So, it all comes down to this. Tonight's Game 7 will determine whether the Rangers' 2011-2012 season will continue to the next round, where they would play the Washington Capitals, or whether the Rangers are sent home early once again.
Ryan Callahan told the media he's "fine" for tonight's game after blocking a shot off his middle finger in Game 6. Callahan didn't miss a shift, but was in considerable pain on the bench when he was having his finger looked at. He was also given the day off yesterday for maintenance, but there was never any real doubt that Cally would play tonight. With the Rangers' season on the line there was little to no chance that their team captain would miss the game because of his finger.
John Tortorella will presumably dress the same lines as Game 6, meaning Brian Boyle will remain out with a concussion. Boyle reportedly did workout a bit in the weight room at the Rangers' practice facility this morning, but he hasn't skated since he suffered a concussion at the hands of a cheap shot from Chris Neil in Game 5.
The Rangers are saying all the right things heading into Game 7. Torts and his players have refused to comment on the Senators' controversial third period goal in Game 6, nor did they get into a war of words after Chris Neil insinuated that he could be out for payback on Michael Del Zotto after Del Zotto's hit left Neil dazed for a few minutes in Game 6. Brad Richards' veteran presence, in particular, seems to be a big plus for the Rangers and easing some nerves. The guy basically has ice water in his veins, and insisted today that the Rangers just have to keep their cool, stick to playing their game, and not to let the pressures of a Game 7 get to them.
Here are my keys to Game 7 and what the Rangers must do to pull out the victory:
1. Keep the front of the net clear. This one is the most important. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have done a great job of clearing the crease so that Henrik Lundqvist can see most of Ottawa's shots from the point. Last night, Ottawa's first goal came because Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal did absolutely nothing to clear the front of the net, and Chris Neil was standing directly in front of Lundqvist as a result. If Lundqvist can see it, chances are he'll stop it. If the Rangers can manage to give Neil some good shots when he tries to head to the net he might get frustrated and try to take a stupid penalty, which would obviously benefit the Rangers. That's assuming, though, that the referees are competent enough to make the right calls against Ottawa, though, when they need to be made, unlike in Game 6.
2. Fire away at Craig Anderson. The Rangers showed themselves that Craig Anderson is beatable in Game 6, and they'll need to continue to capitalize on that confidence they built as a team. Even though Anderson is a veteran goaltender, he's never won a playoff series. If the Rangers can get off to a fast start and grab an early lead with the Garden rocking they might be able to rattle Anderson a bit. But that's not going to happen if the Rangers sit back and don't get any sustained offensive pressure going. If they have a shot opportunity they have to take it. And the Rangers should not deviate from this approach even if they jump out to an early lead in the game. They did that in Game 5 and blew the game, in my opinion, because they spent the second and third periods playing back in their own zone trying to protect a slim lead. The Rangers need to be aggressive with their shots like they were in Game 6 and make sure their offense doesn't go long stretches without doing anything.
3. Give Chris Kreider more ice time. Kreider was the Rangers' best forward on the ice in Game 6 and was rewarded with more ice time late in the game. If he comes out flying like last game, John Tortorella needs to get him more involved. Kreider specifically should be seeing power play time over John Mitchell, who has done nothing to warrant any power play time, much less a spot in the lineup, in this series.
4. Get Marian Gaborik more involved. This will be easier to do since the Rangers have the last line change at home, and John Tortorella will be able to try and take advantage of mismatches depending on who the Senators have on the ice at any given time. Gaborik needs to get going, plain and simple, and that's only going to happen by increasing his ice time. I also would like to see Gaborik double-shifted in place of Mitchell, Mike Rupp or Ruslan Fedotenko if the Rangers are trying to get something going offensively over the course of the game.
5. Don't panic! This is the most important key to me, and it's actually pretty simple. The Rangers hold all the cards and don't need to deviate from who they are. They're coming off of an emotional win, Game 7 is in their building, and now is the time to prove why they were the No. 1 seed in the East. The Rangers already survived one elimination game, so I think they have an advantage in knowing what to expect heading into a Game 7 versus a fairly young Ottawa Senators team. The Rangers need to stay focused on blocking shots and playing physical without crossing the line and taking stupid penalties, which they've been good at for the most part in this series. If the Rangers play the same type of game they played in Game 6, get their power play going, and get some secondary scoring, they should win this game.