April 2012


The stars were all aligned for a Game 1 letdown. The Rangers watched as the Capitals tied the game with 3.5 seconds left in the first period. The Blueshirts were battling the mental and physical fatigue of a quick turnaround after eliminating the Ottawa Senators less than 48 hours ago. Past Ranger teams would have folded under such pressure, but not the 2011-2012 version of the New York Rangers.

“That could have hurt us big time, but we came in here, regrouped, talked about staying patient and just let the game come to us,” Henrik Lundqvist explained to Ira Podell of the AP. “Coming from that Game 7, such an emotional and big win, it was important for us to regroup and start all over. This team doesn’t give up much so we have to be smart with pucks. They kind of wait for mistakes, so the key for us is not to make too many.”

According to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News, the victory was Lundqvist’s 20th as a Ranger, third behind Mike Richter (41) and Eddie Giacomin.

As expected, the two teams were mirror images of each other as the Capitals managed 18 shots to the Rangers 14 and both teams were credited with 15 blocked shots.

The Rangers battle back against adversity received a big boost from an ill-timed line change by defenseman Mike Green and an absolute “goal scorer’s goal” as Dan Girardi would say from Chris Kreider. The rookie from Boston College not earned the Broadway hat, but he is earning more and more ice time and responsibility from his coach.
“All the players dictate their own ice time [based] on how they play. What he’s getting he deserves,” Coach John Tortorella said about Kreider.

”We just want his instinctiveness and his speed. We just want him to go out and play. Forget about what he is doing on the ice. The mental part of the game, as far as him trying to make a difference every shift, is real good stuff for a young kid.”

The Rangers managed to put thoughts of fatigue by getting off to a quick start. The Blueshirts looked to use long indirect passes to beat the Capitals forecheck and trap. As the first period wore on, Washington finally got their skates under them.

The game would see its first turning point early in the second period when the Rangers killed off a pair of Caps power plays that included a two-man advantage for 34 seconds.

Less than three minutes later, the Garden crowd experienced a déjà vu moment when Artem Anisimov fought off and outmuscled Green and channeled his inner Stephane Matteau as his wraparound attempt from behind the net beat Braden Holtby for the game’s first goal.

After seeming to not get any breaks during the Ottawa series, the Rangers caught one when Marcus Johansson’s “goal” was disallowed as the referee blew the play dead as Johansson knocked the puck and Lundqvist into the net. It appeared that Anton Stralman tripped up Johansson, but the goal was waved off and Stralman escaped a trip to the penalty box.

Unlike points during the Ottawa series, the Rangers were not content to sit on their lead – which for once – turned out to be a mistake. After watching Brad Richards walk in and pass on a shot in the final minute, the Capitals knotted the game as Brooks Laich found Jason Chimera for the redirect – the same Jason Chimera who won Game 4 last year with his goal in double overtime.

The fact that the Rangers did not wilt under the adversity of giving up a tying goal in the final seconds of the second period shows that they are a special team and could be positioned to make a long run in the playoffs.

“I just like the way we rebounded after getting scored on at the end of the period,” Tortorella said. “We kept within ourselves, just played our game, and found a way to score a couple of goals in the third.”

It is still very early in this series, but the Capitals might rue their inability to take advantage of the Rangers gift at the end of the second period. Curiously, there was a feeling among the Capitals that questioned that inability.

Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times wrote, “Jason Chimera and other decried the Caps’ lack of effort to match the Rangers intensity. That’s tough to get a grip on considering New York just polished off the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.”

One has to wonder if Coach Dale Hunter’s new defensive philosophy might have taken something out of the Caps’ mystique. Washington pulled a 180 degree turn in style of play from offensive to defensive, rather than add a defensive component to their offensive style of play.

While it served them during the regular season as they went 30-23-7 under Hunter since he took over on November 28, it remains to be debate if the Caps change in play was too drastic a change.

The one thing that can’t be debated was the impact Chris Kreider had on the third period. In addition to scoring his second goal of the playoffs, which is also his second game-winning goal of the playoffs, he helped set up the Rangers insurance goal just 90 second after giving the Rangers the lead for good.

It was Kreider’s work along the left wing boards that allowed Richards to pick up a loose puck and patiently outwait Holtby to ice the game with his third playoff goal.

Right wing Troy Brouwer pretty much summed up the Capitals Game 1 frustrations.

“They’re a good defensive team and when we had guys jump up in the play and we turned it over, then they had guys going the other way,” he related to Whyno.

“Then they were able to get the puck in our zone and cycle it around. Sometimes, when you’re taking chances, it’s going to bite you.”

Katie Carrera of the Washington Post pointed out a very interesting, and telling, statistic from Game 1. The Capitals trailed for 20:18 on Saturday afternoon. In the Boston series, Washington only trailed the Bruins for 24:23 during the entire seven games.

Washington might have lost the first battle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose the war. Seven times the Capitals have the lost the first game of a seven-game playoff series and six times they have come back to win the series – including their 1990 Divisional Finals matchup against the Rangers. After dropping the first game of that series 7-3, Washington won the next four games (the last two in overtime) by a combined score of 19-8; and their 2009 seven-game series victory against the Rangers after spotting the Blueshirts a three games to one lead.

On the plus side for the Rangers, they have a 31-11 series record when winning Game 1.

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It is fitting that the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals are meeting in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Both teams each survived a tight checking opening series that went seven games. In terms of style of play, one could say that the Rangers and Caps are mirror images of each other.

Katie Carrera of the Washington Post described the series as “… a team-defense, shot-blocking palooza. Washington demonstrated its ability to sacrifice the body and absorb shots from the Bruins, finishing with 139 blocks through seven games.”

The Rangers, the NHL playoff leaders, were credited with 155 shots blocked against the Senators.

“By being an ex-player I know what it takes, what the players are going through over there, they get to blocking shots and taking big hits, they’re sacrificing,” Coach Dale Hunter explained to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “So for players, I think it’s one of those things when you win big games like this it’s because they sacrificed and they did [Wednesday night] and through the whole series.”

Whyno offered up his take on how Hunter’s system differs from former coach Bruce Boudreau’s defensive system.
“It’s a departure from years past, even last season, when former coach Bruce Boudreau tried to tighten things up and play a more trapping game. This is a real 1-3-1 neutral zone trap that forces opponents to think more about where they’re putting the puck and takes advantage of mistakes,” Whyno wrote.

There are two main differences between the teams. First off, the Capitals have more potential offensive weapons with the Big Four of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green.

The second difference would normally be a major deciding factor in who will win the series. The Rangers are led by veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist while Washington is relying on rookie Braden Holtby. Normally, that would a big edge to the Rangers, but recent history says that is not the case.

The Capitals have eliminated the Rangers the last two times the teams met in the playoffs with rookie goalies leading the way. In 2009, it was Semyon Varlamov relieving an ineffective Jose Theodore in Washington’s seven game series win. Last year, it was rookie Michal Neuvirth instead of Varlamov pacing the Caps to a five game series win. Will the third time be the charm for the Rangers?

As one might expect, John Tortorella puts no credence in the 2009 and 2011 playoff matchups.
“It doesn’t even come into the equation as far as what we have done before. This is another series,” the coach said.

Holtby’s stats during the Bruins series (2.00 goals against average and .940 save percentage) are nearly identical to those of The King (1.70 goals against average and a .945 save percentage).

Holtby defeated the Rangers on the final day of the regular season stopping 26 of the 27 Blueshirt shots in a game that saw the Rangers spot the Caps a 4-0 lead. It was also one of the few games that the Rangers did not seem to have the whole heart in as the reverted to cruise control rather than chase after the President’s Trophy.

The team split their four regular season games with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The Rangers limited the Capitals to just 89 shots in the four games while firing 109 shots of their own. The Rangers defeated Neuvirth twice while losing to Holtby and Tomas Vokoun, who is out indefinitely with a strained groin.

For the Rangers, Lundqvist won two of three games he played with Martin Biron getting tagged with a 4-1 loss at Washington on December 28.

The one disconcerting fact to consider is that the Rangers only faced the Caps Big Four once during the regular season, the 4-1 loss on April 7. Mike Green missed each of the first three games due to injury. As a result, the Caps Big Four became the Big Five with the emergence of John Carlson in the series. In the four games, Carlson scored three goals and three assists – tying him with Backstrom for the team lead (2-4-6).

Rounding out the Big Four, Ovechkin tallied a goal and two assists while Semin had three goals.

For the Rangers, Ryan Callahan was the Rangers leading scorer in the series (1-4-5). Brandon Dubinsky was second with four points (1-3-4) and Brian Boyle (2-1-3) and Brad Richards (1-2-3) followed with three points each.

The Rangers received good news at Friday’s practice as Boyle returned to the ice; however, his status is still uncertain depending on how he bounces back from practice.

Dubinsky did not practice today and is listed as day-to-day as a resul.t of a lower body injury (thought to be an ankle or knee injury). Dubi missed nearly the final 12 minutes of Game 7.

If Boyle and Dubinsky can’t go, one would expect the Rangers to recall a forward from Connecticut – possibly Kris Newbury who would fill in on the fourth line with Artem Anisimov stepping up to the third line – as he did Thursday night.

Following practice, Tortorella offered matching “no comment” responses when asked for updates on Boyle and Dubinsky.

While most fans are questioning the NHL’s decision to make the Rangers play just 41 hours after finishing off the Ottawa Senators, Tortorella not only refused to join the chorus but he takes the opposite view.
“No, in fact I would rather have it this way,” Tortorella responded to a question about the quick turnaround. “I think when you play a Game 7, and you start another series, if you wait a couple of more days, I think there even could be a letdown.”

“I like the quick turnaround in this type of situation.”

While the coach might not see any problems, I believe the Rangers need to get off to a quick start in Game 1 in order to give themselves some breathing room after the initial shot of adrenaline wears off.
In addition, a quick start takes some of the pressure off of facing the red-hot Holtby and it might help make the rookie goaltender realize that he is just a mere mortal.

So how do the Rangers accomplish this goal? I hate to go back to my Game 6 article, but they must play “their game”. They need to carry over the positives from the Ottawa series.

That means they need to forecheck hard and puts pressure, and bodies, on Carlson and Green early and often.
It means the Rangers’ forwards need to use their speed, especially Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, to force the Capitals defense to back up. That will enable the Rangers to activate their defense to get more involved in the offense – as they did in Game 7 – a strategy that Jamie McLennan of the NHL Network praised the Rangers for doing against the Senators.

Conversely, the Rangers must pay more attention to Washington’s point men in this series. The Rangers might have to sacrifice some of their shot-blocking in order to better control their defensive blue line. Also, they have to be better at clearing the puck during battles near the blue line because the Capitals have the offensive talent that can make a team pay for such a mistake.

While the Capitals have playoff history on their side by winning three of the five playoff series the teams have played, they are facing a mighty tall task for a seventh seed.

According to an article by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, 15 seven seeds pulled off first round upsets. Of those 15 teams, 11 of them lost in the next round and the remaining four lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I see the Rangers-Capitals series being as tight as the team’s first round matchups were. As with the Rangers-senators series, I see the Blueshirts prevailing in a seven-game war as home ice advantage will payoff in another Game 7 victory.

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The late Jim Valvano willed his North Carolina State Wolfpack to their improbable run at their second NCAA championship in 1983 by reinforcing the point of keeping games close enough to win so that they could ultimately “survive and advance”.

The Rangers offered up the ultimate homage to Valvano’s “survive and advance” mantra throughout the seven game series with the Ottawa Senators. By doing so, they set themselves up for a rematch with the Washington Capitals.

Prior to the game, Coach John Tortorella explained to Sam Rosen his vision of what would be the deciding factor in the game.

“The discipline of the game, handling the momentum surges that are so pronounced in a Game 7 and, just like the other night, [making] big play at key times,” Tortorella offered.

“Whoever is more consistent in those areas is going to win the hockey game.”

I have to admit that I was surprised at the wide-open fast paced action at the start of the game. More often than not, teams involved in a Game 7 tend to sit back and wait for the other team to make the first mistake.

The first momentum surge occurred after the Senators first power play. The Rangers were pinned in their own zone in the closing minutes of the first period by the same thing that always causes them to get pinned into their own zone – the Rangers style of play.

The Blueshirts have had major success this season by blocking shots and having their forwards collapse down low – thus clogging the shooting lanes. As a result, teams are forced to the outside and fall into the trap of over-passing, something Ottawa was definitely guilty of during the game and the series.

With that said the Rangers shot-blocking ability definitely played mind games with the Senators.

“It’s like playing against six goalies,” Nick Foligno admitted to Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen.

However, this style of play is double-edged sword. By dropping the forwards down below the tops of the faceoff circles to clog the shooting lanes, the Rangers leave the point men wide open. It offers the opponent a free passing lane back to the defensemen.

The result then becomes a Rangers team that starts running around in their own end trying to chase the puck all over the ice. The Senators further complicated the Rangers defensive scheme by splitting their defensemen as wide as possible – thus forcing the Rangers’ forwards to cover even more ice.

After watching Ottawa launch nine consecutive shots at the first period and into the second period, the Rangers were finally able to surge momentum their way thanks to Chris Kreider’s play in the neutral zone that led to Marc Staal’s goal to open the scoring.

Looking back at this series, the biggest turning point might have been in Game 2 when Carl Hagelin took the five-minute major that led to his three-game suspension. Without that suspension, Kreider might not have seen the ice until Brian Boyle’s injury.

After seeing limited ice time at the start, Kreider has made himself into an integral part of the Rangers playoff run – seeing the fourth highest TOI of all of the Rangers forwards.

“[Kreider] has no fear …. He’s not here trying to test the water, he’s trying to make a difference,” Tortorella said in the post-game press conference.

“To have some kids do the things they did here in this type of situation, in their first whack at it, is promising.”

I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but I have been wracking my brains (or what is left of them) trying to come up with the last player to go directly from winning an NCAA championship to winning a Stanley Cup in the same year.

I guess we can end all of the Rick Nash talk for the time being.

Prior to Game 7, both teams stressed the need for them to “play their game”. It was an uncharacteristic error on Ottawa’s part that paved the way for Dan Girardi’s eventual game-winning goal.

After Ottawa was unable to keep the puck in at the right point, the Blueshirts took off on a counterattack that ended up being a five-on-three rush because the Senators big players came up with a small backchecking/defensive effort.

You had to love Girardi’s take on his first playoff goal. “This is a goal scorer’s goal,” he told Stan Fischler as the bluelinerhad his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

For as team that relies so heavily on a defensive presence, it is fitting that two goal scorers were defensemen who made All-Star Game appearances based on the standout defensive play, not their flashy offensive ability.

The Rangers maintained the momentum until the Senator everyone loves to hate, Chris Neil, drew a retaliatory penalty against Michael Del Zotto – leading up to Daniel Alfredsson’s power play goal. Much like Girardi’s goal was the result of an uncharacteristic play on Ottawa’s part, Ottawa’s lone goal game on a similar play on the Rangers part.

Henrik Lundqvist often has to battle through screens from his own players because of the Blueshirts shot-blocking abilities. However, on Alfredsson’s goal, Anton Stralman got caught in a no-man’s land. He was screening Lundqvist and rather than go for the blocked shot, he turned slightly at the last second – thus creating enough room and enough of a screen to beat The King.

It would also be the last time the Senators would beat The King, although Milan Michalek had a couple of golden chances that Lundqvist turned aside in the third period.

The biggest part of Game 7 might have been the Rangers ability to weather the storm in the second period with a lead. In Game 4, the Rangers were unable to protect a 2-0 second period lead.

During the third period, Joe Micheletti made an excellent point about the Rangers needing to make plays in their own about 10 feet inside the blue line because the Ottawa defense was pinching at every chance they had, and that was helped out because of the free reign they had with the Rangers forwards dropping down low.

While most fans are only going to remember the way the Rangers struggled to hang on down the stretch of the game, it was not necessarily a case of the Rangers merely bunkering down. Ottawa was credited with but four shots on goal through the first 13 minutes of the third period before finishing the prior with a total of nine shots.

“We defended our assess off in the third period,” Tortorella told the reporters. “I thought both teams went toe-to-toe in all areas of the game. Sometimes the first round is the hardest round.”

By being down three games to two, the Rangers made things unnecessarily hard on themselves. Then again, when have the Rangers not taken the hard way?

“I really felt we were going to go into Ottawa and win,” Tortorella said. “And I’m not saying that because we did it. I told our guys that have followed our club all year long that this is a good group and they’ve been resilient all year long. This sets you up for a foundation. Things happen for a reason. We’ll lean on this as we get to the next round and it’ll work to our advantage.”

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun probably summed the series best in his lead sentence, “The Senators played their hearts out, only to have them broken by the New York Rangers.” A break here or a break there and you could have switched the two teams in that sentence.

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“Play Your Game. Play Your Game.” That was the mantra that Herb Brooks repeated over and over during the USA’s Miracle on Ice matchup versus the Soviet Union in 1980.

It is also the mantra the New York rangers must adhere to if they are going beat the 2012 playoff odds and defeat the Ottawa Senators and set up a rematch with the Washington Capitals. Home teams are just 16-29, including the Capitals Game 7 victory at Boston.

Despite the losing records for home teams, there is still an aura to hosting a seventh and deciding game at home.

“In my experience, to get the last game before your fans, it’s a comfort zone,” Brad Richards explained to Newsday’s Steve Zipay.

“We’ve talked, and it’s been about how we’re going to enjoy something that not a lot of people get to do. It’s not the Stanley Cup or the finals, but Game 7s are something you don’t forget. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to step up . . . You just go with it.”

Much like Game 4 saw the end of one streak (Ottawa’s seven game home playoff losing streak) and continuation of another (Rangers’ seventh straight overtime loss in the playoffs), the teams will suffer a similar fate following Game 7.

The Senators have lost all four seventh and deciding games they have played while the Rangers are 3-5, with all three wins coming at Madison Square Garden (1992 against New Jersey and 1994 against the Devils and Vancouver).

“Play Your Game. Play Your Game.”

Senators forwards Nick Foligno pretty much summed up both teams mentality while discussing Game 7 with Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun.

“It’s do or die. Everybody understands the mentality. We don’t think we have to change a lot. We know that we’ve played really well to this point in the series and we have to keep our emotions in check,” Foligno explained to Garrioch.

“We just have to concern ourselves with the way we play and I’m sure we’re going to do really well. We just have to play our game. If we keep our focus, we’re a really good team and we’re a really dangerous team.”

Foligno was not the only Senator who commented on a game plan that fits both teams.

“We have to stay aggressive,” Captain Daniel Alfredsson told Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen. “We’ve done a good job of pushing the pace a little more, getting more pressure in their end and not giving them much time breaking out.”

“Play Your Game. Play Your Game.”

The Rangers must come out and not allow the Senators any room to breathe. While the Blueshirts did “explode” for three goals in staving off elimination in Game 6, winning and advancing to the next round is going to be based on their ability limit Ottawa’s chances.

They must find a way to plow the ice so that Henrik Lundqvist can the Senators shots. At the same time, the Rangers need to crowd Craig Anderson and get him moving laterally in his crease.

The Blueshirts must continue to hound Norris Trophy nominee Erik Karlsson and limit his ability to freewheel and carry the puck. The Rangers have to be very aggressive on their forecheck from the opening faceoff while, at the same time, make sure that they not get caught in too many odd-man rushes.

In other words, the Rangers need to keep a third forward high.

With the series down to a one game “do-or-die” scenario, the Rangers ability to pin Ottawa in their own end while eliminating Ottawa’s effectiveness on the forecheck will go a long way to swaying momentum in their favor – and thus keeping the Garden crowd loud and proud.

“To be able to feed off the fans Thursday will be amazing. But you’ve got to take the emotion and adrenaline and channel it in the right direction: not letting it boil over and taking a bad penalty or trying to make too special of a play because you get too excited,” Brandon Dubinsky told Zipay.

“And with all the momentum swings, especially in a Game 7, if you have it, you have to try to sustain it as long as you can, or grab it back as quick as you can.”

“Play Your Game. Play Your Game.”

The Rangers must skate that fine balance between playing with urgency, keeping the right emotional balance while maintaining their disciplined play. In other words, the Rangers have to play the way did in the regular season on their way to securing the top spot in the Eastern Conference – thus assuring Game at MSG.

While much was made earlier in the series of the Rangers lack of playoff experience as compared to Ottawa, the Blueshirts do have some grizzled veterans of the Game 7 wars.

Marian Gaborik’s Minnesota Wild twice rallied from 3-1 deficits in the first two rounds to defeat Colorado and Vancouver in 2003.

The 41-goal scorer realizes the need for him to be a difference maker in Game 7.

“I know there is pressure on me to score because I put it on myself every game, just the way I have since day one when I started in the league when I was 18,” Gaborik admitted to Larry Brooks of the NY Post.

“It’s important for me to do the things that away from the puck that are necessary for me to be in position to score, but I am going into this game with the purpose of making a difference, and the best way for me to do that is to score.”

Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko can speak, not only to winning the Stanley Cup in a seventh and deciding game, but they can relate to being on a team that was facing elimination in Game 6.

John Tortorella’s Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2 (does that score sound familiar) to force a Game 7 showdown for the Cup. Fedotenko (who as Andrew Gross of The Record pointed out is 4-0 in Game 7s) scored both goals in the Lightning 2-1 Cup clinching game.
Speaking of Game 7 cup clinching goals, Mike Rupp did the honors when the Devils defeated the Anaheim Ducks in 2003 – the same Ducks team that swept Gaborik’s Wild out of the playoffs.

Gross also points out a few other Rangers can address the feelings at being on the losing end of a seventh and deciding game.

Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal were members of the 2009 Rangers that lost Game 7 to the Capitals 2-1 as Sergei Fedorov scored with 4:59 left in regulation. Incredibly, that was Anisimov’s first NHL game so he can provide a unique point of view for Chris Kreider.

While Game 7 often comes down to a hero no one expected (Stephane Matteau in 1994 and Joel Ward against the Bruins), Coach Tortorella is expecting his best players to shine through.

Prior to Game 6 Tortorella was asked about the loss of Brian Boyle. While addressing that question, the coach put the onus on his star players.

“Well, quite honestly, Brian has been our best player [and] Brian’s been the best forward the last two years in the playoffs … but that can’t be with our club,” Tortorella opined. Our guys that are supposed to make a difference need to make a difference.”

Given the way this series has been played, it would come to no surprise if we see our third overtime game of the series. If that is the case, look for what I call the “five-minute rule” to be in place. I am of the belief that if a playoff game is not settled in the first five minutes, the game is destined for at least double overtime.

Of the 15 overtime games so far in the 2012 playoffs, only four of them did not fall under that rule – and one of those exceptions was Travis Zajac’s goal in Game 6 that came at 5:39 of overtime. The other three games were the first three games of the Phoenix-Chicago series which defied logic as the first five games all went in overtime.

Looking ahead to Game 7, the Rangers must break Game 7 into five-minute segments and make sure they win or draw each segment. They must fight shift-by-shift, period-by-period. The Rangers must maintain composure and play disciplined hockey and not get suckered into retaliatory penalties.

In the simplest terms of all, my Game 7 advice to the New York Rangers is to just “Play Your Game. Play Your Game.”

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This is why the New York Rangers fought so hard to secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference. While home ice advantage has been anything but in this series, there is no other placed I want Game 7 to be played other than Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers are just 3-5 in seventh and deciding games in their history. However, all three of those wins have come at the Garden: 1992 and 1994 against the New Jersey Devils and 1994 against the Vancouver Canucks.

Don LaGreca of 1050 ESPN radio brought up and interesting stat during the Michael Kay show. Prior to Game 6, the Rangers scored only five goals in four games. According to LaGreca that only happened once during any four-game stretch – in mid-January when the Rangers beat Phoenix 2-1 in a shootout, lost to Ottawa 3-0, beat Toronto 3-0, and then lost a 4-1 game to Montreal.

The Blueshirts Game 6 victory was not without its controversy, horrible officiating and potential Ranger injury concern.

Andrew Gross of The (Bergen) Record wrote, “The biggest concern for the Rangers might be the health of Captain Ryan Callahan. Callahan did not miss a third-period shift in playing 24:28 but he appeared to have injured his middle finger blocking Chris Phillips’ shot at 3:00 of the third period while on the ice as a penalty killer.”

“Trainer Jim Ramsey examined the finger on the bench and Callahan, who was credited with six hits and three blocked shots, was not available to the media after the game.”

Odds are, short of amputation, the Captain will be in the lineup. The question will be how effective can he be.

As for the controversy and horrible officiating, where shall we start?

Both teams have reasons for being displeased with the tandem of Steve Kozari and Tim Peel – something I warned about in yesterday’s Chris Neil article.

I can understand trying to get control of the game early, but to call a ticky-tack roughing call on Mike Rupp is beyond belief – especially when he is matched up with Zenon Konopka as opposed to Jason Spezza.

A couple of minutes after the Rupp penalty, that jackwagon Neil gets away with tripping Brad Richards.

Ottawa fans should be upset at the goalie interference call on Nick Foligno because Dan Girardi did push him into Lundqvist. However, Foligno got away with a slew foot-like trip on Lundqvist earlier in the period and the goalie interference goal on Chris Kreider was a joke because Craig Anderson turned his body into Kreider to initiate the contact.

I guess we really should start, and probably end, with the goal Ottawa scored in the final minute – the one that is probably going to cost Henrik Lundqvist a few fishnagels give The King’s Post-game comments.

“Oh my God, it scares me,” Lundqvist lamented. “When it’s such an obvious play, goalie interference and a kick, and they still call it a goal, it scares me that someone can call that. It’s just unbelievable. It still upsets me. We have this game and they get a chance. Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there’s no other explanation.”

I really hate to give any credence to conspiracy theories, but if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it must be Aflac.

When you factor in the Carl Hagelin suspension, the lack of any disciplinary action taken by Brendan Shanahan (more on him later) on the Chris Neil hit on Brian Boyle, and then you toss in the Senators second goal, it gets difficult to remain neutral in the conspiracy theory debate.

Credit is due to NBC analyst Brian Hayward who jumped all over the interference portion of the sham goal. As Hayward pointed out during the game, if Neil’s kicking motion causes Lundqvist’s stick to knock the puck into the net, the goal must be waved off.

Taking it one step further it is hard to believe that four officials did not see what Greg Wyshynski (Yahoo’s Puck Daddy) termed “Chris Neil using Lundqvist as a Swifter” as Neil harpooned the Rangers goaltender during the scramble.

Isn’t interesting that the second Senators goal was credited to Spezza as opposed to Neil? Then again, if they credited the goal to Neil they couldn’t defend the odious “inconclusive” call on Neil’s distinct kicking motion.

Why would the NHL want its biggest market out of the playoffs in favor of a small Canadian market? I am not so sure they do, but there is also a groundswell to keep Canada’s lone team alive given that a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993.

Given the inconsistent and haphazard nature of the officiating and the rulings coming out of the NHL, the Blueshirts would be wise to make sure Game 7 doesn’t come done to one play, penalty call or video review.

Speaking of video reviews, Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post made an interesting observation stemming from the controversial goal.

Senators’ first-line winger Milan Michalek may be facing a suspension for Game 7 as a result of kicking Dan Girardi twice in the midsection with his skate blade,” Cyrgalis writes. “The play was part of the scrum in front of Lundqvist that resulted in the second goal, and Canadian television outlet CBC has numerous angles of the altercation.”

Sadly, if you think any suspension is forthcoming then I still have that bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

Setting aside the shanahanigans that arose out of Game 6, there were plenty of positives points. First, and most importantly, we saw the coming of age part for Chris Kreider. The rookie from Boston College is growing in confidence and is showing why President/GM Glen Sather refused to consider including him in any trade talks for Rick Nash.

While Derek Stepan is a “grizzled veteran” when compared to Kreider, the Wisconsin Badger hit the scoresheet in a big way registering his first three playoff points of his career.

Give credit to Brandon Prust who managed to finally “goad” Neil into a fight. While Neil might have won the fight and whipped up the Scotiabank Place crowd, Prust’s actions stirred on his team and did quiet Neil down for a period or so.

“Prustie does it for us all year, but what he did for us tonight was unbelievable,” Richards admitted to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “We didn’t want to let him down. We talked about it [after the first period]. I love the guy.”

For his part, Prust knew exactly what he was doing.

“We were down 1-0,” said Prust commented to Newsday’s Steve Zipay. “Whenever I’m fighting, it’s usually not for me, it’s to get the guys going. I think most of it’s just trying to get the guys going, to get a little spark, a little jump…maybe a little bit for Boyler, too.”

Speaking of Richards, he stepped up his play as he orchestrated both of the Rangers power play goals while finishing second in ice time among the team’s forwards.
Brandon Dubinsky stepped up and filled in admirably for Boyle and was the best center on faceoffs – winning 52%.

Carl Hagelin showed just how much his speed was missed during the game. His second period forecheck with Ruslan Fedotenko drew the first of the two Senator penalties that lead to the five-on-three advantage.

“[Hagelin] adds speed and I think he makes everybody else play quicker,” Coach John Tortorella stated prior to Game 6.

Michael Del Zotto deserves a pat on the back for hammering Neil behind the Rangers net with a little more than five minutes left in the third period. Neil stayed down long enough for play to be whistled dead.

Neil’s response. “I’m sure I will catch him with his head down,” Neil confessed to Garrioch.

Overall, the Rangers just played a smarter game – especially when they took the lead. Unlike previous games, the Blueshirts did not try to sit on the lead. Instead, they did look to add on to the lead. The only time they hunkered down was late in the third period when Ottawa finally played with the urgency that their coach Paul MacLean thought they lacked.

“I didn’t think we played very well or consistently until the last six minutes of the game,” MacLean told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun. “I’d like to see us play harder.”

As promised, we now we revisit Brendan Shanahan one more time. My wife Roe was a huge fan of Shanny when he was a Ranger. One of her prized possessions was a Rangers tee shirt with his name and number on it – key word WAS.

To say she was a bit upset over his lack of disciplinary action against Chris Neil would be a major understatement. After Ottawa took the lead, she got up and grabbed her Shanahan tee shirt.

As the first period continued, she calmly and methodically took a pair of scissors and cut the thing into neat and measured shreds. First went the sleeves and then rest of the shirt, including his name and number. The only thing she did not cut up was the “Rangers” on the front.

She then sat down and wrote him a letter expressing her displeasure over his job as NHL Director of Player Safety. She also explained that she was mailing him back his tee shirt because he does not deserve to wear it.

Okay, truth be told, when I am the sane Ranger fan in the house – Houston, we have a problem!

As a result, you can see why the Rangers have to win Game 7 and vanquish the Ottawa Senators. Not so much for Roe’s sanity, but for my safety. Needless to say, I will be sleeping with my goalie equipment to protect me from Lorena, I mean, Roe. :-)

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I suppose that NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan’s arms were too sore from patting himself on the back for imposing a 25-game suspension to Raffi Torres for him to issue a disciplinary hearing for Chris Neil’s hit on Brian Boyle during Game 5.

There really is no other reason for Neil not to face some disciplinary action because his hit on Boyle met the three basic points that Shanahan has used when suspending players this season – including the Rangers very own Carl Hagelin.

Despite what Neil apologists have written on the Internet, he did target Boyle’s head as the primary point of contact, the hit is delivered from Boyle’s blindside, and most damaging is the player was injured as a result of the hit.

While we can’t always determine a player’s mindset in terms on intent (although Shanahan did in reference to the Hagelin hit), if you think Neil wasn’t targeting Boyle then do I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. It is no bit of irony that Neil drops the hammer on the same player that Matt Carkner jumped at the start of Game 2 as retaliation for Boyle’s jabs at Erik Karlsson.

Some have said that the fast-paced nature of the game at that point would not lend itself to Neil being able to zero in on Boyle – despite the fact that at 6-foot-7 he is the tallest player on the ice who was not on the Senators bench dressed as the backup goaltender (Ben Bishop).

Neil’s defenders point out that the Ottawa tough guy has never been suspended for any on-ice transgression. Well, prior to his hit on Daniel Alfredsson, neither had Hagelin. While we are it, neither has Sean Avery. How many games do you think Avery gets if he delivers the same hit to Kyle Turris?

For his part, Neil claims his hit was legal – much like he did back in February 2003 when he knocked the Buffalo Sabres co-captain Chris Drury out of game. Here is how Buffalo Coach described the play.

“It was a predator-type of hit where Chris was vulnerable,” Ruff told CBC sports. “Neil went out of his way to deliver a blow to Chris’ head.

“It was a deliberate attempt to put somebody out.”

Drury suffered a concussion and missed four games, to go along with a 20-stitch cut to his forehead that occurred when his head hit the ice.

So before everyone points out that Neil has never been “suspended” for this type of play, he has been “involved” in it. Writers might want to ask Martin Biron about it because he was one of three players (teammate Andrew Peters and Ottawa goalie Ray Emery were the others) who were suspended as a result of the ensuing brawl that saw 110 PIMs handed out.

Fortunately for the Rangers, they have a history of dealing with concussions. The last thing any competent organization would want to do is force a concussed player to fly after suffering his injury and then let the player on the ice less than 48 hours after suffering what is termed as a concussion.

You have to give Shanahan credit for one thing; he could have had a sham “hearing” where he pointed his finger at Neil while making the Ottawa winger promise never to do it again.

If he wanted to truly heartless, he could have nailed Neil with one of his patented $2,500 fines. Oops, I forgot, those are saved for superstar defensemen who attempt to inject a little WWE action into the NHL.

I know there are some who are saying that as a Rangers blogger I am biased. To those people I say you might be right. That is why I am asking for some consistency when it comes to disciplinary actions. Rangers Coach John Tortorella was correct when he called the play “a dangerous, dangerous, cheap hit”, but he was way off base when he compared it to the one Torres delivered to Marian Hossa. To call for, or even expect, a 25-game suspension is ludicrous.

With that said, there are others who have no horse in this race who are just as perplexed that Neil escaped any disciplinary actions. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star is one writer who finds Shanny’s actions, or lack thereof, quite puzzling.

“It seems unthinkable, given all the circumstances, that Shanahan would now, after laying down the law so heavily on Torres, permit Neil to walk away unpunished for his head shot on Boyle, a hit that certainly appeared to break Rule 48. Consistency is what hockey fans seem to want, and there can be no consistency when one player – a multiple offender – is getting 25 games for a head shot while another gets nothing for a head shot of his own. Yes, Neil would at least in theory be a first time offender; then again, so was Hagelin,” Cox wrote on April 22, 2012.

“Any reasonable person would suggest Neil should at least get one game; reports that Boyle’s head was not the principle point of contact are laughable.”

As to addressing the old adage that Boyle needed to keep his head, Cox provides a telling quote from a former NHL player.

“Not sure how we teach our players to look at the net, shoot the puck and then check out the danger at 45, 90 and 180 degrees in one motion,” Cox quotes a disgusted former NHLer this morning. “We cannot just say the game is hard and concussions happen. It’s not right.”

As we look ahead to Game 6, Alfredsson and Neil will hailed as conquering heroes at the Scotiabank Place while Hagelin will sure to draw the boos usually reserved for Sidney Crosby at Madison Square Garden.

While Ranger fans hope that Hagelin’s return to the lineup is the tonic for the offensive malaise that his hit Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, it is my hope that Hagelin makes it through the game in one piece.

With Steve Kozari and Tim Peel set as the referees, it might be a long night for the Blueshirt faithful.

We’ve already witnessed Ottawa’s thirst for frontier justice when Carkner jumped Boyle in Game 2 and then again with Neil’s predatory hit on Boyle in Game 5. Is there any Ranger fan out there who does not believe for one second that one of those knuckle-dragging guttersnipe Senators (i.e. Neil, Carkner or Zenon Konopka) aren’t going to take runs at Hagelin?

And when they do, you can bet that Shanahan will have their back much like he had Neil’s following Saturday night’s game.

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At the start of the playoffs, all Ranger fans would agree that for the Blueshirts to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist would have to be the best goaltender on the ice in any given game. While Lundqvist was good in Game 5, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson was even better as he stopped all 41 shots he faced in posting his second career playoff shutout.

While the Rangers had lots of chances to get on the scoreboard, Anderson has now stopped the last 65 shots the Rangers have taken going bacl to early in the first period of Game 4.

Truth be told, Game 5 might have been the Rangers best game of the series as it came the closest to being a full 60 minute effort. This game should probably have been the third to go to overtime had John Mitchell not messed up his assignment on the Senators first goal.

Rather than stay with his man, Jason Spezza, Mitchell peeled off to check rookie Mark Stone (who was making his professional debut) – even though Ryan McDonagh had Stone contained. With Mitchell losing his check, Spezza was home free to notch his first playoff goal in his last 19 games.

After being called by Coach Paul MacLean, Spezza responded with two goals and six shots after being held without a shot in Game 4.

It is no coincidence that Ottawa has one the last two games as their two best players have ended up on the scoresheet – Spezza with his two goals tonight and Milan Michalek with the first goal in Game 4.

Conversely, the Blueshirts are waiting for Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to break free and score goals – something they have not done since Game 1. Discounting his horrendous pass/turnover that turned into Spezza’s empty net goal, Gaborik was engaged during the game and showed some good jump and showed a willingness to play a physical game.

It will be interesting to see how the Chris Neil Affair will play out. Boyle has a concussion and is out indefinitely. Following the game, Coach John Tortorella called it “dirty” and “cheap” and likened the hit tp the one Raffi Torres delivered to Marian Hossa and cost Torres as 25-game suspension. Let us not forget that Neil delievered a borderling knee-to-knee hit to Ruslan Fedotenko prior to Neil’s headhunting hit on Boyle.

Arthur Staple of Newsday tweeted the following quite from Neil, “The hit was clean… When you’re cutting thru the middle with your head down, you’ve got to expect to be hit.”

That would be true had Neil not cut across and led with his shoulder and nailing Boyle in the head.

Either way, the ball is now in Brendan Shanahan’s court.

If Carl Hagelin received a three-game suspension for what was termed a “premeditated” play, then Neil deserves the same suspension. Neil made Boyle’s head the primary point of contact and the hit came from the blind side – the exact two things the NHL is SUPPOSEDLY trying to legislate out of the game

The Rangers have shown the ability to bounce back from adversity all season long, a point that Brandon Dubinsky ame following the game.

“We have to try to find a way to it the hard way,” Dubinsky explained. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to make sure we’re focused on one 60-minute game of hockey. This team has been really good all year rebounding from tough hockey games like this.”

The road the Rangers face is not an easy one come Monday night. In 22 previous best-of-seven series that were tied at two games apiece, the team that won Game 5 went on to win the series 91% of the time. One notable excception was the 1994 Rangers who lost Game 5 to the New Jersey Devils in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

On the plus side for the Rangers, they re not that far off. Their defense and penalty killing ar e at the top of their games. The Blueshirts must find a way to solve Anderson. During the post-game show on MSG Network, Billy Jaffe offered an interesting take on the Rangers offensive production tonight.

While Jaffe did concede the Rangers did a good jon of getting some traffic in fron of the Ottawa netminder, he noticed that most of the shots were “straight on”. Jaffe urged the Rangers to try and get Anderson to move more, especoially side-to-side as they attack. That would open up the Rangers for more rebound opportunities and leave Anderson, at times, at a disadvantage positionally on the? rebounds.

As for the power play, Torts needs to make them watch the first two power plays from Game 4 and them contrast them with the subsequent nine man advantages so the team can notice how they jus stopped shooting the puck. The Senators have become more aggressive in the penalty killing so the Rangers need to make on or two passes to get the Senators penalty killers moving and then start firing shots on goal – with as much traffic as Ottawa is throwing at Lundqvist.

The one part of their game that is not going to get better at any point during the playoffs is their faceoff percentage – especially now that Boyle is out of the lineup. What the Ranegrs need to do is work even harder on the assignments after the faceoff is lost. That means going as hard as possible to the point of they lose defensive zone draws, and it means getting inhard on the forecheck if they lose offensive zone draws.

The Rangers can no longer view this as best-of-seven series. They must look at Monday’s game as the seventh and deciding game. whatever it takes to beat the Ottawa Senators must be done.

We can expect that the Hagelin, Gaborik and Richards line will be reunited. If I were the coach, I would put Chris Kreider with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan and roll the dice that Kreider is ready to translate his collegiate success into NHL success. You can team Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Fedotenko as a third line with Michael Rupp, John Mitchell and Brandon Prust as the fourth line. Depending on the tenor of the game, I might flip[ Fedotenko and Prust.

I might even dress Steve Eminger for Stu Bickel looking to get a little more experience and a little more offense from the blueliners.

Above all, it doesn’t matter what the lines are or what the defensive pairing are, the bottom line is that Monday night’s game is one where the Blueshirts best players have to be their best players. Secondary scoring and contributions will be greatly appreciated, but the Rangers must rely on their to find a way to bring the series back to the Garden on Thursday night.

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To paraphrase, and expound upon, noted philosopher George Santayana, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it – that is until the Rangers repeat enough of their mistakes to lose their series to the Senators.”

It is puzzling hot a team that made its bones during the regular season by playing disciplined hockey can become so undisciplined that are making the same mistakes from game-to-game and within games.

One could say that since it is the playoffs, the competition is much better. That might be the case, but I think the root of the problem might stem from the increased stakes at hand.

During the grind of an 82-game schedule, it is easy to see how an opponent could become frustrated by the Rangers style of play – almost to the point of exasperation. However, come playoff time every game takes on added importance which forces an opponent to bear down and focus and overcome the frustration and exasperation.

Of course, the Rangers inability to put away Ottawa has become the biggest repeated mistake the Blueshirts are making. At a time when they should keep their foot on the gas pedal, within moderation, they are letting up on the gas and easing the seat back.

It was somewhat understandable in Game 2 because the Rangers were hunkering down late in the third period to defend a one-goal lead. Game 4 was a different animal altogether because the Rangers seemed to expect two goals would be enough after Henrik Lundqvist shutout the Senators in Game 3.

The ironic thing is the game started out about as well it possibly could for the Rangers as they capitalized on their early power play chances as they were able to win faceoffs, maintain puck possession and do something they don’t do enough on the power play – SHOOT THE PUCK!

Just as quickly as the Rangers righted their power play, was just as fast they went back to their old ways and repeated past mistakes. The shots stopped coming and the Rangers spent more time fighting to hold the puck than they are attacking the Senators’ net.

Leave it to the Rangers to go against their own conventional wisdom come the playoffs. Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News posted an interesting fact on his Blog. The Rangers were 25-2-4 during the regular season when they scored power play goals. During the playoffs, the Rangers are 0-2 when they score a power play goal.

In the end it was an ineffective power play that paved the way for the Senators to open the scoring as the Rangers lost track of the penalty time remaining that led to Matt Carkner leaving the penalty box and keying an odd-man rush.

One mistake they kept making that didn’t cost them last night, but bears watching for the rest of the series, was the Rangers habit of looking to make cross-ice diagonal passes (especially on the power play). That type of pass is a recipe for intercepted passes and breakaways against.

The biggest Game 4 mistake cost the Rangers a pair of goals against – and eventually the game. The Rangers had defensemen caught deep on Ottawa’s first goal (Marc Staal) and game-winning goal (Ryan McDonagh).

Once the game went into overtime, one of the teams was going to end a negative streak. The Senators win ended a seven-game home playoff losing streak at the Scotiabank Place. The Rangers overtime loss is their seventh straight overtime loss in the playoffs.

The biggest concern so far is that the only time the Senators have led in this series is when they have scored their overtime goals. If the Rangers are unable to maintain the control of play when they have a 2-0 lead, how are they going to cope and respond if/when they fall behind?

Even with the two goal lead, the Rangers never seemed interested in putting that extra nail in the Senators’ coffin. Not only did the Blueshirts let Ottawa off the hook, they sat back and allowed the Sens to take control of the game – again.

The Rangers can’t be content to sit back in defensive postures as Ottawa piles up offensive zone time. The Rangers have been at their most effective in this series when they are able to maintain possession of the puck – an absolute muss if they want to keep the crease-crashing Sens out of Lundqvist’s way.

The best way to accomplish those tasks is for the Rangers to ramp up their forechecking, which should increase their offensive output while slowing down Ottawa. When the Rangers are aggressive on their forecheck, they win. When they aren’t, they lose.

When you factor in shots on goal, blocked shots and shots that go wide, the Senators out-chanced the Rangers 85 to 49. If you are wondering why the Rangers look so tired during stretches of the game, you need to look no further than that telling statistic. It also helps explain how, after scoring four goals in Game 1, the Blueshirts have managed to score just five goals in the next three games.

Looking forward, the Rangers have to realize that they need to play with a sense of urgency for 60 minutes, or longer, if a game happens to go into overtime.

They also need to get more offense from their star players – especially during five-on-five play. While Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards did rack up a pair of assists in Game 4, they are not producing enough offense in terms of goals.

Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky must take a page out of Brian Boyle’s playbook and elevate their offensive games. Both players have the ability to impose themselves more on the game.

After watching the way the Senators are congregating around Lundqvist, one has to wonder if the Rangers would have been better off with Dylan McIlrath making his NHL debut in the playoffs.

Given the way the referees clamped down during Game 4, both teams can expect the same treatment for the rest of the series. As a result, special teams’ play just got exponentially more important.

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True poetic justice would have seen rookie Chris Kreider score the lone goal in the New York Rangers 1-0 win in Game 3 as the replacement for the suspended Carl Hagelin. Well, the fickle finger of fate had the right school (Boston College) but the wrong eagle (Brian Boyle).

While Boyle provided the game’s only offense, it was The King who shined brightest among the Blueshirts. Henrik Lundqvist made 39 saves in posting his fourth career shutout, but none were bigger than the ones he made in the final minute. After stopping a sharp angle shot from the left wing corner, Lundqvist stoned Kyle Turris in front to preserve the victory.

There was some disappointment at not preserving the Game 1 shutout, but when you have a four goal lead in the third period it is always good to hold on to those shutouts when you really need them – like last night.

Fans have come to expect that type of dominating performance from Lundqvist. However, the same can’t be said about the roll Boyle is on. After struggling for most of the season to find his offensive game, Boyle is as hot as any player can be – scoring eight goals in his last 12 games, including one each playoff game.

Lundqvist is not surprised by Boyle’s run of offensive prowess.

“He’s doing all the things he’s been doing all year, but now he’s scoring some big goals or us,” Lundqvist explained to Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun. “And I’m not surprised. He’s a really skilled player. He’s been really hot in practise the last few weeks. We need guys to step up right now, and he’s doing that.”

Boyler was quick to pay back Lundqvist’s praise.

“Once again, as has been the story all year, No. 30 back there, the guy was unbelievable,” Boyle said to Dave Lozo of nhl.com. “He was the biggest difference, I think.”

Boyle is relishing his role as Ottawa‘s Public Enemy Number 2 (obviously, Hagelin takes the top spot).

“If I’m the villain to them that’s good,” Boyle admitted to The Canadian Press. “If I knew (I would score this often) I probably would have tried to do it a lot earlier. It’s been fortunate bounces.”

Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti were spot on when they said that no player has stepped up their play like Boyle. In a way, that is placing the Rangers in a Catch-22 situation. On a team with the likes of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan, your best skater can’t be Brian Boyle. It is a recipe for a playoff upset.

Yes, the Rangers do need secondary scoring – a problem they encountered throughout the season. However, they need to see production from their primary scorers as well. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if a couple of secondary scorers (like Brandon Dubinsky) followed Boyle’s lead.

One of those potential secondary scorers could be Kreider. Fresh off winning his second NCAA championship in the three years, the young forward did not look out of place as he is the first rookie to make his NHL debut in the playoffs since Lauri Korpikoski did so in 2008. Of course, Korpikoski had the advantage of playing 162 AHL games before making his NHL debut.

Kreider saw just over 11 minutes of ice time before giving way to Derek Stepan midway through the third period. Coach John Tortorella wanted to let the youngster watch up close how the Blueshirts defended their lead.

You had to wonder if it was going to be another one of those nights where the bounces were not going to go the Rangers way, especially after watching the puck pinball in the crease with 11 minutes left in the second period. Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson and captain Jason Spezza combined to keep the puck out of the net.

Did anyone else wonder if that had been a Ranger skater scrambling to keep the puck out of the net that a penalty shot would have been called?

Perhaps Brendan Shanahan’s screwball logic when it comes to suspensions has me paranoid to the point of questioning every call and non-call. However, just because I am not paranoid does not necessarily mean people aren’t out to get the Rangers .

There is one glaring example that caught my attention. At least three times during the game, I heard a referee warn the Rangers to “watch the crease” and “stay out of the blue”. I never heard a referee offer the same warning to Ottawa – even after Zenon Konopka jabbed at Lundqvist. It was bad enough to warrant a response from Lundqvist who went after Konopka and then complained to the referee.

I know that Tortorella is persona non grata when it comes to the NHL and their “precious” officials, so it might be time for President/GM Glen Sather to come out of hiding and get in front of this “crease crashing” from the Senators because you can expect even more of it as the series progresses.

“We ran into a hot goaltender (Monday),” Anderson told The Canadian Press. “We just have to find a way to get more traffic and put a couple by him.”

In addition to dealing with the onslaught of bodies in front of Lundqvist, the Rangers will need to stop being so tentative with the puck in their own end. With about eight minutes or so left in the third period, the Rangers ran into a stretch of play where they just could not bang the puck out of the zone and were getting badly outworked along the boards.

Speaking of the boards, the Rangers definitely want to be mindful of the lively boards and glass at Scotiabank Place. More Blueshirts need to follow Daniel Girardi’s lead (as he did on the lone goal) and fire pucks towards the net with the intent of utilizing indirect passes off the boards and playing the caroms and bounces into scoring chances.

Another key to Game 4 is making sure they are able to contain Erik Karlsson. The Senator blueliner had 10 shots and a goal in their Game 2 win while combining for eight shots in their two losses.

The Rangers have been up two games to one in a seven-game series 18 times in their history, posting a 13-5 series record.

By the way, thanks to my wife Roe for coming up with the “Boyler Maker” headline. Just goes to show, behind every good man is a better woman! :-)

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The New York Rangers sixth consecutive overtime playoff loss did not stem from any change in momentum as a result of Ottawa’s two third period goals in Game 1. It also did not stem from Matt Carkner’s Hanson Brotheresque imitation on Brian Boyle. Rather, the loss came because the Rangers did not manage to maintain puck possession and a couple of bounces went against them in the 3-2 loss last night.

“There’s always a natural tendency where you end up defending. I thought we could have made some plays to try and keep some puck possession, but that’s what happens when you get into a little bit of that,” Rangers Coach John Tortorella said following the game. “I don’t think we’re that bad, it’s kind of a fluky goal that goes right through Marc (Staal), right through his legs and they bang it in. We were four minutes away from winning the hockey game and I still don’t think we played that poorly tonight, but I do think we need to continue to attack.”

Even the other two Senators goals came off bounces that went against the Rangers. Erik Karlsson’s bank shot that tied the game at 1-1 deflected off Michael Del Zotto and into the net. Ottawa’s winning goal also came off a fortuitous bounce after a shot from the point hit Ryan McDonagh and bounced right to Chris Neil.

A quick memo to the Blueshirts blueliners (especially Del Zotto) – nothing good ever happens when a defender is standing or skating through his own crease.

Bad bounces and possible momentum swings were not the story of this game. Instead, it is the way that the hatred between the two teams has been elevated exponentially.

At the start of the 3rd period, Joe Micheletti made a comment about how “tough” the game was. Honestly, Joe was downplaying the tone of the game. It was a chippy game that often turned downright dirty – a game just short of hand-to-hand combat.

And depending on how Brendan Shanahan handles the review of Game 2, Monday night’s game could turn into a WWE Battle Royale. It means nothing if Shanahan suspends Matt Carkner because he accomplished what he set out in Game 2. Quite frankly, if Shanny wanted to mete out punishment he would force Ottawa to dress Carkner and give him 20 minutes of ice time on defense.

Boyle addressed how he expects the intensity to pick up as the series continues.

“It’s going to get elevated every night,” Boyle told the Associated Press. “We have to keep trying to raise our game, raise our level of intensity throughout. I am sure they are going to do the same.”

As an aside, you had to love the way radio color analyst Dave Maloney characterized the Senators’ opening salvo in Game 2. The former Ranger captain likened Carkner’s hit and subsequent mugging to old-time Philadelphia Flyers hockey. Maloney went even further by saying that Carkner had no business being dressed for a playoff game.

Carkner’s thuggery is not the only action that Shanahan has to review. You know that he will be taking a long hard look at Carl Hagelin’s hit on Daniel Alfredsson – especially in light of the Ottawa captain missing the rest of the game.

We have seen that Shanahan is more concerned with the injury status of the recipient as opposed to what the offender has done. The Ottawa press is anticipating a one or two game suspension while the New York media expects Shanahan deals out one of his $2,500 fines to Hagelin.

My only question with the Hagelin-Alfredsson hit is why didn’t Ottawa draw a minor (or even a third-man in penalty ala Brandon Dubinsky) when two Senators went after Hagelin right after the hit?

Both Carkner and Hagelin have hearings scheduled for this afternoon. Tortorella didn’t think Hagelin deserved a suspension, but Torts said if Hagelin gets one then Chris Phillips deserves one for his high hit on Ryan Callahan.

The problem with handing out suspensions and seemingly basing them on injuries is that sometimes the only thing separating a player from getting a little banged up and suffering a serious injury is plain dumb luck or happenstance.

For example, Brooks Orpik drew no fine or suspension for his hit on Derek Stepan and the Rangers forward was lucky to have not suffered an injury.

Looking back at last night, the extent of Alfredsson’s injury was made worse because he suffered a concussion earlier in the season – thanks to former Ranger Wojtek Wolski.

The difference between the Stepan non-injury and Alfredsson’s injury was luck and happenstance. If a player deserves a suspension then he should get one whether the opponent is hurt of nor. You can base the length of the suspension on the result.

If Hagelin, or even Dubinsky for that matter, face disciplinary action then it could mean an early start to the Chris Kreider Era because the options are limited.

Unless Coach Tortorella wanted fight fire with fire, John Scott is not going to see any action in this series. Andre Deveaux could get the call if Torts wanted to add more muscle, but that would be a long shot.

The Blueshirts could dress a seventh defenseman and even move Stu Bickel up to play forward. But I doubt Steve Eminger is ready to play and I am not sure if it would be fair to expect Jeff Woywitka to give you any major minutes.

The pickings with the Connecticut Whale are slim. The three best options are Kris Newbury, Andreas Thuresson and Casey Wellman. All three are veterans of the Calder Cup Playoffs, but none of them have appeared in an NHL playoff game.

One other possibility would be to recall rookie center Jonathan Audy-Marchessault who turned an invitation to play in the Traverse City Tournament into a fine rookie season with the Whale as he scored 24 goals and 40 assists in 75 games. However, at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, the rookie would be an inviting target.

Odds are it would be best to give Kreider his first professional action. With Game 3 being played in Ottawa, the spotlight would be lessened as would some of the pressure. Tortorella could start him on the fourth line with Michael Rupp and John Mitchell with Brandon Prust moving up with Ruslan Fedotenko and Boyle. Dubinsky could be moved to the first line and given a chance to return to the lineup with a vengeance.

As a whole, the Rangers just need to remember the style of play that got them to the top of the Eastern Conference. They need to return to their tenacity of their Game 1 forecheck while making sure they play smartly in their own end.

During an interview on ESPN radio earlier on Saturday, Maloney warned to Rangers to not get caught running around in their zone when the Senators are working their own forecheck. Maloney advised the Rangers to hunker down and maintain their positions rather than risk being caught out of position.

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