Thu 14 Apr 2011
Whether you are a fan of hockey or night, there is one universal truth that sports fans have to agree upon – there is nothing more exciting than overtime playoff hockey. That is, unless your team is involved. In that case, overtime is torture – especially if your team loses.
Once again Team Adversity (aka the New York Rangers) will get another chance on Friday to show if they can bounce back off the campus. While the Capitals have the momentum coming out of Game 1, the old adage is that momentum only lasts as long as the next day’s pitcher – or in this case – the next day’s game.
“I think playoff series are surges, going against you, going with you,” Coach John Tortorella told Steve Zipay of Newsday before the game. “You get a win under your belt, you have a surge going with you. It changes quickly. That’s very important in succeeding in these types of series, how you handle surges. There’s a lot of different things come out of a win and a loss.”
If the Rangers are going to pull even in this series, they are going to have to adjust their game plan a bit. The Blueshirts can’t afford to play most of the game in their zone like they did in Game 1. They are going to have to find a way to get a meaningful forecheck going against the Capitals.
In addition, the Rangers need to get more traffic in front of Michal Neuvirth. It was no coincidence that Brian Boyle was lurking in front of Neuvirth when Matt Gilroy opened the scoring.
More importantly, they have to correct the ice balance problem that plagued them on both Capitals goals. On the first goal, and we will discuss that a little later, Marc Staal crossed over from his left d-man position and collided with Daniel Girardi. As a result, the Rangers were left scrambling around in their own end as they allowed Alexander Ovechkin to bang home the rebound. Looking back, the ice balance problems started on the Rangers passive forecheck where they had two players in deep around the crease. The two players in deep like that left a lot of room through the middle of the ice and set the stage for the Staal crossover.
On the game-winning goal, the Rangers got caught out of position as the forwards flew out of the zone as Chris Drury (who would eventually fly the zone as well) and Staal both were unable to clear the puck.
The most interesting point of the game was the way both teams opened up their play at the start of overtime after playing close to the vest for 60 minutes. It is not very often that teams turn to a pond hockey style of play in overtime. It is something to file away for future use in this series.
The Capitals transformation into a defensive team is remarkable considering it was done on the fly during the season. However, when you take a look at their team, it goes against the nature of their team. The start of overtime shows that Washington still has that tendency to play wide open – something that still might come back to bite them in the end before the final script is written on this series.
The point to consider from last night was the Caps defense that good or were the Rangers more content to sit back and counterpunch? No one expected the Rangers to be the Flying Frenchmen, but they were far too passive in their approach to the game.
I guess now is a good time to address the 800-pound gorilla in the rink – the Capitals first goal. Much to their credit, the Rangers were pretty much playing down the call, or rather, non-call from referee Brian Pochmara.
“We’re not going to whine about it,” Tortorella offered after the game.
The Rangers really have no choice because the last thing they need to is start criticizing official or the war room in Toronto. However, it is not going stop fans from wondering what happened.
To me, it looked like Pochmara was ready to blow the whistle before the puck went in the net. Pochmara seems to be undecided as to whether or not to blow his whistle. Then amid the Capitals celebration, Pochmara does not point to the net. Instead, he throws his hands up in the air signifying that the play has been whistled dead, as opposed to a goal being scored. It is one of those calls that change from referee to referee – appoint not lost on Henrik Lundqvist.
“It’s underneath me and I think the whistle’s going to come, so I move, and it just crossed the line,” The King explained to Zipay. “Sometimes they’re real fast on blowing the whistle, but it is what it is. I’m kind of stuck in that position, you hope for a whistle or someone to come and clear the puck . . . I felt like we were playing really well right after our goal.”
Interestingly enough, Pochmara’s refereeing partner Dan O’Halloran factored into a similar play three years ago – call that also went against the Blueshirts.
In Game 2 against Pittsburgh, the Rangers were trailing the Penguins 1-0 when Martin Straka’s apparent game-tying goal was waived off on a quick whistle courtesy of O’Halloran.
While I am on a whining rant about the officials, I do give them credit that O’Halloran and Pochmara let the two teams play and let them get some of their frustration out during post-whistle scrums. However, I do have one bone to pick with one call and one non-call.
It was bizarre that Mats Zuccarello gets called for a boarding penalty, especially when you consider that no Capital player ever hit the board. However, the referees somehow missed John Erskine’s boarding/head shot against Erik Christensen moments earlier.
With both teams focusing on their defensive games, this series is the classic case of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. The winner will be the team that blinks last. In Game 1, the Rangers were the team that blinked first.
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