Fri 11 May 2012
By any means necessary. That represents the mindset the New York Rangers must take in their seventh and deciding game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
We already know that the Rangers are able to risk life and limb to block shots, but they have to be willing to adopt a similar attitude when it comes to the offensive end of the ice. The bottom line is the Rangers must create more traffic and havoc in front of Braden Holtby and they need to find a way to keep him as busy as possible.
“We have to definitely get more shots [on goal] with bodies in front of [Holtby],” Captain Ryan Callahan said following practice on Friday. “They’re blocking a lot of shots so we have to make sure we get shots through.”
The last two goals of Wednesday night’s game exemplifies the type of play Callahan is speaking about. The key for the Rangers forwards is going to the top of the crease and staying there rather than drifting past it to the side of the net.
Because the NHL playoffs can be such a marathon, teams have to find a way to remain on an even-keel for as long as possible. Teams can’t get too high after wins or too low after losses, no matter how emotional or devastating they might be. Championship teams develop a killer instinct as the playoffs evolve.
Rangers Coach John Tortorella knows that Saturday’s game is special, but his team is not going to change its mentality.
“I know Game 7 isn’t just [another] game, but we don’t change the way we do things. As we’ve done before, we go about our business,” Tortorella related. “We’ll be ready to play.”
Prior to NBC Sports Network’s Game 5 broadcast, Ed Olczyk said the Capitals needed to have “a short-term memory” in reference to their Game 4 overtime loss.
Entering Game 7, the Rangers need to remember how they never seemed to be able to recover from their slow start.
Being ready to play means coming out with a strong start to the first period, unlike their Game 6 effort. The first goal of the game has been the key for both teams in this series and in the playoffs. The Rangers are 6-2 when they score first and 1-4 when they don’t. The Capitals are 7-1 when they score first and 0-5 when they don’t. The team scoring the first goal in this series has won every game.
The Blueshirts easiest path to advancing rests on Henrik Lundqvist being the best player on the ice – especially given the Rangers troubles scoring goals. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to The King in these situations.
Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post reported that in four post-season elimination games against Washington, Lundqvist is 0-4 with a 3.95 goals against average and an .840 save percentage.
Of course, as great as Lundqvist can be, he is still going to need some help on the offensive end. In Game 5 we witnessed the way Alexander Ovechkin can impact the game when he is on.
While the Rangers do not have anyone with the combination of size and scoring, they do need Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to come to the front. They cannot continue to count on secondary scorers like they did in Game 7 against Ottawa.
Torts, and the Rangers as a whole, have to utilize their home ice advantage. Tortorella has the last change so he can keep Gaborik, Richards and Carl Hagelin away from the Capitals checking line while making sure Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi shadow Overchkin.
With their offense sputtering, the Rangers have to find ways to win the battle of the special teams. The Capitals are 5-2 in the playoffs when they score a power play goal.
The Rangers need to heed the strategy that the Capitals are using to beat them on the power play.
“The [Rangers] force hard, so you got to move the puck quick,” forward Keith Aucoin told Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. “If you move the puck quick, you’ll get lanes to the net.”
With the Capitals forwards being so aggressive on the Rangers point men, the Blueshirts needs to counter that with movement – both of the puck and themselves. They also need to get a player at the top of the blue and they need to station a second forward in the high slot – like they did in overtime in Game 4.
The Rangers also need to follow Anton Stralman’s Game 4 actions on the first goal of the game. Stralman deked his way around a Capitals forward to avoid the blocked shot. Another thing they might want to try is walking the blue line like Marc Staal did on his overtime winner.
In the end, the Rangers have to find a way to match and exceed the urgency and desperation level they showed in Game 6. They need to reflect back on their effort in Games 6 and 7 against Ottawa.
Much has been made of the Capitals and Holtby’s playoff performances. As I wrote in my Game 6 recap, there are some hidden numbers that the media has not been so quick to toss around.
While much was made about the Capitals becoming the first NHL team to go 4-0 in games following playoff losses, no one mentions what the Capitals record is in the games following those wins. That is because Washington is 0-3 with Game 7 pending.
The other stat that is tossed around is how Holtby is 6-0 following Capitals’ losses. That is true, but it also means that he is 1-6 in the other games – including 1-4 following up those six wins.
There is one wildcard that could possibly be introduced in Game 7, Benjamin Hunter Holtby – the son of Braden Holtby and his fiancée on Thursday. Ranger fans have to hope that Holtby has his mind on his son rather than Game 7.
Given the way this series has gone, it will come to no surprise to see the teams play beyond 60 minutes without a winner coming through early on Sunday morning.
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