Thu 26 Apr 2012
“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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