Sun 19 Apr 2009
With apologies to Eric Clapton and B.B. King, if the New York Rangers are going to make any headway in the playoffs, the team has to ride Henrik Lundqvist and he has to be the Blueshirts best player.
If the story in Game I was the poor play of Washingtonâ€™s Jose Theodore, then the story of Game 2 was The Kingâ€™s stellar play as he kicked aside all 35 Capsâ€™ shots. It was only the fourth time this season Washington was shutout, and the first time since January 9.
The 1-0 score was the first for the Rangers since, yup you guessed it, 1940 when they shutout the Boston Bruins.
“They’re going to make plays. They’re going to get chances,” Scott Gomez said to A.J. Perez of USA Today. “But Lundqvist and the ‘D’ were outstanding again.”
Of course, Lundqvist had a little help from his friends. In Game 1 it was Brandon Dubinskyâ€™s highlight reel move on Jeff Schultz. In Game 2 it was Ryan Callahan burying Markus Naslundâ€™s two-on-one feed to beat rookie Simeon Varlamov.
More importantly, the Rangers put up a team effort â€“ especially in the defensive zone. After blocking 21 shots in the series opener, they kicked it up a notch with 29 shots in Saturdayâ€™s matinee.
“Two pretty even teams are playing their hearts out. They blocked 29 shots. It’s nothing new for John [Tortorella's] teams,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau told Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post. “They are paying the price. They are committed. They are showing an awful lot of courage, blocking shots by a lot of hard shooters.”
The King was quick to dole the credit to his teammates for their ability to help him thwart the vaunted Washington offense.
“It’s huge to have a lot of guys to block shots and sacrifice their bodies in a series like this, especially when you face so many good players that can shoot the puck,” Lundqvist said to Dan Rosen of nhl.com.
“We had a lot of blocks in the first game, especially after faceoffs, and (Saturday) again they came up big on a couple that they had a pretty good shot opportunity. We did a lot of good things.”
The key to the game was the Rangers ability to realize and correct their mistakes from Game 1. The Blueshirts stepped up their physical play and, for the most part, did a good job of keeping the Capitals offense to the perimeter â€“ a fact not lost on Capitals blueliner Mike Green.
“A lot of our shots came from the outside and that’s easy for the goalie to make a save,” Green commented to Rosen. “The tough areas are around the net or in the slot and we gotta get into the gray areas where we can get quality shots,”
The Rangers also tightened up when it came to standing the Caps up at the blue line and they made sure not to give the Caps free reign in the neutral zone. As a result, the Rangers were able to keep a handle on the number the odd-man rushes against them â€“ while capitalizing one on for the game winner.
During the game the NBC announcers (Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Darren Pang) kept commenting on how tentative the Capitals appeared to be playing. They brought this theme up throughout the game without ever really putting their collective finger on why this was the case. Could it be that The King has gotten to their heads? It would not be the first time a team psyched themselves out over a goaltender, nor will it be the last.
For his part, Boudreau does not believe that theory holds much water.
“Is [Lundqvist] ‘in our heads?’ Boudreau responded to Boswell. “Well, they all know he’s good. But I’ve never understood that phrase.”
However, this is the same coach who said that Jose Theodore was still his number one goaltender following the Game 1 loss.
Perhaps Boudreau is whistling through the graveyard because his big gun seems to realize that Lundqvist is on one of those playoff rolls.
“In the playoffs, when their goalie feels the game and he plays great, it’s tough to score,” Alexander Ovechkin related to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post. “We had lots of chances. He saved the net and won the game.”
More than just Lundqvist, the Rangers stepped up their commitment to defensive zone coverage, a point that Boudreau recognized in his post-game comments in reference to his teamâ€™s trying to get into better scoring position.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to get there, but their defense is doing a helluva job.â€
While the Rangers power play of the regular season returned (scoreless in five chances), the Blueshirts were a perfect three for three in killing penalties. The Rangers will remain in good shape in games as long as they match Washingtonâ€™s power play output.
According to Lundqvist’s post-game comments, the Rangers changed up their penalty killing strategy and reverted back to their style earlier in the season where they were more aggressive.
Going forward, the Rangers will be returning to Madison Square Garden that will be looking for their home team to move in for the kill. The Rangers 2-0 advantage marks the straight year they have opened the first round by winning the first two games of series â€“ an encouraging sign in the Rangers playoff history holds true.
Since the NHL went to the best-of-seven format, the Rangers are 10-1 when they win the first two games of a series. The only blemish was in 1968 when the Chicago Blackhawks rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win in six games.
Since the NHL went to the best-of-seven format, 291 teams have won the first two games of a series, and 37 times (12.7%) teams rallied from that deficit. In 1996, the Rangers rallied from the exact same hole the Capitals find themselves in. The Rangers lost the first two games at home against the Montreal Canadiens before the Blueshirts rallied to win the series in six.
Looking ahead to Game 3, the Rangers must continue to contain Ovechkin. After running roughshod in Game 1, Alex the Great was â€œlimitedâ€ to six shots on goal, seven shots that went wide and three shots that were blocked.
As far as their defense goes, the Rangers need to watch out for is having the defenseman play â€œoutside the dotsâ€. The Rangers blueliners want to be sure they defend the middle of the ice and force the Capitals forwards wide. This strategy gives the defensemen a better chance to recover and limits Washingtonâ€™s ability to get favorable shooting angles on goal.
The Rangers still have to get a little better on faceoffs, even though they won 46.6% percent of the faceoffs in Game 2 â€“ as compared to just 30% in Game 1. While Chris Drury made his return to the lineup, it is obvious that his â€œundisclosed injuryâ€ is a wrist or hand injury because he only took two faceoffs on Saturday afternoon.
On offense, the Rangers till need to find a way to get more shots on goal. Whether Boudreau starts Varlamov or Theodore, the Blueshirts need to create more traffic in front of the net and look for ways to score a garbage goal or two â€“ especially on the power play. If the Rangers power play can outscore the Capitals power play, then the series might never return to the Verizon Center.
As for the Capitals, look for them to do something they wanted to do in Game 2 but didnâ€™t. Sergei Federov told Olczyk that Washington wanted to be â€œmore physicalâ€ with Lundqvist. I wonder if Boudreau still believes The King hasnâ€™t gotten into his teamâ€™s head?
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