Friday, April 13, 2012

Rangers Defeat Senators 4-2, Lead Series 1-0

One down, 15 to go. The Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators by a score of 4-2 tonight to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and were led in large part thanks to the efforts of Henrik Lundqvist, who made 30 saves, and Ryan Callahan, who had a goal and a game-high seven hits on the night.

Despite the Rangers heading into the first intermission up 1-0 after Ryan Callahan opened the scoring at 12:01 in the first period, they never really controlled the flow of the game until midway through the second period. The Rangers were out-shot 13-8 in the first period, and the game very well could've taken a turn for the worse if not for Henrik Lundqvist's brilliance in net yet again and a game that proved why Ryan Callahan is the captain of this hockey team.

Click below to read more notes and my thoughts on tonight's game.

Henrik Lundqvist really needed a strong outing tonight, and he went out and had just that. I'll admit that I was a little bit concerned about Lundqvist coming into this game after his play had tallied off within the last month or so of the season. And the way he ended the season in the blowout loss to the Capitals certainly didn't help ease my mind, either. But the King was the King once again and was back playing to the level he was at for most of the season. Right from the first period, I just felt like there was a different look of focus and intensity in the way Lundqvist was playing. His positioning was fantastic all night long and he just seemed to be locked into every single shot he faced. The two goals he got beat on weren't his fault - one came on a deflection right in front and the other came on a 2-on-1 that he had no chance on - and after the first period I honestly felt like this might be one of those games where Lundqvist wasn't going to be denied a win. This is the Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers need to have for the playoffs if they want to make a deep run, and he certainly got off to a great start.

Ryan Callahan's night shouldn't be overlooked. He was the second star of the game and wore the Broadway Hat after the game, and played like every bit of the captain he is. The goal he scored was a typical Ryan Callahan goal that came in front of the net after doing all the dirty work and taking a pounding by trying to screen Craig Anderson, and Cally threw some of the hardest and most intense hits I've ever seen him throw in his entire career tonight. He was everywhere and was hellbent on setting a tone early. He went out there and did exactly what the Rangers needed by showing the Senators this was the way the Rangers were going to play and they weren't backing down. Much like Lundqvist, I just felt like Callahan had that look tonight that he was going to do absolutely everything in his power to win this game. That's what a team captain does, folks, and that's why Cally is the unquestioned leader of this team.

As he has most of the season, John Tortorella leaned heavily on his top four defensemen for much of the game. Dan Girardi (26:42 TOI), Ryan McDonagh (25:04), Marc Staal (23:06) and Michael Del Zotto (20:!4) were outstanding and played a large part in the 20 blocked shots that the Rangers had tonight. They were physical and for the most part excellent in their defensive positioning, with the exception of Staal's gaff that led to Ottawa's second goal of the game when he got burned after moving up to make a play at the blueline. Lundqvist, as I said, was phenomenal in goal, but credit has to be given to the Rangers' defensive core that battled all night long to make sure Lundqvist was able to see the shots he faced and clear loose rebounds away from Ottawa players around the net.

Brian Boyle, who scored a goal to make it 3-0 right after the power play expired in the second period on a beautiful wrist shot that was perfectly placed just under the crossbar, now has six goals in his last 10 games and is officially on a scoring streak. We all know Boyle obviously struggled to score for much of the season after he put up 22 goals last year and got a new contract from it, but I have to give the guy credit where it's due. He goes out there every night and lays it all on the line throwing hits, winning key faceoffs, blocking shots, and he still worked his butt off to find his scoring touch once again. He's certainly gotten it back at the right time of the season, and it would be huge for the Rangers if Boyle can become another secondary scoring weapon on this team going forward.

Brad Richards had a game-high six shots on goal, and after a quiet first period he really got things going on his line with Carl Hagelin and Marian Gaborik in the second period. Richards' goal in the third period (which came off a beautiful feed from behind the net by Carl Hagelin, who had another strong game tonight) made the score 4-0 and pretty much sealed the deal for the Rangers. He's been every bit the player the Rangers thought they were getting for several weeks now, and he stepped up big when the Rangers needed a goal to put this game away. I think Richards will be a key to this series for the Rangers, and he just always seems to be in the right place at the right time when the Rangers need a big goal or a big play in the offensive zone.

Like Richards, Marian Gaborik (four shots) was seemingly invisible in the first period, but really started to midway in the second period when the game started to tilt in the Rangers' favor. He could've had another goal or two if not for some nice plays by Craig Anderson in goal. The Rangers will obviously rely on their top line to do most of the scoring for them throughout the playoffs, and tonight they answered the call. I really feel like Gaby needs to have a strong postseason and prove that he can carry over the regular season success he's had in New York into the playoffs to be the big-time player the Rangers need him to be.

You can read the boxscore to the game here.

The Rangers are off tomorrow before playing Game 2 on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Even though John Mitchell played only 4:59 tonight, I wouldn't expect any lineup changes since the Rangers won Game 1. That means Chris Kreider will likely have to wait at least another game before we get to see him make his Rangers debut.

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