Resilient Rangers Not Going Out Without a Fight
Not many gave the Rangers much of a chance in their playoff series against the #1 seed Capitals. Washington won 16 of their final 20 contests and were doing it playing a style that was more likely to translate to postseason success than the free-wheeling offensive game they've employed in the past. In essence, the began playing the same way the Rangers have all season. The difference is the Capitals have a heck of a lot more skill on their roster to fall back on when they need a big goal.
I broke the series down into three key components with the team winning at least 2 of the 3 having a great chance to advance to the 2nd round. Here are those components:
2. Hard Work
Yeah, I know; nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary but definitely important come playoff time.
As far as #1 goes, is there any question Washington has more skilled players than do the Rangers? Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green are all-star caliber players. The Rangers have Marian Gaborik who owns elite-level skill but hasn't been very productive this year.
The Rangers have no problems matching effort level with anyone. However, when a team as talented as the Capitals matches the hard work of the Rangers, New York has no advantage.
Through 2 games "King" Henrik was terrific. Unfortunately he had far more tough chances against than did his counterpart, Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth, while not challenged as much as Hank, has been very good in controlling and limiting rebounds and 2nd chances. The Rangers had not established their forecheck nor had they made it tough on Neuvirth in his net. Again, whatever measure of an advantage Hank's play has given the Rangers, it hasn't been enough to counter numbers 1 and 2 on the above list.
After two contests in Washington, was it really any surprise the Blue Shirts were down 2 - 0? The Rangers were competitive in each game and took game 1 to OT before Semin ended the contest. However, through nearly 7 periods of hockey the Rangers had only mustered 1 goal. Despite playing pretty good defense and Hank's stellar goaltending, the 4 goals Washington scored were enough to give the Caps a two-game lead in the series. Game 3 at MSG was basically the season for New York.
The Rangers started strong with a good effort but again failed to net any goals. New York blew 2 PP opportunities, including a lengthy 2-man advantage, in the first period alone. As the 1st period ended it was hard to feel good about a well-played period because it was still scoreless.
The Rangers finally broke through, both in the game and on the PP, when much-maligned Erik Christensen roofed a puck by Neuvirth from a sharp angle. With a 1 - 0 lead, I felt better but I knew 1 goal would not be enough.
That fear was proven correct as Ovechkin (yeah, him again) redirected a long shot from Jason Arnott by Hank with exactly 1 minute remaining in the 2nd.
The Blue Shirts teased us in the closing seconds as a centering feed trickled into the net. From the only angle we had it looked as if 1/10 of a second remained on the clock when the puck crossed the goal line. The referee confirmed the puck did in fact cross the line but final word would have to come from the war room in Toronto. They clearly had a better view than I since they ruled it no goal.
I wasn't at MSG, I was only watching on TV, but the disappointment in the crowd was palpable. It was like all the life at MSG was sucked out of the building. I hoped that feeling wouldn't pass on to the players.
The Rangers came out hard again in the 3rd and controlled play. Still, the tie-breaking goal proved elusive. Finally, at the 8:01 mark, Vinny Prospal, our favorite emotional veteran, broke the tie. Vinny cashed in a rebound of a Marc Staal shot. Victory seemed within our grasp.
If I've learned anything being a Rangers fan, ultimate victory is never an easy thing to achieve. See how we clinched our playoff spot this year for further proof. Today again showed why being a Blue Shirts fan is a frustrating proposition at times.
After receiving 5 consecutive PP opportunities, the refs finally found an offense worthy of whistling the Rangers for as Marian Gaborik went off for cross-checking. It wasn't long before the Caps would take advantage as Mike Knuble converted a rebound of Nicklas Backstrom's one-timer with just 5:12 remaining in the 3rd. It seemed OT was in the offing again.
I was on a Rangers fan board during the game and sometimes it's extraordinary how negative a fan base can get. At that moment it was almost like every Rangers fan practically gave up on the team and the season. I am proud to say I wasn't one of them and even prouder my faith would be rewarded.
Brandon Dubinsky would net the game-winner on a terrific individual effort. Dubi got the puck in deep and faked a move toward the back of the net. The fake fooled the Caps defenseman and Dubi pulled the puck back to the front and chipped the puck. The biscuit appeared to bounce off another Caps player and over Neuvirth who had no idea where the puck was until it was swept out of the cage by another frustrated Washington player.
The Rangers would hold off the Caps for the final 1:39 to earn their first win of the best-of-seven series. Up next is a Wednesday night affair at MSG with the Rangers looking to knot the series up at 2. It won't be easy but this team has proven over and over they won't go away quietly.
Alex Ovechkin is playing like a man possessed. Despite Hank's strong play and the presence of the Rangers dynamic shutdown duo of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi on the ice for nearly every one of his shifts, Ovechkin has still answered the bell to the tune of 2 goals and 4 points. He's recorded points on 4 of the 6 Capitals goals.
As amazing as it sometimes is to realize the young Rangers who play key roles, it is equally impressive that one of the Caps top defense pairs of John Carlson and Karl Alzner is just 21 and 22 respectively.
Gabby has played well and created several opportunities but seems to be pressing. He didn't look confident pulling the trigger on the PP today. This is a guy who really needs a goal to get it going.
Hank has been very, very good. He's given up just 6 goals in almost 200 minutes of hockey and has had to make several tough saves. He's given the Rangers every opportunity to win and again has shown he is an elite goaltender.
Sean Avery has played extremely well since being inserted into the lineup. He even pulled one of the cagier moves I've seen in a while today. With his line stuck on the ice due to an icing, Avery purposely leaned too heavily on his stick and broke it. The officials allowed him to go to the bench to get a new twig and thus gave the tired Rangers an extended breather. Some call it cheap; i call it veteran savvy.
Staal and Girardi are beasts. They are on the ice against the opposition's best players night in and night out. They play 24 - 26 minutes a night and up to 30 in playoff games. Still, they get down and sacrifice their bodies to block shots and passes. They earn every penny of their salaries.