Unfortunately, for the Rangers and their fans, the memory of the 2009 playoffs will last a lifetime as well.

The Washington Capitals became the 21st team in NHL history to overcome a three games to one deficit with their 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers. Unlike Games 5 and 6 when the rangers offered token resistance, the Blueshirts played with a renewed purpose and matched the Capitals intensity and urgency. The one thing they could not match in Game 7, or the series for that matter, was Washington’s ability to score.

“I thought we checked our (tails) off tonight,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told Michael Obernauer of the Daily News. “We’re not an offensive juggernaut, and that comes back and bites us. We’re just not developing enough offense.”

Truer words were never spoken by a coach. The Rangers managed just 11 goals in seven games and four of those were against Jose Theodore in Game 1 and two of their three goals in Game 6 came in garbage time. Given that output, it might be time to recognize that Tom Renney’s defensive-first style did not cause the Rangers offensive woes. Rather, Renney had to revert to that style because of Glen Sather’s inability to bring in consistent scorers, never mind 40 goal scorers.

Game 7 was a tale of two games. The Rangers did an outstanding job of forcing the Capitals to defend their own zone as the Rangers aggressive forecheck and puck possession limited Washington to two shots in the first period and just 11 through the first 40 minutes. Tortorella’s team worked a perfect road strategy against the Capitals in Game 7 in the first two periods. They kept it a low scoring/low chances game which limited the damage the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin could do – despite Semin’s tying goal which deflected in off Ryan Callahan’s stick.

“It was probably the most we kept the puck all series,” Tortorella explained to Dan Rosen of nhl.com. “We couldn’t develop good scoring chances even with the puck, and during the (third) period I think they turned it up a notch and we ended up backing up a little.”

The only problem with the way the Rangers played the first two periods was that they were not able to turn the forechecking and puck possession into goals or even good scoring chances. Instead, the Blueshirts were limited to just 14 shots through two periods.

The third period was a reverse image of the first two periods. It was Washington who was controlling the puck and keeping the Rangers in their zone. The Blueshirts were too busy defending their zone to mount any offense – which is why they were limited to just one shot on goal in the third period and ended the game with Henrik Lundqvist still in goal as they could not add an extra attacker in the final minute.

“I think we were a little upset with ourselves after the second period and came out in the third and reversed it,” Green told Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. “[Coach Bruce Boudreau] addressed what we needed to do, and finally we did it and it worked.”

“I’m not really sure [what happened],” added Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier while speaking to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times. “We knew we weren’t playing very well, and I think maybe we were in the locker room understanding that 20 minutes to win a series is pretty much what was going for us. We felt we were the better team and worked really hard all year for this. We found a way to squeak it out.”

If you think about it, the Rangers did not lose this series in Game 7. They lost the series when they did not finish off the Capitals in Game 5 or 6. During the Rangers Stanley Cup run in 1994, Mark Messier reminded his team that the fourth victory in a series was the hardest to get. It is a difficult lesson to learn – one expressed by both a veteran and a younger Ranger.

“We had three chances to put them away,” Markus Naslund told Steve Zipay of Newsday. “It’s unfortunate. If we played the other two like this, maybe we could have beaten then them.”

Brandon Dubinsky echoed Naslund’s regret at what might have been.

“We know we had them where we wanted them, but we didn’t play very well for two straight games and left it all to chance,” Dubinsky lamented to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “Game 6 at home is the one that’s really disappointing. We just didn’t play the way we wanted to, and that’s really tough to take.”

The signs that the third period was not going to go the Rangers way reared their collective head early in the final 20 minutes. Daniel Girardi’s interference penalty at 1:10 of the third period helped derail any momentum the Rangers built up during the first two periods. The Blueshirts then fell back into their old habit of backing up in their defensive zone – a bad habit that eventually cost them late in the third period.

While fans will be quick to place the entire blame for the game-winning goal on Wade Redden’s shoulders need to watch the replay to see how the scoring chance developed.

It began when Dubinsky fired a shot high and wide to the stick side of Simeon Varlamov. As the puck wrapped around the left wing boards, Naslund went in after the puck rather than take a safer approach by peeling back into the neutral zone. Sergei Federov picked up the loose puck at the Caps blue line and was able to skate through the neutral zone and into the Rangers end. It was at this point that Redden backed off as the veteran Capital beat Lundqvist high to the glove side/short side.

“I wanted to get back and not let him get around me,” Redden explained to Obernauer. “He made a stop-up play, got the puck by my leg, I don’t know where it went. But it found the short side. That’s a tough one.”

It was one that Lundqvist felt he should have stopped.

“Maybe I should have kept my glove higher; I sank down a little when he stopped,” Lundqvist described to Brooks. “I won’t think of it as a bad goal, but I definitely think I could have saved it. I’ve saved shots like that before.”

As bad as Rangers might feel, imagine what it is like to be a fan of the New Jersey Devils after their team blew a one-goal lead by allowing two goals in the final 80 seconds.

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