Fortune Shines On Blue Shirts
As of Friday morning I had two obvious topics bouncing around in my head in regards to this blog post. I was either going to be doing the Rangers season in review or a playoff preview. Thanks to Tampa I get to postpone the review and touch on a preview of the upcoming Washington Capitals and New York Rangers series. Before I look at washington, let's recap how the Rangers got into the dance.
I wasn't feeling too positive Friday morning. Last Sunday we were able to grind out a hard-fought shootout win over Philadelphia. Ironically, it was nearly a year to the day that Philly knocked us out of the postseason via that same shootout. That win enabled us to remain in control of our destiny. If we continued to win games it wouldn't matter what Carolina did; we would make the playoffs and they would not.
The win over the Flyers was followed the next night by a tremendous and unbelievable come-from-behind win against Boston. The Rangers were down 3 goals at the 10:32 mark of the second period after Chris Kelly beat Hank with a wrist-shot on a two-on-one breakaway. Just more than a minute later, Vinny Prospal got the comeback started with a rebound goal off a Wojtek Wolski shot.
Prospal would score his second goal of the game with 1:34 remaining in the second to bring the Rangers within a goal heading into the 3rd period.
Boston would tighten up defensively in the 3rd period and didn't allow the Rangers too many great chances in the final period. But it wouldn't last forever as Brandon Dubinsky, stationed directly in front of the net, received a perfect spin-o-rama back-hand pass from Ryan Callahan and deked Tim Thomas for the tying goal with less than 4 minutes remaining.
Less than a minute later, rookie defenseman Mike Sauer beat Thomas with a knuckler from a bad anglet. The celebration at MSG was intense.
Derek Stepan would ice the win with an empty-netter.
As great as the win was it wasn't all roses for the Rangers. Heart-and-soul winger Ryan Callahan would suffer a broken leg after blocking a shot from Zdeno Chara late in the game. Callahan will not need surgery but is out likely for the rest of the season. On a related note, rumors are rampant that NYC police are investigating Chara for willfully wielding a dangerous weapon, his shot, on a defenseless player. Chances are this is untrue but Callahan's injury adds yet another name to the list of victims Chara is piecing together.(Sorry, I couldn't resist injecting a little humor at Chara's expense).
After the near miraculous comeback against Boston, the Rangers were down to two games, both against non-playoff teams. Win both and we could scrap our golf reservations and keep our Rangers gear out. Lose one and Carolina would hold the cards. The feeling we as fans (and I'm sure players too) had after the Boston win was exceptional. There was no way this club would blow it after such an improbable win. It was the type of victory every team of destiny seems to have at a key point.
Thursday rolled around and we laid an egg according to coach Tortorella. At home, against Atlanta, we lost 3 - 0. The club came out flat. It was unacceptable. We understand it's been a long and grinding season and the players are probably battered. However, how do you follow up such a stirring victory with such a disappointing performance against a team playing only for pride. It was a discouraging loss and one that now gave Carolina a chance to win out and send us home for the summer.
Atlanta had a chance the following night to do us a favor as they hosted the Hurricanes. Naturally, as well as the Thrashers played against us they played equally as bad against the Hurricanes. Carolina thrashed the Thrashers 6 - 1. The hopes and dreams of Rangers fans sunk.
We were preparing for the worst. Just a year after failing to qualify for the postseason on the final day, we headed into the season's final weekend needing a win against New Jersey and a loss by the Canes. It wasn't an enviable spot to be in.
New Jersey was out of the mix but they would have liked nothing more than to put us out of our misery and end our playoff hopes. Carolina was hosting Tampa; a team that was assured of the 5th slot in the playoffs and had nothing to gain, win-or-lose. Rumors were rampant that Tampa would rest their stars. That wasn't good news for Ranger fans.
While Tampa coach Guy Boucher made it a point to limit the minutes of several key players while also giving starting goalie Dwayne Roloson a night off in favor of Mike Smith, the Lightning came out and played hard. They surprised the Hurricanes and jumped out to a 3 - 0 lead in the first period. Carolina fans knew up close and personal how we had felt Thursday.
Carolina would rally and close the gap to 4 - 2 but two late empty-net goals would close out both the contest and Carolina's season. The New York Rangers, thanks to some help from the hockey gods and the Tampa Bay Lightning, were playoff-bound.
So, let's look at what the Rangers have to expect: the Washington Capitals.
This year's edition of the Caps is far different from those we've seen in previous seasons. Washington was an offensive juggernaut in 2009-2010 leading the league in goals scored with 318. Their goal differential was an incredible +85. That season earned the Caps a #1 seed in the East.
After a first-round playoff ouster at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, coach Bruce Boudreau elected to switch up his club's style. He reigned in the offensive-minded players dotting his roster in an effort to get them to play better defensively. It was a style Boudreau believed was more conducive to playoff success.
The Capitals, while still dangerous offensively, scored 94 fewer goals than the 2009-2010 team. They also cut down on their goals against by 36 tallies. With guys like AO, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, the Caps can score goals with anyone. However, they are a better team defensively and are tougher. Whether this new style translates to playoff success remains to be seen.
The Rangers had good success during the regular season against Washington; winning 3 of 4 and outscoring the Caps 17 - 6 total. Included in those wins were 7 - 0 and 6 - 0 shutouts and a 2 - 1 SO win.
The Rangers have several of the same components the Canadiens utilized a year ago to knock out Washington in the first-round. They block shots, they sacrifice the body, they have a goalie fully capable of stealing games and they have a sniper like Marian Gaborik who could get molten-lava- hot and carry a team offensively. The question is whether Washington has learned from last season's failure.
I'm going to hold off for now on making my official prediction; both on this series and on the rest of the first-round playoff match-ups. For now, I'm just going to enjoy having a team to cheer for as the playoffs begin.