Thu 21 Apr 2011
New York Rangers meet the Los Angeles Kings. One night after the Kings blew a 4-0 lead in a 6-5 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Blueshirts picked the wrong time to blow their first third period lead in 30 chances.
The game might not have gone the way that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau designed it, but his plan to shift the focus away from his players and on to him paid off in spades.
The Rangers have been Team Adversity all season, including having to win their final game of the season and then hoping that Tampa Bay would defeat Carolina. Now down three games to one, the Rangers face the ultimate must-win game on Saturday afternoon in what should be a raucous Verizon Center. The Rangers have more than one more hill to climb this time, but Brian Boyle appeared to have the right attitude following last night’s devastating loss.
“I’m not looking for three in a row. We’re looking for one. We just want to win Game 5,” Boyle told Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News. “Tonight will be tough to be positive. We’re going to dwell on it, and I think that’s part of it. If you’re not a little upset about what happened there’s something wrong with you.”
Carpiniello spelled out the height of the hill the Rangers have to climb.
Here’s the bad news. Teams trailing 3-1 have won 23 of 240 series in history (9.6 percent). Here’s the good news: Twenty-one of those have happened since 1987, including twice last year. And the Capitals did it to the Rangers in 2009, and had it done to them by Montreal in 2010, and have been involved in six (2-4) of those 23 comebacks.
So what was it that caused Game 4 to turn 180 degrees away from the Rangers? Was it overconfidence on the part of the Blueshirts? Was it their youth surfacing for the first time in the series? Was it the Capitals rising to the challenge of desperation?
The answer contains a combination of all three, but a big part of the blame has to go to the anemic Rangers power play which went 0-7 last night. Just one power play goal in Games 1 and 4 and it is the Rangers heading back to Washington with a chance to end the series.
The power play has become the NHL’s version of football’s prevent defense – the only thing it is preventing is the Rangers from winning. Not only are the Rangers not generating much offense on the power play, but it continues to suck the life out of any momentum the team has built up.
For the first time in this series the Rangers played a passive third period and it cost dearly as momentum swung Washington’s way in the final period of regulation with the Rangers having no answer to the Capitals onslaught.
“We talked about all the things we wanted to do, about jumping and being on our toes and playing in their zone, but we didn’t do any of it,” Chris Drury explained to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “It was almost like we were in a situation we might not have been comfortable with and went, ‘Oh, bleep, what do we do now?’
“And we got a little tight,” he said. “At least that’s what I think happened. We never really could make the play or put the couple of shifts together to get it back.”
The third period was to the Rangers what the second period was to the Capitals. Everything that went right suddenly went wrong. The only difference is that the Rangers struck quickly to extend their lead to 3-0 while Washington methodically turned the game in their favor with three goals in just over 12 minutes.
As the third period progressed, all I could think about was the movie “The Replacements”. In it Gene Hackman is coaching a bunch of replacement football players who were unable to execute because of their own fears. Hackman asks his players what they are afraid of. After some dopey answer, Keanu Reeves hits on the point that Hackman’s character wanted to make.
Reeves’s character relates that he is afraid of “quicksand” and offers up the following explanation.
“You’re playing, and you think everything’s going fine, but then one thing goes wrong … and another … and another … and you try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink … until you can’t move … you can’t breathe … because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”
That line from the movie perfectly describes the New York Rangers in the third period of Game 4. The harder they tried to free themselves from the Capitals “quicksand”, the depper they sank in it.
You got the feeling that once Washington tied the game at 12:07; Game 4 instantly went into overtime mode with the next goal being the winner even if it were in regulation time. It is in those types of situations where Washington’s skill level trumps the Rangers. You knew it was going to take some sort of fluky goal to win the game for the Blueshirts. In the end, it was the Capitals who scored the fluky goal.
On the plus side, two Ranger free agents to be stepped up their play and definitely earned contracts for next season. Ruslan Fedotenko has drawn much praise from Coach John Tortorella for his style of play and his potential to bring to the lineup the same attributes that Ryan Callahan brings to the table. His contributions on the second and third goals were as important as goal scorers Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky.
Matt Gilroy stepped up his play offensively and defensively and showed a physical side to his play early in the game. I am not sure if the Rangers will be able to fit him into the salary cap or how his return could affect Michael Del Zotto, but Gilroy elevated his game in the biggest game of his NHL career.
Of course what can you say about Henrik Lundqvist? His glove save on Alexander Ovechkin about midway through the first overtime was the only reason the game even went to double overtime – despite battling cramps in the overtime periods.
As they approach Game 5, the Rangers just need to reflect back to the last couple of weeks and how they responded when faced with big games – the back-to-back wins against Boston and Philadelphia, the Game 82 victory against New Jersey and Sunday afternoon’s playoff win against Washington.
The Blueshirts should not put Game 4 behind them. Rather, they should embrace it as an example of what good they can accomplish when they are on their game and it should serve as an example of what can go wrong when they deviate from their game plan.
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