Mon 27 Apr 2009
As the Rangers and Capitals look ahead to the seventh and deciding game on Tuesday night, redemption is the key word both teams should be focusing on.
The 2008/2009 New York Rangers have to dig deep into their souls to come up with an effort that will prevent them from being the first team in franchise history to lose a series after being three games to one (after winning their previous 12 chances). The Blueshirts also do not want to imitate the Hartford Wolf Pack who won the first two games of the first round series only to lose the next four games and the series to the Worcester Sharks.
The Rangers have not faced a Game 7 scenario since June 14, 1994.
History has not been kind to the Rangers when facing a seventh and deciding game on the road. They have lost all four of those Game 7 road games: 1939 in overtime to the Boston Bruins, 1950 in double overtime to lose the Stanley Cup to the Detroit Red Wings, 1971 to the Chicago Blackhawks, and 1974 to the Philadelphia Flyers.
According to the NHL, league-wide history is not on the Rangers side either. Since the best-of-seven format was introduced back in 1939, home teams have won 77 of the 122 series that have gone the full seven games (63%).
“I believe in our guys,” Chris Drury told Michael Obernauer of the Daily News. “I think this group’s a pretty resilient bunch. When you get booed in your own building all year long, you change coaches, you go through a lot of stuff, make the playoffs the second-to-last game of the year – we’re ready for anything.”
Of course, what Captain Drury left out his statement was an explanation as to why the team was not ready for anything in Games 5 and 6. If the Rangers carry over their intensity and desperation level from those two games, then they might as well send the Wolf Pack down to the Verizon Center.
Jim Schoenfeld said more or less the same thing when speaking to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News following Schoeny’s one game stint as head coach.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in, who’s out. The task at hand is the task at hand. We have to find a way to get it done or it’s over. It’s simple … I think our guys have enough character, have enough courage, have enough want to get it done. If not, what’s the sense of even going to Washington?”
The Capitals have their own ghosts they have to exorcise. Washington was in the exact same position this time last year. After falling behind three games to one to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals forced a seventh game at home that went into overtime before Joffrey Lupul’s power play goal ended the series.
Tuesday’s game offers former Rangers defenseman Tom Poti a chance for personal redemption because it was Poti’s penalty that paved the way for Lupul’s game-winning goal.
“We were in the situation last year, so we have a little bit of experience with it,” Poti related to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. “That was the first Game 7 for a lot of guys last year. Maybe they won’t be as nervous at the start of the game. We know what we have to do, and that’s play a perfect game to win the series. Who comes out and plays the most perfect game is going to win.”
The Rangers have to get ahead of the Capitals and play from the lead for two reasons. First off, they just donâ€™t have the offense to play from behind. Secondly, there has only been one lead change in this series â€“ Game 1 when Scott Gomez and Nik Antropov scored nine minutes apart to erase a Capitals 1-0 lead.
There is a litany of things the Rangers must do survive and advance into the next round; however, there is one thing that stands above and beyond all of the other things – Henrik Lundqvist must return to his status as The King.
“Am I Concerned [about Lundqvist]? Absolutely, but we’re concerned about our entire team,” Jim Schoenfeld said to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “I don’t think the concern about Hank will last, but the team has to play better in front of him and Hank has to be better.”
What started off as the Rangers best chance at stealing this series has turned into the biggest reason why the Capitals are on the verge of rallying to win? Since coach Bruce Boudreau switched from Jose Theodore to Simeon Varlamov, the Capitals have outscored the Rangers 14-6, with two of the goals coming once Game 6 had already been decided.
One reason for that difference is the Rangers inability to score goals – thanks to Varlamov’s play and the Rangers inability to finish. Another reason is Lundqvist return to the land of mortals.
“He can’t play every game like a god,” Alexander Ovechkin explained to El-Bashir. “He can’t save the game all the time.”
While the unthinkable has occurred – Lundqvist being pulled from back-to-back playoff games – it is not all that long ago that The King was in the heads of the Capitals.
“Obviously when things weren’t going well for us, maybe he was in our head a little bit,” Capitals defenseman Mike Green admitted to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. “But as long as you stayed strong, there was gonna be a time where they were gonna start going in.”
In listing the things the Rangers need to do to win Game 7, the one thing as the top of the list would be Lundqvist to pitch a shutout. Frankly, even if he did, all that does is get the Rangers into overtime with no hope of a shootout to win. In the end, the Rangers are going to have to find ways to score goals.
As good as Varlamov has been in the series – and he has been good – he has not had to face the same pressure Lundqvist has had to face while the game is on the line. The Blueshirts must find a way to put more sustained pressure on Varlamov early in the game when it matters. This is will require the Rangers stop settling for shots at the perimeter and drive to the net. The Rangers forwards have a bad habit of not driving to the net. They tend to be content with pulling up (or going wide) and looking to make a pass rather than shoot.
An example of this was right before the Capitals went ahead for good on Sunday afternoon. Brandon Dubinsky led the rush on a two-on-one shorthanded break. Rather than look to drive to the net to force the play, he faded to the boards.
Speaking of being shorthanded, the Rangers must play discipline given the expected loss of Blair Betts. The Capitals power play was 4-29 after five games, but was 2-2 in Game 6 with Betts out of the lineup.
Conversely, the Rangers power play must score, and when it doesn’t score it must be active and generate scoring chances instead of generating momentum changing swings against.
The Rangers tying goal on the power play has to be the blueprint for their man advantage in Game 7. The Rangers were able to get traffic in front of Varlamov as Gomez tipped in Wade Redden’s shot from the left point. The Rangers also had traffic in front of the net when Ryan Callahan beat Varlamov with a five-on-three goal.
As the Rangers search for offense, they need to realize that the easiest way to accomplish this is by increasing their forecheck and looking to take advantage of Capitals turnovers. An active forecheck, combined with cycling the puck down low, and winning the battles along the board, the Rangers will be able to get that sustained pressure they need against Varlamov.
Part of Lundqvist playing well requires the Rangers to be smarter in their own end. They need to make sure they make the safe plays when clearing the zone. They cannot afford the mistakes Derek Morris and Nikolai Zherdev made on the Capitals opening goal in Game 6. When in doubt, they must get the puck off the glass and out of the zone.
The Rangers have to be very wary of getting caught looking to make defensive plays by simply poke checking the puck. That is a deadly strategy when facing the likes of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. The Rangers need to step up and take the body and not get caught watching the puck.
While they are at it, the Blueshirts also need to be smarter with the choices they make during the game. Marc Staal, who had his worst playoff game of his career, would have been better off yielding the offensive blue line rather than pinching as Poti’s penalty expired. Once Staal was caught, it was a three-on-one for Washington.
The Rangers also have to hope that John Tortorella learned from his one game suspension. No, I am not referring to him having an epiphany and becoming a kinder and gentler Tortorella. Instead, he needed to use his time at the top of Madison Square garden to learn something against the Caps. Or did he learn something he didn’t want to know about his team?
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