Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rangers Defeat Senators 1-0, Take 2-1 Series Lead

In what might have been the finest moment of his postseason career thus far, Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 39 shots he faced tonight as the Rangers beat the Ottawa Senators in a 1-0 thriller. The only goal of the game came at 7:35 of the third period when the red-hot Brian Boyle backhanded the puck right past Craig Anderson after a lively bounce off the boards that came right back in front of Ottawa's net.

Henrik Lundqvist was in absolute beast mode tonight. His 39 saves earned Lundqvist his 17 career postseason win, which moves him past John Davidson for the franchise record in playoff victories. His fourth career playoff shutout also tied him with Mike Richter and Dave Kerr for the franchise lead in playoff shutouts. I bet those stats make you feel old, huh? He made a series of phenomenal saves with the game on the line, including two unreal saves in the final minute, the second of which I still have no idea how he stopped. This might've been Lundqvist's best game of his postseason career. at least in my opinion, and it was one of those nights you could tell Lundqvist was just locked in from the very beginning.

Click below to read more on the game, including Brian Boyle's huge game and Chris Kreider's NHL debut.

Brian Boyle was absolutely outstanding tonight. He had a game-high five shots on goal and recorded his third goal of the playoffs (second game-winner), which now gives him eight goals in his last 12 games. Talk about being on fire. In addition to all his usual fantastic work defensively, he also drew a slashing penalty late in the third period when he found himself on a breakaway shorthanded, and he also sprung Ryan Callahan on a breakaway as he was coming out of the penalty box with a beautiful pass, although Cally wasn't able to score.The Ottawa fans booed Boyle every time he touched the puck and were chanting his name in a singsong manner. Boyle had a great quote after the game that tells you all you need to know about his confidence level right now, when he said, "If I'm a villain to them, that's good."

Surprisingly, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson didn't play in tonight's game. After he supposedly suffered a concussion on Saturday, passed a baseline test on Sunday and fully participated in practice on Monday morning it seemed like a lock he would be in the lineup tonight, so much so that I openly questioned if the Senators embellished his injury to get Brendan Shanahan to handout an even harsher suspension to Carl Hagelin, but I guess that wasn't the case. It's been a pretty weird string of events surrounding Alfredsson the past few days, so I truly have no idea if we'll see him back in the lineup for Game 4.

The game as a whole was much less chippy than Game 2, which I expected. Game 4 might be a different story, especially if Ottawa dresses Matt Carkner after he served his slap-on-the-wrist one game suspension tonight. I do think, though, that the Rangers will be much better prepared for that kind of game than they were in Game 2 if that's what Ottawa tries to throw at them.

In his first career NHL game, Chris Kreider skated on the top line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. How's that for having confidence in the kid? Kreider finished with 11:11 of ice time and had one shot and one hit. He very nearly scored a goal late in the second period when he drove hard to the net and a loose puck just got by him. Kreider said after the game that he was so excited, which was why he just wasn't able to convert on the opportunity. Totally understandable. John Tortorella benched Kreider and had Derek Stepan skating in his place on the top line late in the game after the Rangers took the lead so that Kreider could get a good look from the bench at how the Rangers were playing with the lead and sort of let things settle down and come to him.

Overall, I thought Kreider showed a lot of good things in his first career game. He was noticeably tired at some points as the game went on, which is to be expected. Kreider just finished his college season and isn't used to playing hockey at this time of the year, plus he hasn't had a chance to get in shape for the type of system John Tortorella runs. The rest of this postseason is really a trial run for Kreider, and it's really not fair to judge him until he's had a full offseason to prepare for an NHL season and goes through a John Tortorella Training Camp. There's no doubt the raw skills are there, however, and his burst of speed was evident right from his very first shift.

By now we've all praised the solid defensive play of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto to the point that we've almost gotten used to what they do on a nightly basis. But I think tonight Anton Stralman deserves a lot of credit for his play, too. He played a tough physical game and made a fantastic play to break up a 2-on-1 late in the third period. Stralman went from looking like a complete and utter disaster in his first game as a Ranger back in November to really turning into a solid third-pairing defenseman. I've really been impressed with Stralman's play overall the last few months, and he was especially good tonight.

Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik were especially quiet tonight (they combined for just three shots on goal), and I think Carl Hagelin's absence had a lot to do with it. They didn't look nearly as explosive and clearly were missing that speed and work along the boards that Hagelin brings to the table when he's playing on that line. It'll be interesting to see if John Tortorella sticks with Chris Kreider on the top line or if he maybe mixes some things up to try and get that top line going in Game 4.

You can read the boxscore from Game 3 here.

Finally, one last interesting note. Chris Kreider said after the game that he knew as of last night that he'd be playing in today's game. If you recall, about a half hour before game-time reports were swirling that Kreider would be a healthy scratch and John Scott would be in the lineup, and then at about 7:25 p.m. news leaked out that Kreider would in fact be making his NHL debut. I said at the time that it seemed like a ploy tactic by John Tortorella to throw off the Senators, and it looks like that's exactly what it was. So, props to Torts on that.

Game 4 is Wednesday at 7 p.m., when the Rangers will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead and take the series back to New York.

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