Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rangers Rout Caps 5-0, Move On To Face Bruins In Eastern Conference Semifinals

The New York Rangers are moving on. After playing the last two days with their backs up against the wall and on the brink of elimination, the Rangers finished off the Capitals in a 5-0 drubbing tonight that was capped off by a 35-save performance from Henrik Lundqvist that gave him his second consecutive shutout.

The Rangers will play the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which begins in Boston on Thursday night at 7:30 ET.

After being shutout in two games in the series and losing all three road games while combining to score just two goals (!!) in those three road games, the Rangers exploded for five goals in Washington tonight, coming from Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello.

Just like we all predicted, right?

I didn't think the Rangers started out all that aggressively, which was to be expected, but late in the first period came the biggest sequence of the game, in my opinion, when Henrik Lundqvist stopped a tough shot from Mike Green after Chris Kreider failed to pick up his man while coming off the bench during a line change. Kreider picked the puck up and carried it down the ice before delivering a beautiful drop-pass to Arron Asham, who fired a perfect shot to beat Braden Holtby for the first (and eventual game-winning) goal of the game. The Rangers survived the first period with a lead despite being out-shot 13-9, and tacked on another two quick goals in the second period after Taylor Pyatt slammed home a loose puck in front of the net after Holtby stopped Derek Dorsett's shot. Exactly two minutes later, Michael Del Zotto's pass that was intended for Mats Zuccarello in front of the net from the left point deflected off a Capitals player's skate and beat Holtby five hole style. I think we all felt very comfortable with taking a three-goal lead into the third period...until the Bruins came back to beat the Maple Leafs and scored three unanswered goals to tie the game with just six minutes left in the third period and their season on the line. But that small seed of doubt was short-lived because Ryan Callahan put the nail in the Capitals' coffin with a fourth goal just 13 seconds into the third period on a breakaway that came off a Caps turnover in the neutral zone. Just for fun, Mats Zuccarello added another goal when he almost shook Braden Holtby out of his pads on a beautiful move alone in front of the net. From then on out the only question left was if the Rangers could help King Henrik record his second shutout in as many days, which they did.

I thought the biggest difference between this game and the others was that the Rangers never let up on offensive pressure, which I've been clamoring for since before the series even started. They had their foot on the gas tonight and never let up until the final buzzer sounded. They kept attacking and kept chipping away, and it ultimately resulted in the biggest margin of victory for either team in this series. It also makes it one heck of a lot less stressful on the fans when they're not clinging to a one-goal lead for the entire third period as an added bonus, too.

Derick Brassard, who was easily the Rangers' offensive MVP in this series, capped off his outstanding playoff performance with two assists tonight and finished the series with two goals and seven assists for nine points. Even more impressive? All of his points came in the last five games of the series. Brassard has been nothing short of spectacular since coming over from the Blue Jackets in the Marian Gaborik trade, and the kid is showing why he was a former first-round pick.

What can really be said about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn't already been said? His comments after Game 5 that this series wasn't over even though the Rangers found themselves trailing 3-2 certainly rang true, and Lundqvist once again put this team on his back and got them through this series. The King registered back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7, which has only been done four times in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. From hearing Lundqvist talk and seeing his body language the past few days in net, you could just tell he was not going to be denied moving onto the next round. There was something about the way he played where I just felt like this guy wasn't going to be beaten. He had his game face on and rebounded with six straight outstanding performances after a shaky Game 1 to open this series that were capped off with a 27-save shutout in Game 6 and a 35-save shutout in Game 7. The Capitals admittedly threw anything and everything they could at Lundqvist these past two days and he stopped them all. It was just Henrik Lundqvist at his absolute best.

Some other thoughts and notes from the game:

- The Rangers came back to win this series after trailing 2-0 for the third time in franchise history, and the first since 1997.

- This marked the first Game 7 the Rangers have won on the road in franchise history.

- The Rangers got a ton of secondary scoring in this series after struggling in that area for a large part of the regular season up until the trade deadline. Unlikely heroes Taylor Pyatt, Carl Hagelin, Arron Asham and Brian Boyle all chipped in with big goals in this series (two a piece for Hagelin, Asham and Boyle) while the Rangers' top offensive players in Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan combined for just four goals in the series. The bottom six carried the Rangers through this series, but it's not fair (and extremely unlikely) to expect them to be able to do it again in the next round. That being said, it was great to see some of the secondary players step up big time for the Rangers in this series when all four struggled mightily at one point or another during the season to produce any sort of offense.

- Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi both deserve tons and tons of credit for the way they contained Alexander Ovechkin in this series. Ovechkin had just one goal in the series, which came in Game 1, and tonight he registered only one shot on goal. He was throwing his body around the entire game, though, and ended up with a game-high 13 hits (including one that I thought was a boarding call on Ryan McDonagh that required stitches and left McDonagh with a black eye), but I'll trade hits from Ovechkin over goals any day of the week. McDonagh and Girardi are back playing as good as they did towards the end of last year, if not better, and both guys are true warriors when you see the punishment they take and handout over the course of an entire game.

- In addition to McDonagh and Girardi, credit has to be given to both Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger for how good they were in this series. Stralman, to me, played his best hockey as a Ranger in this series and was a very underrated player in this series for the Rangers. I said before the series that the Rangers would need him to step up and help fill the void that Marc Staal left. Well, he did that and then some. Stralman has been a steady defenseman for the Rangers the past two years, and in this series he was an absolute anchor. Eminger, too, deserves credit for being able to step in on the third pairing and deliver a steady presence throughout this series, and he chipped in with two big assists in tonight's game.

- Rick Nash didn't score today, but he did register an assist and finished with a plus-two rating. Tonight was easily Nash's best game of the series. I still do believe there's some type of injury that he's hiding, but that doesn't really matter. The Rangers will need Rick Nash to be Rick Nash in the next round against the Bruins.

- I absolutely have loved what I've seen from Derek Dorsett so far. He brings a lot of physical play and has an edge to his game similar to Brandon Prust and Sean Avery, and tonight was easily his best game as a Ranger. He finished with an assist, a plus-1 rating and four shots in 15:32 TOI. He also hit the crossbar on the play that eventually led to Michael Del Zotto's goal. Dorsett was hitting everybody when he was out there on the ice tonight, and he's shown a lot more

- The Rangers finished the series 2-for-28 on the power play, which is obviously terrible. I really believe with the way Lundqvist played the Rangers could have won this series in five or six games if they had even an average power play. There's no doubt they'll have to dramatically improve things here heading into the next series against Boston.

- Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto both finished with a game-high plus-3 rating on the night.

- After playing just over nine minutes in last night's game, Brad Richards finished with just 11:12 TOI while centering the fourth line for the second straight day.

- Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers with a team-high five shots on goal and finished the series with one goal and four assists. His goal tonight was the first postseason goal of his career. I admittedly was never the biggest fan of Zucc, but it's ridiculous how much of a different dynamic he's added to this team since coming over from the KHL. Zuccarello's vision and playmaking skills are amongst the best on the team and, as we saw tonight and in just about all of his shootout attempts, he's got such quick hands. To me, he's played his way onto the roster next season already. I think he's been a fantastic addition and I'm willing to eat crow on this one.

That's it for tonight. More to come in the next few days as the Rangers get set to battle (and it will be a battle) the Bruins starting on Thursday. We all get a couple of days off to calm our nerves before doing it all over again. That, however, is a great problem to have versus having to wait until September to see the Rangers on the ice again.


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