Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rangers Outlast Capitals 4-3 To Take Game 3

How was that for a nail-biting finish? With a one-goal lead and a 6-on-4 advantage for the Capitals on a power play with their goalie pulled in the final two minutes of the game, the Rangers just barely held on and won a critical Game 3 by a score of 4-3. The Capitals now lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, and now Game 4 on Wednesday night becomes just as important for the Rangers as tonight was.

The Rangers got goals from Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Arron Asham and Derek Stepan.

I'll give the Rangers credit because they never gave up. Every time they scratched and clawed to get back in the game it seemed like the Capitals were able to immediately answer with a goal of their own. The Rangers took the lead three times in the game and eventually it seemed like this was going to be a game they were destined to lose. But then Derek Stepan came through with the biggest postseason moment of his young career, and the Rangers are suddenly back in this series. Those final two minutes were ridiculously nerve-wrecking and I think I gnawed off just about all my fingernails. It was ironically a throwback to last year's Rangers team, where it came down to blocking shots, winning faceoffs and excelling on the penalty kill to win a game.

Of course, as great as this win feels right now, it means nothing if the Rangers don't go out and take Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Every game left is a must-win, and the Rangers can't afford to look at it any differently than that. If they can tie this series up before it heads back to Washington, it's a whole different ballgame and this series is anyone's to take. Right now, the Caps are still in the driver's seat.

For the most part, I really thought the Capitals were the better team. They were far and away the better team on even strength, often possessing the puck for ridiculously long stretches in the Rangers' zone and Henrik Lundqvist had stand his ground to try and get a break in play just to stop the momentum. The Capitals, though, took some really boneheaded penalties that was really the difference in this game. The Rangers really had chance after chance to put this game away earlier, but they were only able to convert once on their six power play opportunities. So, instead, the Caps hung around and hung around. The fact that they spent so much time in the Rangers' zone was especially troubling and made me have a continuously bad feeling about the game. But nevertheless, The King held his court and the Rangers got some timely scoring, ultimately outlasting the Caps tonight.

Some notes/thoughts from tonight's game:

- Before getting to the game itself, it was truly incredible seeing Marc Staal return to the ice for the Rangers tonight. It wasn't too long ago when some thought his career could potentially be over after taking a puck to his right eye in a game against the Flyers, and I think we can all remember how disturbing of a sight it was to see Staal writhing in pain and falling to the Garden ice holding his face when it happened. Well, in a must-win game, Staal returned and truly had to provide an emotional lift to his team just from being in the lineup. Staal finished with 17:17 TOI, which is more than I thought he would get in his first game back, and looked close to his old self. His eyesight in his right eye still hasn't fully returned, and it never might, but it's clear that Staal can still be a dominant defenseman for this team.

- Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby boasted that the Rangers didn't challenge him enough in Game 2 (which I think we all can agree with). Well, tonight they challenged him a whole hell of a lot. The Rangers stormed out of the gate and peppered Holtby with 14 shots on goal in the first period, and ended up with 30 total shots on goal in the game. The Rangers clearly did their homework because they were throwing everything at the net, and it's no coincidence that every one of the Rangers' goals tonight came on high shots.I think we all knew through the first two games it was a case of the Rangers making Holtby look a lot better than he really is considering the quality of their shots really weren't half as good as the ones the Caps were getting. Holtby is a butterfly goalie, and he has trouble with high shots. Hopefully, they remember that come Game 4.

- Alex Ovechkin finished the game with two shots on goal and a minus-1 rating with two penalty minutes tonight. I said before the game how important it would be for the Rangers to have another shutdown defenseman in Staal to help shutdown Ovie, and that was what happened tonight. Ovechkin couldn't get away from the Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi or Marc Staal-Anton Stralman pairings.

- Speaking of Stralman, wow did he have a great game. He delivered a perfectly executed hip check on Ovechkin in the first period and played probably one of his strongest games this year. He was solid, and there's no doubt playing with Marc Staal tonight helped him tremendously.

- By a show of hands, who had it marked down before the game that the Rangers would score four goals tonight and that two of them would come from Brian Boyle and Arron Asham, who had four goals combined in the regular season? I sure didn't. You've gotta give credit to both guys for grinding and being in the right place at the right time. Asham beat Holtby on a perfect shot just underneath the crossbar off of a beautiful feed from Derick Brassard from the corner. Boyle's goal came just at the expiration of a power play when he made a really nice move and fired a shot that just beat Holtby. As much as you need your goal scorers to step up, it always helps when your third and fourth liners chip in, as well.

- Speaking of Arron Asham, it's funny the way things work out. This morning it looked like Asham would be a healthy scratch to make room for Ryane Clowe (head injury) in the lineup, but Clowe missed tonight's game and didn't even take part in warmups, so Asham remained in the lineup. The next thing you know, he has a huge goal for the Rangers in the third period.

- Darroll Powe left the game early in the first period after delivering a hard hit to Joel Ward along the boards. It was hard to see where exactly Powe got hurt, but he was slow getting up and when he finally did make it back to his feet he fell before making it over to the bench. Powe already suffered a concussion earlier this season, and it certainly seems like a real possibility that he suffered another one tonight.

- Rick Nash registered the primary assist on Derek Stepan's goal (a perfect pass, by the way), which was his first point in the playoffs as a Ranger and his first since the 2008-2009 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Overall, Nash now has one goal and three assists in seven career playoff contests. Nash looked to hurt his leg while attempting to deliver a hit late in the second period and limped off to the locker room, but he was fine in the third period and didn't miss any time. I guess it's safe to say he's fine.

- Mats Zuccarello also registered his first career point in the playoffs - an assist on Brassard's goal.

- The Rangers officially went 1-for-6 on the power play, but Brian Boyle's goal came exactly at the two minute mark as one of those power plays expired. So, I guess you could say it was really 2-for-6. Either way, the power play definitely looked a lot more fluid. John Moore, in particular, was shooting every chance he got, which was a nice change from the usual pace.

- Henrik Lundqvist gave up three goals tonight, but man, oh man it could've been a lot worse than that. Lundqvist made several huge stops that could've changed the course of the game, and finished the game with 28 saves overall. Two of the goals he gave up were on deflections that changed direction on him, and the other came off a perfect shot from Mike Green that Lundqvist never saw because he was screened by Taylor Pyatt on the shot.

More to come tomorrow from practice, where hopefully we'll get an update on the statuses of Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe.