Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rangers Set For Game 2 Wednesday Night Versus Devils

After taking a 1-0 series lead in last night's 3-0 victory over the Devils at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will look to do something they haven't done all postseason long on Wednesday night, and that's go up by two games in a series. So far in the playoffs the Rangers are 3-0 in Game 1 and 0-2 in Game 2. A win tomorrow night obviously wouldn't guarantee a series victory, but it sure would make things a lot easier for the Rangers to take the first two games of the series at home.

Click below to read more on my thoughts of last night's game, and what the Rangers will have to do to pull out a victory in Game 2.

I was at the game last night sitting in section 413, and it was my first time attending a Rangers playoff game since they swept the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2006-2007 season. Let me tell you that even though my seats were in the most upper nosebleeds section possible, there is nothing like being amongst your own fans at home for a playoff game. It's something I really wish every die-hard Rangers fan could experience at least once. I had to shell out a lot for tickets last night, but I'd still do it all over again if given the opportunity. The crowd was absolutely rocking and there was just a real sense of energy in the building all night long.

One thing I got to see last night that really doesn't show up on TV is just how much punishment guys like Ruslan Fedotenko takes. I know he hasn't scored at all in the playoffs, but there's no doubt this guy is extremely important to the identity of this team. He's out there throwing hits, taking hard hits and going down to block shots every chance he gets. It's just crazy seeing a role player like Feds going out there and laying it all on the line. I originally thought he would be one and done with the Rangers, but after his performance this season I wouldn't be surprised if John Tortorella pushes for him to be brought back next season. His defensive awareness is just outstanding and he always seems to make the smart and safe plays when he's out there on the ice.

It's crazy how popular Chris Kreider is already amongst Rangers fans. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Kreider t-shirts and jerseys I saw in the crowd last night, and when he scored the second goal the crowd really got a sense for the first time that the Rangers were going to win the game. I, along with many others, was a big advocate of giving Kreider more minutes following his three-game benching in the Washington series because the kid has shown already that he's just such a dangerous player when he's given more ice time. His speed setup Dan Girardi's goal in the third period, and it was nice to finally see Kreider get some power play time last night. His release on the shot that beat Brodeur low, glove-side was ridiculously quick.

I thought Dan Girardi was pretty awful until the third period last night, much like the entire Rangers team sans Henrik Lundqvist. Girardi had two awful giveaways that Ryan McDonagh had to come back to bail him out on, but Girardi's goal in the third period to open the scoring in the game seemed to really re-energize the entire team. I didn't think the Rangers looked tired in the first two periods; it was more of them having trouble adjusting to the Devils' forechecking pressure. The puck was kept deep in the Rangers' zone for huge blocks of time in the first and second periods, and even when the Rangers were able to clear the zone to center ice the Devils just threw the puck right back in the zone a few times. I'll give a lot of credit to John Tortorella and his coaching staff for making the necessary adjustments heading into the third period.

The Rangers were clearly outplayed in the first two periods, and I even said on Twitter that if the Rangers could come out strong in the third period and pull out a victory it would be a steal to get Game 1. They wound up doing just that, thanks in large part to Henrik Lundqvist, who made several outstanding saves to keep the Rangers in the game when the Devils had the puck deep in the Rangers' zone. I thought the turning point in the game was when Lundqvist made those three consecutive saves short-handed after Anton Stralman lost the puck behind the Rangers' net. If the Devils get a goal there it obviously changes the entire complexion of the game and would've taken the crowd out of the game. But the Rangers weathered the storm and were able to make it to the third period with the game still scoreless.

Heading into Game 2, the Rangers have to expect that the Devils will make adjustments and that they'll be looking to jump out to an early lead to try and take the crowd out of the game early. I think they'll try and throw anything and everything at Henrik Lundqvist early, but if the Rangers can answer their strong forecheck pressure and continue to block shots, then Lundqvist can handle the rest. I think the Devils will alter their approach and try to get as many bad angle shots on goal as they can and just hope they get a lucky bounce or deflection to go there way. If the Rangers can jump out to an early lead, on the other hand, you might see a desperate Devils team late in the game. Going down 2-0 would make Game 3 essentially do or die for New Jersey, so I expect that they're really going to treat Game 2 as a must-win. The Rangers just need to remain disciplined and play their game, and I think they'll be fine. I expect another low-scoring game that's going to come down to a third period battle, which means lots more tense moments tomorrow night that Rangers fans have gotten so used to over the past month.

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