangers outperformed their opponent in nearly every category in the boxscore, but still couldn't win. The team got off to a great start with two goals in the first period, but their play noticeably slipped in the second period and they let the Hurricanes back into the game with two goals in the second period and another quick one to start the third. I also thought the Rangers were out-chanced and outplayed for pretty much the entire overtime period until Ryan Callahan's goal.
But what does that matter? Nothing because the bottom line is the Rangers got the win and they're going to the playoffs. When they needed a big play and a big goal, their team leaders Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan stepped up and delivered in a big way.
Some notes and observations from the game:
- D-Step continued his torrid pace in April (seven goals, 10 assists for 17 points in 13 games) with a goal and an assist and overtook Rick Nash for the team lead in points (42 points in 47 games). To say that Derek Stepan has blossomed this season would be an understatement. The kid has become one of the most dynamic players on the Rangers and has left no debate that he is the team's No. 1 center. Something that I didn't realize when looking at Stepan's stats today is that he has a plus-minus rating of 23, which is sixth best in the entire league. That's a pretty telling stat when you consider that Stepan has been a top-six player all year long while getting top minutes on the team's power play and penalty killing units.
- Derick Brassard potted a goal last night and now has 11 points in 12 games with the Rangers since coming over in the Marian Gaborik trade. I wasn't originally sure of what to expect from the kid when the Rangers first got him, but he's been an awesome addition and I keep forgetting that he's only 25 years old, too.
- Brad Richards extended his point-streak to five games and has put up five goals and four assists for nine points in that span. Overall, in April he has posted 16 points in 13 games and has raised his points total on the season to a respectable 32 in 45 games. Richie's game has absolutely elevated since the trade deadline and the team made some major shakeups that included dealing Marian Gaborik to Columbus. Is it a coincidence? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. All I know is Richards has returned to form and looked like the player he was one year ago. I never wrote him off as being done the way others have at times this year, so it's nice to see my faith in him is finally paying off.
- Ryan Callahan extended his point-streak to six games with a goal and an assist last night, registering four goals and five assists during that span. Captain Cally led all forwards in the game with 26:17 TOI and led all skaters with 6 shots on goal.
- Taylor Pyatt extended his point-streak to five games (!!) with an assist last night and now has two goals and three assists for five points during that span. Pyatt has stepped up in a big way playing on the third line since Brian Boyle's knee injury, and if the Rangers can continue to get some secondary scoring out of him that would be just grand going into the playoffs.
- Matt Gilroy appeared in his first game since March 12th, and dressed as an emergency fourth forward because Arron Asham missed the game to be with his wife, who was going into labor. Gilroy took two awful tripping penalties in the game - the second of which led to a Hurricanes power play goal - and I don't think he saw the ice at all after his second penalty. He registered just 3:15 TOI, which was a game-low for anybody on either team. It's really a tough spot for Gilroy to be in, so I kind of feel for him a little bit. He was playing his first game in over a month and was it wasn't even at his natural position.
- Ryane Clowe left last night's game in the second period after taking an elbow to his head while battling for the puck along the boards on a Rangers power play and did not return to the game. He looked noticeably dazed after it happened and needed to be helped off the ice to the locker room during the next TV timeout following the hit. Clowe did not participate in practice today and the Rangers recalled forward Kris Newbury from the Connecticut Whale (AHL), which I don't take as a good sign at all. I hate to speculate, but at this point all signs point to it being a concussion, which would be a big blow to the team. Clowe isn't the flashiest player, but he's emerged as a locker room leader and brings an element of toughness and character that the Rangers previously lacked all year long until they acquired him. Either way, I don't expect John Tortorella to give any updates on his condition moving forward since the Rangers are even more tight-lipped than usual when it comes to their players' health during the playoffs.
- Despite Ryane Clowe exiting the game in the second period and not returning, Chris Kreider registered just 7:05 TOI with no power play time despite being moved up to the third line in the third period. I really don't understand what the point is of having Kreider in the lineup getting under 10 minutes a game, but I've said all I can about it at this point. All we can hope is that he takes this season as a learning experience and gives John Tortorella a reason to trust him with a bigger role next season.
- Speaking of John Tortorella, with the Rangers clinching a playoff birth I have to believe that eliminated any possibility of Torts getting fired after the season. I never thought there was much of a chance that Glen Sather would fire him anyway, but still. I'd say it's almost a 100-percent certainty Tortorella will return next season, and I'd be absolutely stunned if he doesn't considering how loyal Slats is to his coaches. Mike Sullivan, on the other hand, is another case that I hope the Rangers will review following the season.
- Rick Nash was pretty much a surprising non-factor last night, registering only two shots on goal and finishing with a minus-1 rating, and is in a small slump. In his last three games Nash has failed to record a point, registering a minus-2 rating with eight shots on goal. All I can say is get it all out of your system now, Nasher, so you can be at your best come Game 1 of the playoffs.
- The Rangers out-shot the Hurricanes 38-21. The Rangers out-shot them in the second and third periods by a combined total of 28-6.
- Despite the Rangers clinching the playoffs last night, Henrik Lundqvist said following the game that he would like to play in Saturday's regular season finale against the Devils. The game isn't completely meaningless since the Rangers could still move up in the standings, so I think there's a real shot that Lundqvist will start tomorrow at the Garden. Might as well give The King the start if he really wants it when you consider the fact that the Rangers won't be in action after tomorrow until Tuesday or Wednesday. He'll get a nice break either way.
That's it for today. The Rangers will be back at it tomorrow night against the Devils from the Garden. We should learn much more about the playoff seeding and all that by tomorrow night.