Fri 27 Apr 2012
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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