Fri 13 Apr 2012
The New York Rangers found a solution to the “dreaded three-goal lead” curse – score another goal and stretch the lead to four goals. As a result, there was no repeat of Ottawa’s 4-3 come-from-behind shootout win. Instead, the Blueshirts finished off the Senators to take Game 1 of the First Round series.
Time for a “true confession” – how many flashbacked to that October 29 game when Brian Boyle extended the lead to 3-0? I have to admit that was the first thought that crossed my mind – especially considering my wife and I were at that game. My fears were eased once the Rangers managed to get through the rest of the second period with the 3-0 lead in tact.
I know some fans have expressed a concern that Ottawa’s two third period goals serve as a jumping point for a shift of momentum their way for Game 2. I do not see it that way.
It is far too early in the playoffs, and in this series, for two (more or less) meaningless goals to swing the momentum from game-to-game. Much like baseball has the cliché that momentum is only as good as your next game’ starting pitcher, hockey has a couple of corollaries to counteract the momentum theory.
In hockey, momentum is only has good as the play of your goaltender is at the top of that list.
In hockey, momentum swings are more common in-game than between games. Momentum can easily be derailed by a bad bounce, a chance deflection, or if you are the Pittsburgh Penguins, a missed call by an on-ice official.
Ottawa may very well win Game 2, but it will not be because of anything they did last night. It will stem from adjustments they make in between games. It will be interesting to see if one of Paul MacLean’s third period adjustments carries over to Saturday night.
Looking to change the momentum heading into the third period, MacLean rolled the dice and put his top three forwards on the same line (Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza). It did pay some dividends as that trio got the Senators on the scoreboard.
If MacLean keeps that threesome together, the Rangers game plan for Game 2 will be two-fold. Not only will they have to work hard to keep the top line from scoring, it will be even more imperative they make sure they shut down Ottawa’s secondary scoring.
Coach John Tortorella has to be happy with his team’s effort for most of the night. While Ottawa did carry the play and dictate the tempo at the start of the second period, the biggest concern should be the way the Blueshirts eased their foot off the gas pedal in the third period.
Much has been made of Tortorella’s timeout call in the second period as the Rangers were being pinned in the own end. Some likened it to the timeout called by Mike Keenan in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey in 1994. While both timeouts did serve to shift the momentum of the game, they are not the same.
What gets lost in Tort’s use of his timeout is that he called after an icing call to rest his weary skaters. It would have been interesting to see if he would have used his timeout if the team didn’t ice the puck? During the regular season, Tortorella was more likely to use his timeout following an icing call rather than as a means of shifting or even stemming momentum.
Whatever the reason, the timeout worked like a charm because the Rangers got back to playing Ranger hockey.
“That is the way we have to play to win,” Ryan Callahan explained to the Associated Press. “We felt like we’ve been playing playoff hockey right through the season.
The Rangers pretty much followed their regular season blueprint for success to a “T” last night. They got Vezina Trophy style goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist when they needed it. Their big three (Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards) are chipped in with goals and they got some timely secondary scoring from Brian Boyle (who continues to be en fuego). As usual, the penalty killing was superb and even the power play showed some life. While they didn’t score with the man advantage, it was the power play’s momentum that led to Boyle’s eventual game-winning goal.
Despite all the things that went right last night, there were enough things that went wrong that will allow the coaching staff to keep the team focused and prevent over-confidence from seeping in.
On both Ottawa goals, the Rangers were guilty of undisciplined hockey. On the first goal, the Blueshirts inability to get the puck deep forced a turnover at the Senators blue line and paved the way for Alfredsson’s goal. On the second goal, Marc Staal pinched in the neutral zone and got caught – thus leading to Erik Condra’s goal.
Those two miscues and the Rangers tendency to late their opponent’s dictate the tempo at times should serve as practice fodder for today.
Much of the Rangers problem with other teams dictating tempo, and their struggles in the second period last night, stem from the way their forwards drop down low to try and clog the shooting lanes. As a result, teams are able to sustain their forecheck and offensive pressure by easily utilizing their defensemen at the point. With the likes of offensive d-men like Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar and Matt Gilroy; and wily veterans like Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips, the Rangers must be very wary of Ottawa’s point play.
However, all-in-all, it was a good night to be a Ranger fan. The Blueshirts series opening win helped allay some of the concerns over Ottawa’s success at Madison Square Garden and it provided the first glimpse that Craig Anderson is beatable after all. Prior to last night, the Ottawa netminder was 6-0 with a 1.13 goals against average against the Rangers.
As Ranger fans breathe a sigh of relief over winning Game 1 and not having to play on Friday the 13th, it also a time for Blueshirt fans to reflect back and celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in – wait for it – 1940. Talk about a championship having to last a lifetime.
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