On Monday night, the New York Rangers were moments away from having to stave off elimination 2 days later. That is, until Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals took an ill-advised high-sticking double minor for cutting Carl Hagelin. With Henrik Lundqvist pulled for a 2-man advantage, Brad Richards connected with 7.6 seconds to spare to give the Rangers new life and send the 18,200 in attendance at Madison Square Garden into a frenzy. A minute and thirty-five seconds into the overtime with Ward still in the box, defenseman Marc Staal sent them into jubilant ecstasy that continued as the crowd spilled into the towers out into the Garden lobby.
Rather than be down in the series 3-2 and have to fight for their playoff lives in game 6, they were up 3-2 with a chance on Wednesday to knock the Capitals out in front of their home crowd. Sadly, the Rangers didn’t really bother to show up. They got behind early after Anton Stralman took a tripping penalty 1:35 into the game on which Alex Ovechkin converted. Jason Chimera added the second goal in the second period and that was all the Caps would need. The Rangers’ power play that came up clutch for them in game 5, was nowhere to be found in this one. They went 0-for-5 on the night, the lowlight going shotless on Jeff Halpern’s double-minor for high sticking John Mitchell midway through the second period. A Marian Gaborik goal with 51 seconds left in the game with Lundqvist pulled prevented Braden Holtby from recording the shutout, but it was just window dressing on a night where no one (with maybe the exception of Lundqvist, who made some great saves to keep the Rangers close) really had a notable game for the Blueshirts.
Instead of opening up the Eastern Conference Finals at home Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils, they are hosting a game 7 against the Capitals. As they’ve done many times over the course of this season following a lackluster performance, they’ll have to find a way to bounce back. So how do they do that?
Score first. Heck, they just need to find a way to score, period. In the first 6 games of the series, the team that has scored first has won. With the exception of game 1, which the Rangers won 3-1, every game has been decided by either a 2-1 or 3-2 score, so goals have been hard to come by. Part of the credit has to be given to the Capitals taking a page out of the Rangers’ book when it comes to defensive hockey. A large part of it though falls on a team with an anemic offense and an awful power play. With the way both have been going, a 1- or 2-goal deficit can seem insurmountable.
In practice Friday, John Tortorella reunited Chris Kreider with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan. The line was effective early in the series, until Kreider made a major gaffe in game 4 that led to an Ovechkin goal. It was a game the Capitals wound up winning. Kreider wound up playing 7:43 in that game, followed by 6:57 in game 5 and 6:06 in game 6. As we’ve learned with Tortorella, and as we’ve seen with Kreider, ice time depends on trust. But in a game 7, and starving for offense, he has to play and just hope that, if the kid does have a defensive lapse, the other 5 players on the ice for the Rangers can bail him out. With their backs to the wall, the reward outweighs the risk.
Then there’s the power play that still has yet to find any regular effectiveness after 95 games. Move the puck quickly, cut down on the cutesy passing and just take the shot. Cycle. Get in front of the net. Easy for me to say, but it’s now or never for them to find success.
Get At Holtby and Outplay Him. Can the 22-year-old rookie, who became a father on Thursday, push that out of his mind and keep focus for a few hours? We saw what happened in game 1 when he wasn’t focused, mostly because the Rangers only took 14 shots on him. He’s been good for the Capitals when he’s needed to be. The Rangers have to throw everything at him, and not just shots in the hopes of creating rebounds. Crash the net. Create screens. Staal scored the overtime winner from the point in game 5, a shot Holtby admitted he can’t see.
Like it or not, this game 7 will fall squarely on the shoulders of Lundqvist. There’s been quite a bit made in the last few days about the Capitals “finding” his weakness. Anyone who has seen Lundqvist since 2005 knows that high glove is the way you’re going to beat “The King.” A 1.73 GAA and a .936 save percentage ideally should be good enough, but when the 18 skaters aren’t generating any offense, it’s not. Lundqvist is going to have to have the game of his career for the Rangers to have any chance of playing on Monday night.
Get Back To Playing “Rangers Hockey.” While they failed to score, the first period of game 5 was probably the last time they played the kind of hockey the Rangers have come to be known for this season. For 20 minutes there was high energy, physical, controlling hockey by this team. That is the kind of effort they’ll need tonight.
Take Advantage of Home Ice Advantage. The Rangers worked all season to earn the number one seed and have home ice advantage. During several of the home games in the first 2 rounds the crowd was so into it during the anthem you couldn’t even hear John Amirante sing. Even when the team has gotten down in games, the crowd would cheer to encourage them to get back into it. There’s no reason to expect that the fans’ passion will be any less tonight. It’s not only about the Garden Faithful, some of whom will pay a pretty penny on the secondary market to be in the building (average price for a ticket per seatgeek.com is $441.00). It’s also about getting more desirable matchups with the last changes, which will be critical when trying to keep the likes of Ovechkin off the scoreboard. History doesn’t mean much, but for those who look for anything for some optimism, the Rangers are 4-0 in game sevens at Madison Square Garden. Why can’t they make it 5-0?
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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