Thu 23 Apr 2009
There is an old adage in baseball that momentum is only as good as your next day’s pitcher. In hockey, you could adjust that adage to say momentum is only as good as your goaltender’s next performance. If that is the case, momentum is clearly sitting on the Rangers bench. To be precise, he is wearing Rangers jersey Number 30.
As he did in the first two games, Henrik Lundqvist was the Rangers best player and was probably deserving of the first three stars of the game, never mind just the first star.
“He’s amazing, he’s our heartbeat and he gives everyone confidence that is playing in front of him,” defenseman Paul Mara raved to IRA Podell of the AP. “He’s awesome. We love him. He’s the king.”
While Mara gushed, Brandon Dubinsky succinctly summed up the team’s feeling about The King while taking to Podell.
“He’s like Tina Turner. He’s ‘Simply the Best’”.
One has to wonder of Lundqvist has gotten back into Washington’s heads again.
“It seems like we are throwing everything at him and he’s making great saves,” Mike Green said to Podell. “They’re playing well, but the good thing is it is not over.”
The player’s frustration at their inability to beat Lundqvist extends to their coach as well.
“Somebody is going to have to score on this guy,” Bruce Boudreau lamented to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. “You can nitpick all you want, but we took 39 shots. When you outshoot a team 19-5 in their building and you’re down 1-0, the other goalie is doing something right.”
It is a clichÃ© to say it, but Lundqvist is “in the zone”. As someone who played goal in a weekly pickup game many years ago, I know exactly what Lundqvist is saying in the following exchange with Dan Rosen on nhl.com.
“When you’re confident you are not fighting (the puck),” Lundqvist explained. “You’re a little more relaxed and you let the puck come to you. A couple of time in the second [period] I just waited and at the last split second and saw it and could react to it. Sometimes you fight it and you open up and that creates holes. When you’re confident you are more patient and you let the puck come to you and then you can react. That’s big.”
The Capitals should know a thing or two about rallying back from a 3-1 deficit in a series. Washington fought back from such a situation last season in the opening round of the playoffs as they forced a Game 7 at home, which they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers on a Joffrey Lupul overtime power play goal.
“It’s not done yet. We were in this situation last year and we came back,” Alexander Ovechkin explained to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times. We have that experience, and it was a good experience. We know how to come back. We’ll go back to our home and our fans and go back and win that game.”
While Washington did manage to force a Game 7, NHL history is not on their side. Only 20 of 229 teams have erased a 3-1 deficit to win the series. The Capitals franchise does have the distinction of being one of those 20 teams, turning the trick in the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals when they rallied to eliminate the Flyers.
If trying to accomplish something that has only happened 8.7% of the time isn’t hard enough, Washington is facing some other steep mountains to climb. The Capitals have not advanced out of the first round of the playoffs since they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. During the stretch, they missed the playoffs five times and lost in the first round the other four seasons.
In addition, the Rangers are 12-0 when they have been up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series. In fact, this year’s matchup is following the same path the Rangers took in defeating the New Jersey Devils last year. They won the first two on the road, lost Game 3 at home before taking the fourth game and then closing out the series on the road in Game 5. Ranger fans hoping their team completes the dÃ©jÃ vu all over again feeling on Friday night.
As good as Lundqvist was, Dubinsky had as great a game a forward can have without scoring a goal. He was superb on faceoffs, winning 15 of the 17 draws (88%) he took – including the faceoff that led to Mara’s goal in the first period. He played nearly 20 minutes, drawing the most ice time among all Ranger forwards. He was active physically in all three zones and was a big part of the Rangers six-for-six penalty killing effort.
Yet despite his efforts, Dubinsky was not named one of the games three stars. Ovechkin was the second star for his goal and 11 shots. Captain Chris Drury, who scored his 17 career game-winning playoff goal was the third star.
Drury’s effort despite the injury to his hand/wrist injury was not overly looked by his teammates and his coach.
“Dru’s been awesome for us and he’s battling through some things (with which) a lot of players probably wouldn’t be on the ice,” Mara – the team’s Most Valuable Playoff Beard, said to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News. “But he’s our leader, we follow him, and he’s come up with clutch goals for many years now. And he was huge for us tonight.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella also explained how important Drury’s effort was for the team and for the captain himself.
“He is an easy guy to pull for,” said Tortorella. “He is an important guy in the locker room. He is much healthier, improving the last couple of days. I think he has things figured out. Is he all there? No. We have to make a decision here: Do we take him out or stick with him and give him ice time in certain situations and see what he can give us versus bringing another player in. That was the call,” Tortorella explained to Pierre LeBrun of espn.com. “I felt Chris was healthy enough to add, Chris felt healthy enough to add, not just to put the uniform on. He was honest with me and I thought he did some good things for us. Oddly, he scores the winning goal. That will help him.
“In playoff hockey, the locker room is a very important thing as far as camaraderie. I think that was very important for our team for Chris to maybe do something like that for us to band together with him.”
Momentum is a funny thing. In most sports, momentum shifts from game to game. In hockey, momentum changes from shift to shift. The second period was a perfect example of how momentum can change at an instant.
Drury scores a goal along the goal line to make the score 2-0 in favor of the Rangers and the Garden is on fire. The next shift Mara takes a bad penalty and the energy drains out of the building and the Capitals spend pretty much the entire period on the Rangers zone.
Think of momentum as a giant pendulum. The key to winning for the Rangers is to keep the pendulum’s swings as tight as possible. The more exaggerated the swings, the worse it is for the Rangers – especially against such an offensive team like the Capitals.
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