My brother’s 6-year-old Henrik Lundqvist hat, that makes the Broadway Hat look like it’s fresh from the haberdashery, was in desperate need of being replaced. With his birthday this month, I took it as an opportunity to do just that. “I’m not changing it until the playoffs are over,” he told me when he called to thank me for his gift. He didn’t want to jinx things.
Thursday night, the gentleman who was sitting in front of me at the game brought his “lucky hat” to wear – a helmet with a puck sticking halfway out of it, giving the illusion that it was embedded into the helmet. Needless to say, those of us sitting behind him ordered him to never take it off for the rest of the playoffs.
They’re not the only ones getting caught up in superstitions when it comes to the playoffs. After wearing different jerseys for games 2 and 5, for game 7 I went back to what I wore during the game 1 victory – my 2010-11 Ryan Callahan heritage jersey. And when someone mentioned to me that they hoped the Devils would get knocked off, I said nothing. Didn’t want to wish any ill will on any other teams; didn’t need karma biting me and the Rangers in the behind. Why unnecessarily anger the hockey gods?
A lot of fans have all kinds of superstitions, thinking something they do are is what propels the team we love to victory. The game 7 win had nothing to do with a gutsy, gritty team once again rising to the challenge in the face of adversity. Not a thing to do with a Vezina- and Hart Trophy-nominated goaltender elevating his game when the team needed him to be just a little bit better. And it definitely had nothing to do with the offense coming from 2 unexpected sources in Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, who is inching ever closer to his pre-concussion self.
Hats, jerseys, foods. Those are what did it for the Rangers Thursday night, right? Well, of course not. But why risk it? Back in my Callahan heritage jersey I will be when the puck drops at 3pm to open up the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals come into this series on the heels of some 7-game drama of their own, taking out the defending champion Boston Bruins in overtime. But this time, there are a few twists, with the Rangers coming in the top seed and the Capitals the bottom seed, rather than the other way around. While many of the key Capitals from the last 2 times these teams met in the playoffs are still there, this is not Bruce Boudreau’s run-and-gun, defensively loosey-goosey team. Rather, Dale Hunter has managed to shape them into a more defensive-minded, shot-blocking squad.
Sound somewhat familiar?
Neither team was an offensive juggernaut in the first round (Capitals scored a total of 16 goals in the 1st round; the Rangers 14); their power play effectiveness were almost equal (Capitals at 15.8%, Rangers 15.6%). Even with the Capitals becoming more defense-oriented, they still possess many of the same weapons they did when they were offense-first. The Rangers will need to contain the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, while trying to get their own goal-scorers going. Brian Boyle, the Rangers’ leading goal scorer in round 1 who was concussed in game 5, skated Friday for the first time since he suffered the injury. He’s not expected to play today, but getting him back would be a boost. Chris Kreider has taken the opportunity afforded him by the Carl Hagelin suspension and the Boyle injury, gaining confidence and, in turn, John Tortorella’s trust. As he gets more comfortable and continues developing chemistry with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan, he very may well have a big say in the outcome of this series.
We all know what the Rangers have in goal in Lundqvist. The wild card may be what’s happening in the other net. The Capitals have had first-round success with NHL playoff newbies in goal over the last few years. Semyon Varlamov relieved Jose Theodore in 2009 and closed the door on the Rangers. Michal Neuvirth did likewise to them in 2011. Braden Holtby has managed the same feat against the Bruins this year. It will be interesting to see how capable he is at replicating that success against the Rangers. On paper, the Rangers should have the advantage in goal, but the same could have been said about Lundqvist vs. Craig Anderson in the 1st round.
Slowly but surely, the Rangers are slaying some of their playoff demons. Lundqvist coming up clutch in the postseason? Check. Making it past the first round for the first time since 2007? Check. Perhaps the next check will be for beating the Capitals and making it to the Easter Conference Finals for the first time since 1997.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927