Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rangers Lose Game 5 To Ottawa, Face Do Or Die Game 6 Monday

It all comes down to this. The Rangers dropped a pivotal Game 5 at Madison Square Garden last night to the Ottawa Senators by a score of 2-0 and now trail the series 3-2. The Rangers will need to string together a two-game winning streak starting tomorrow night in Ottawa to avoid an early and disappointing first-round exit for the second consecutive season.

Not only did the Rangers lose the game, but they also lost one of their team leaders, their best penalty killer and their leading goal-scorer in the playoffs in Brian Boyle. Boyle took a dirty hit from Chris Neil, who delivered a shoulder to Boyle's head out in the open ice, and Boyle immediately had trouble getting off the ice. John Tortorella revealed after the game that Boyle is out indefinitely with a concussion. Of course, there was no penalty called on the play, and the NHL announced today that Neil will face no discipline for the hit that may have ended Brian Boyle's season. Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan have turned the NHL's disciplinary policy into a flat out joke, and the fact of the matter is that both men should be out of jobs, not that there's any chance that'll happen.

It's impossible to predict if and when the Rangers can expect Boyle back this season, but for right now they'll have to play as if he won't be back for the remainder of the postseason. We've seen what happened with Michael Sauer and Marc Staal, so it's anybody's guess how long Boyle will be out since everybody's body responds differently to concussions. It's a shame that Boyle's breakout performance in the playoffs will likely end because of a cheap shot from one of the dirtiest players in the league.

Watching the Rangers for as long as I have, including rarely missing a game the past several years, this just felt like one of those games where the team just wasn't going to score right from the first period. I was hoping I was wrong, but it was just my gut feeling. I've seen this movie way too many times when the Rangers vastly outplay their opponent right from early in the game and they don't come out of the first period with a lead. That was the case last night. The Rangers out-shot the Senators 14-9 in the first period and also had three power plays, yet they went in to the first intermission trailing 1-0. I'll give Craig Anderson credit, because a 41-save shutout is nothing to scoff at, but I'll tell you I can't remember how many shots the Rangers had that were directly into the middle of Anderson's chest. Even Ryan Callahan's breakaway in the third period, I felt, was a terrible effort on his part when he fluttered a weak backhander and barely made Anderson work to make the save.

One of the biggest problems with the Rangers the past several games, in addition to their putrid offense and power play, has been their willingness to let the Senators bully them around. Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust have done nothing in this series to protect their teammates when Brian Boyle got jumped by Matt Carkner or any of the other several dirty cheap shots that the Senators have thrown at the Rangers in this series since Game 2. It's not up to Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards to go out there and get into a pushing and shoving match after the whistle; this is the territory of Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust. I don't know if John Tortorella has discouraged these guys from dropping the gloves or what, but they need to show a hell of a lot more fight than they have. The Rangers have allowed the Senators to physically dominate them and they haven't been willing to stand up to the Carkners and Neils when it's been called for. If the Rangers aren't going to make Ottawa pay for their cheap shots by scoring on the power play, they need to physically respond, plain and simple.

The goal Henrik Lundqvist gave up was awful, in my opinion, but you can't possibly fault any of these last two games on him. The fact of the matter is that you're not going to win any games when you don't score a goal, or when you try and sit on a two-goal lead without sustaining any offensive pressure the way the Rangers did in Game 4. Lundqvist has done everything he can to win this series, and if the Rangers had any other goaltender in net chances are they would've lost this series already. Yes, the overtime goal he gave up was weak, too, but again, when you play a majority of the game in your own zone you're not going to win. It's really as simple as that; the Rangers have not done nearly enough offensively in this series.

Speaking of doing nothing offensively, the power play has been absolutely abysmal. It's reached a point where I truly don't even know what the Rangers need to do to fix it because it seems like no matter what they do or what personnel they have it doesn't get any better. If they had even an average middle-of-the-pack type of power play that would be a vast upgrade over what they have now. The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play overall last night, and haven't scored since the first period of Game 4 in Ottawa.

If the Rangers are going to get back in this series, they need their offensive guns to step up big. Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik need to be way more of a force when they have the puck, and maybe that'll change with the return of Carl Hagelin tomorrow night now that he's finished serving his ridiculous three-game suspension. Brandon Dubinsky needs to do something to prove he deserves a spot on this team as a top six forward. The missed opportunities were frustrating at first, but it's gone on too long now and it's time for him to just score a goal. Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan, too, have done nothing for way too long now and need to provide secondary scoring if they're to be considered top six forwards on this team.

As far as lineup changes for tomorrow night, nothing will be confirmed until game-time. The obvious quick fix is to just swap Brian Boyle's spot in the lineup with Carl Hagelin, but it's possible John Tortorella may also opt to insert John Scott into the lineup for Chris Kreider if he wants to add some toughness to the lineup that'll be lost in Boyle's absence. But in a game where the Rangers will need all the offense they can get, I tend to think Torts will stick with Kreider in the lineup and hope he can find his offensive game.

Here's my guess on the forward lines for tomorrow:

Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko-Artem Anisimov-Brandon Prust
Chris Kreider-John Mitchell-Mike Rupp

Bottom line is that it's put up or shut up time for the Rangers. Their season comes down to needing a win tomorrow night in Ottawa to avoid a devastating quick ending to what looked for a long time to be such a promising hockey season. The Rangers have done a good job all year long responding when their backs are up against the wall, and they'll need to once again. Gotta keep the faith and hope they can live to see another day with a win tomorrow.


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