Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rangers Stun Capitals 3-2 In OT, Lead Series 3-2

I'll admit it - I was in the middle of writing a new blog post about the Rangers being down in the series 3-2 and having to face back-to-back do or die games for the second consecutive series in this year's playoffs. But with 6.6 seconds left Brad Richards made me, and I'm sure many other writers and bloggers, make good use of the backspace key and start over from scratch. Because with their backs against the wall and seemingly on the verge of losing a game in which the Rangers vastly outplayed the Washington Capitals, the Rangers reminded everybody why, to steal a phrase from the MSG Network ad campaigns, it really is different here.

Joel Ward, who was the cult hero of the Capitals for scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Quarterfinals to eliminate the Boston Bruins, took a double-minor with 22 seconds left in the game when his stick came up and caught Carl Hagelin in the face. The Rangers had a two man advantage with Henrik Lundqvist pulled, and the series completely changed after Brad Richards somehow got the puck past Braden Holtby and just inside the far post to tie the game at two during a mad scramble at the side of the net. Then, 1:35 into overtime, Marc Staal capped off an improbable comeback with a rocket from the point for another power play goal after a big faceoff win by John Mitchell that nearly tore the roof off of the newly renovated Madison Square Garden to give the Rangers a 3-2 series lead and leaves them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tonight was another game in which the Rangers took us all on another roller coaster of emotions. There was excitement, anger, disappointment, sadness, then back to excitement, and then, finally, relief. Basically, it was just another typical New York Rangers playoff game.

Click below to read more on tonight's game, including why Chris Drury's name was being tossed around on Twitter in regards to tonight's game.

First and foremost, I'd like to apologize for not blogging the last few weeks. I had a death in the family I had to devote all of my time to the last two weeks, and as much as I love writing about hockey, family will always come first. But I'm back now and, God-willing, will be here for the remainder of the playoffs.

The Rangers had one line tonight that was truly dominant and noticeable on every shift, and that was the Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik unit. They were making things happen every single time they were out there on the ice even after the Rangers found themselves down 2-1 in the third period and the Garden was silenced. They simply never stopped working when they were out there. Marian Gaborik had a game-high seven shots on goal, Hagelin had three shots of his own, and Brad Richards scored the game-tying goal on his only shot of the game. All in all, the trio combined for 11 of the Rangers 38 shots on goal in the game. If the Rangers can continue to get that kind of offensive output from their top line, the goals will come for them.

Outside of the top line, and Ryan Callahan's five shots on goal, the Rangers really didn't have any one line that stood out above any others. Yes, the Rangers had 38 shots on goal, but not many of them were quality chances. They peppered Braden Holtby with a ridiculous 17 shots in the first period, and Anton Stralman's goal came on a bad angle shot that just got through to the net and went in. The gameplan, it seemed, was to fire away and try to rattle Holtby's confidence early. Every Ranger except Stu Bickel and Michael Del Zotto registered a shot on goal in the game.

For a while, it looked like the story of the game was going to be the two goals Henrik Lundqvist allowed on just 18 shots. Both goals were shots that Lundqvist probably should've stopped, but he certainly made up for it with the other 16 shots he faced and stopped in the game. The Capitals had several odd man rushes and really good scoring chances in the game that Lundqvist made big stops on that wouldn't have gotten any notice if the Rangers went on to lose the game in regulation. I don't think there's any doubt that the Capitals had way better scoring chances than the Rangers did, even though the Rangers more than doubled the Caps' shot total in the game.

I didn't think it could get any better than the Rangers' triple-overtime victory in Game 3, but it turned out I was wrong. Tonight's game was a great way to show why this Rangers team is so likeable and fun to root for. The team just never stops working and never stops skating, even against teams like Washington where they don't have the raw offensive talent to match them. They don't panic and just stick to playing their game and are really a blue collar throwback hockey club that you don't see too many of nowadays.

But as always, it's still just one win. The Rangers need to win one more game, and they obviously would love to end this series Wednesday night in Washington. As good as tonight feels, the Rangers still have work to do, and the team knows it. John Tortorella will let them enjoy this win for the rest of today, and then the focus will immediately shift to Game 6 by the time the team takes the ice for practice tomorrow.

You can read the boxscore to the game here.

As several people pointed out on Twitter, it was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2007 that Chris Drury scored for the Buffalo Sabres with seven seconds left in the game to tie the game and force overtime, where the Sabres beat the Rangers and took a 3-2 series lead before eventually ending the Rangers' with a win in Game 6. I still remember to this day having to work that night and listening to the game on the radio, and the crushing feelings of disappointment that went through my mind like it was yesterday. It feels good to finally be on the other side of that type of game and to know what it feels like to win a thriller in that type of fashion. So for that, I especially thank Brad Richards.

I'll have much more tomorrow on Brad Richards' postseason performance thus far, and what his postseason experience has meant to the Rangers' playoff run this season.

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