Friday, April 27, 2012

Rangers Defeat Senators 2-1, Advance To Eastern Conference Semifinals

Photo Credit: NY Times

The Rangers are moving on. Backed by Henrik Lundqvist's 26 saves and goals by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the Rangers squeaked out a thrilling 2-1 win in Game 7 to eliminate the Ottawa Senators and move onto the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they'll meet the Washington Capitals.

The third period was about as nerve-racking as you could possibly imagine. By the time it got to around the midway point it became clear that the Rangers were going to rely on shot blocking and Henrik Lundqvist to preserve their one-goal lead. I still think playing this way is extremely risky in the playoffs, especially when playing teams who have more offensive weapons than Ottawa, but this series has taught us that this is the way the Rangers are going to play every game from here on out. They got this far because of this system, and they're going to continue to ride it as far as it'll take them. That means we can expect to be in-store for a lot more games that cause our hearts to race, butterflies in our stomachs, and sweaty palms as we countdown every second on the clock as the Rangers try and hold onto a slim lead. Not exactly my idea of fun times, but it sure is a better alternative than the team being sent home for the summer.

Click below to read more on tonight's game.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keys To Game 7: New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

So, it all comes down to this. Tonight's Game 7 will determine whether the Rangers' 2011-2012 season will continue to the next round, where they would play the Washington Capitals, or whether the Rangers are sent home early once again.

Ryan Callahan told the media he's "fine" for tonight's game after blocking a shot off his middle finger in Game 6. Callahan didn't miss a shift, but was in considerable pain on the bench when he was having his finger looked at. He was also given the day off yesterday for maintenance, but there was never any real doubt that Cally would play tonight. With the Rangers' season on the line there was little to no chance that their team captain would miss the game because of his finger.

John Tortorella will presumably dress the same lines as Game 6, meaning Brian Boyle will remain out with a concussion. Boyle reportedly did workout a bit in the weight room at the Rangers' practice facility this morning, but he hasn't skated since he suffered a concussion at the hands of a cheap shot from Chris Neil in Game 5.

The Rangers are saying all the right things heading into Game 7. Torts and his players have refused to comment on the Senators' controversial third period goal in Game 6, nor did they get into a war of words after Chris Neil insinuated that he could be out for payback on Michael Del Zotto after Del Zotto's hit left Neil dazed for a few minutes in Game 6. Brad Richards' veteran presence, in particular, seems to be a big plus for the Rangers and easing some nerves. The guy basically has ice water in his veins, and insisted today that the Rangers just have to keep their cool, stick to playing their game, and not to let the pressures of a Game 7 get to them.

Here are my keys to Game 7 and what the Rangers must do to pull out the victory:

1. Keep the front of the net clear. This one is the most important. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have done a great job of clearing the crease so that Henrik Lundqvist can see most of Ottawa's shots from the point. Last night, Ottawa's first goal came because Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal did absolutely nothing to clear the front of the net, and Chris Neil was standing directly in front of Lundqvist as a result. If Lundqvist can see it, chances are he'll stop it. If the Rangers can manage to give Neil some good shots when he tries to head to the net he might get frustrated and try to take a stupid penalty, which would obviously benefit the Rangers. That's assuming, though, that the referees are competent enough to make the right calls against Ottawa, though, when they need to be made, unlike in Game 6.

2. Fire away at Craig Anderson. The Rangers showed themselves that Craig Anderson is beatable in Game 6, and they'll need to continue to capitalize on that confidence they built as a team. Even though Anderson is a veteran goaltender, he's never won a playoff series. If the Rangers can get off to a fast start and grab an early lead with the Garden rocking they might be able to rattle Anderson a bit. But that's not going to happen if the Rangers sit back and don't get any sustained offensive pressure going. If they have a shot opportunity they have to take it. And the Rangers should not deviate from this approach even if they jump out to an early lead in the game. They did that in Game 5 and blew the game, in my opinion, because they spent the second and third periods playing back in their own zone trying to protect a slim lead. The Rangers need to be aggressive with their shots like they were in Game 6 and make sure their offense doesn't go long stretches without doing anything.

3. Give Chris Kreider more ice time. Kreider was the Rangers' best forward on the ice in Game 6 and was rewarded with more ice time late in the game. If he comes out flying like last game, John Tortorella needs to get him more involved. Kreider specifically should be seeing power play time over John Mitchell, who has done nothing to warrant any power play time, much less a spot in the lineup, in this series.

4. Get Marian Gaborik more involved. This will be easier to do since the Rangers have the last line change at home, and John Tortorella will be able to try and take advantage of mismatches depending on who the Senators have on the ice at any given time. Gaborik needs to get going, plain and simple, and that's only going to happen by increasing his ice time. I also would like to see Gaborik double-shifted in place of Mitchell, Mike Rupp or Ruslan Fedotenko if the Rangers are trying to get something going offensively over the course of the game.

5. Don't panic! This is the most important key to me, and it's actually pretty simple. The Rangers hold all the cards and don't need to deviate from who they are. They're coming off of an emotional win, Game 7 is in their building, and now is the time to prove why they were the No. 1 seed in the East. The Rangers already survived one elimination game, so I think they have an advantage in knowing what to expect heading into a Game 7 versus a fairly young Ottawa Senators team. The Rangers need to stay focused on blocking shots and playing physical without crossing the line and taking stupid penalties, which they've been good at for the most part in this series. If the Rangers play the same type of game they played in Game 6, get their power play going, and get some secondary scoring, they should win this game.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rangers Defeat Senators 3-2, Force Game 7 On Thursday

The Rangers will live to see another day. After a 25-save performance in goal by Henrik Lundqvist and Chris Kreider's first career NHL goal that went down as the game-winner, the Rangers prevailed with their backs against the wall, and defeated the Ottawa Senators, 3-2 to force a Game 7 back in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

The Rangers also got huge nights from Derek Stepan (1 goal, 2 assists) and Brad Richards (1 goal, 1 assist) when they needed them the most.

There were several calls that were missed or went against the Rangers in this game, but the one everyone will be talking about is the Senators' second goal of the game that came at 19:21 of the third period. The puck was loose in the crease and Chris Neil speared Henrik Lundqvist in the stomach with his stick and blatantly kicked the puck in the net. The call on the ice was a good goal, but everybody assumed it would be overturned. After a long video review, though, the referees unbelievably ruled it a good goal. The Rangers held on and won, but Lundqvist was furious, yelling obscenities at the referees after the game as they skated off the ice.

Quite frankly, I don't blame him.

There is no way to justifiably defend that call of a good goal, and to me it's been clear for a while now that the NHL has gone out of their way trying to fix games, which was clearly the case tonight. The NHL's official ruling was that Neil didn't touch the puck on Jason Spezza's shot, but one simple look at any replay available could see that excuse was an absolute farce.

After the game, Henrik Lundqvist called the Senators goal "an absolute joke," and said "somebody wanted them in the game, for sure." He was absolutely correct, and I don't blame him one bit for being furious. The Rangers have had to overcome several awful calls and missed calls in this series, but this one by far takes the cake. Nobody can watch that sequence and convince me the NHL isn't out to get the Rangers.

I'll have much more later on the game later, including my thoughts on the horrendous officiating.

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.

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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chris Kreider Will Make NHL Debut In Game 3 Tonight

It's now being reported that Chris Kreider will be in the lineup for the Rangers tonight in place of Carl Hagelin (suspension).

Very, very weird situation. Within the last half hour everybody was reporting that John Scott would make his return to the lineup, and literally seconds before the end of the Rangers pregame show on MSG Al Trautwig said that Kreider is in. Perhaps some mind games from John Tortorella?

Rangers Get Set For Game 3 In Ottawa, Alfredsson A Game-Time Decision

The news from practice today is that apparently Daniel Alfredsson has turned into Wolverine from the X-Men and has developed supernatural healing powers. That's the only way to explain how the Senators' team captain skated through a full practice this morning and will officially be a game-time decision tonight after supposedly suffering a concussion for the second time this season against the Rangers on Saturday night.

The Senators are still sticking to their original story that Alfredsson did in fact suffer a concussion in Game 2 and based a base-line test yesterday, but I personally don't believe it for one second.

Click below to read more news and notes on Alfredsson possibly playing tonight, along with who the Rangers might will dress in Carl Hagelin's place.

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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chris Kreider Practices With Rangers, Status For Tomorrow Night Uncertain

Chris Kreider getting his new Rangers jersey made at practice today. (Photo Credit: New York Rangers)

Chris Kreider is officially a New York Ranger. The team introduced Kreider to the New York media today following the team's practice, where Kreider practiced as the fourth forward rotating in and out on a line with Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko. Kreider, who will wear No. 20 with the Rangers, said he fully understands Coach John Tortorella's mantra that you have to earn your playing time if you want to be in the lineup.

 “They definitely sent the message if you want to play you’re going to have to prove you’re ready to play and you’re going to have to earn your ice time, which is the way I think it should be,” Kreider said. “No expectations coming in, I’m just going to try to be a sponge.”
Andrew Gross (Rangers Beat Writer)

Also of note: just by practicing today, the first year of Kreider's three-year Entry Level deal was burned off. He's now signed from this point forward through the 2013-2014 season.

Click below to read more on Kreider's first day as a New York Ranger.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reports: Chris Kreider Agrees To 3-Year Entry Level Deal With Rangers

Multiple media outlets, including the always reliable Bob McKenzie of TSN, are reporting that the Rangers have signed their 2009 first round draft pick, Chris Kreider, to a three-year Entry Level contract. The Rangers have not officially confirmed the deal yet, but Larry Brooks of the New York Post says that Kreider will report to the Rangers tomorrow to sign his contract, which will then make the deal official.

Larry Brooks reports that Kreider's deal will be worth $1.3 million per season. According to Bob McKenzie, he'll get no signing bonus for this season or have a salary for the playoffs, but will get bonuses for the remainder of the playoffs for games that he plays in.

Click below to read more on the Rangers signing Kreider.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rangers vs. Flyers Tonight At 7 p.m.

The Rangers are back at it tonight against the Flyers, and will once again look to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division. The Rangers need just one point or a Penguins loss to do so. The Rangers will look to sweep the season series against the Flyers tonight and move to 6-0-0 against them on the season.

Same lineups for the Rangers tonight as Sunday against the Bruins, meaning Henrik Lundqvist will start his tenth straight game. As I said on Sunday, I think the only way the Rangers will play Marty Biron again this season is if the Rangers clinch everything before the last game of the season against Washington.

There has been a ton of fighting in the Rangers-Flyers series this season, so I wouldn't be surprised to see players on both teams drop the gloves early to try and set a tone for the game. It's interesting to note that Jody Shelley is in the lineup for the Flyers and will play against the Rangers for the first time since December. If you don't remember, Shelley and Brandon Dubinsky took several verbal jabs at each other on 24/7 leading up to the Winter Classic.

For the Flyers, Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal after missing the last three games with an injured foot. Bryzgalov went 10-2-1 with a 1.43 GAA in the month of March, but he's 0-2 with a 4.11 GAA against the Rangers this season. Danny Briere, who was injured in the Flyers' Sunday afternoon game against the Penguins, will miss the game and is out indefinitely with a back injury.

Also, a reminder that the game is on MSG2 tonight. The Knicks are on MSG and the Devils are on MSG+.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rangers Can Clinch No. 1 Seed In Eastern Conference Tonight

With the Penguins' 6-4 loss this afternoon to the Flyers, the Rangers need just one more point to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, and they'll look to lock it up in tonight's game against the Boston Bruins. Even though the Rangers technically can clinch with an overtime or shootout loss tonight, it would still be a much more satisfying feeling to get the win and clinch over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Even though it's now pretty much just a matter of when, not "if," the Rangers will lock up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, I don't think for one second that John Tortorella will let this team take the rest of the regular season off. You might see guys like Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust get a couple of games off to help heal some of their nagging injuries that have plagued them all season long, and I'm sure Henrik Lundqvist will get at least one more game off down the stretch, but that's about it. Torts is not going to let this team get lazy and stop playing hard the way they have all season long.

The Rangers will roll with the same lineup tonight, meaning Henrik Lundqvist will start his ninth straight game and John Scott, Jeff Woywitka and Steve Eminger will be the scratches.