May 2012

The New York Rangers are very familiar with last second goals in the playoffs. Valeri Zelepukin scored with 7.7 seconds in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994. Chris Drury scored with, yep, 7.7 seconds left in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals – and eventually ended up signing a lucrative contract with the Rangers.

Last night the Game 5 last-seconds drama returned to Madison Square Garden; however, this time it was the Rangers turn to score as Brad Richards helped the Blueshirts snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as he nearly duplicated his game-winning goal at Phoenix.

“You have to believe you can do it, ” Henrik Lundqvist admitted to Ira Podell of the Associated Press. “It was tough for us to get in front and create real good scoring chances, but we were shooting a lot and had a lot of energy. We definitely deserved this win. We worked so hard.”

While the difference in time between Richards’ tying goal and Marc Staal’s winning goal was only 1:42 on the scoreboard and about 25 minutes in real time, it seemed like an eternity for Ranger fans.

Last night’s game shows just how quickly a player’s fortune can change in the blink of an eye. Staal ends up the hero of a game where he could just as easily been one of its goats. It was Staal’s inability to corral a bouncing puck at the Capitals blue line that led to Mike Rupp’s penalty that led to John Carlson’s go-ahead goal.

Conversely, Joel Ward, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, becomes the goat of the game as his double-minor for high sticking paves the way for the Rangers two power play goals.

“It’s a game of inches. It happens pretty quick. We were a few seconds [away from] winning and it turned into an overtime and then a loss just like that, ” Ward told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “It’s a little mentally disturbing for sure right now. It’s tough to be in that position when you’re letting the team down.”

After struggling woefully all night long on the power play, the Rangers finally connected on the power play when the urgency reached its height. We saw the Blueshirts not only get bodies in front of the net, but they actually managed to find a way to get shots on goal.

“We just kept trying to come at them, ” Staal related to Podell. “It wasn’t a set play or anything off the draw. Just a good clean draw, and guys went to the net, and (Braden Holtby) couldn’t see it.”

It was that traffic and shot on goal that paid off in Staal’s winner. As Carrera wrote, the Capitals “lived by the blocked shot, died by the blocked shot”.

The Blueshirts need to find a way to carry the urgency they showed on their last two power plays over to the rest of their man advantage chances.

Rangers Coach John Tortorella broke the game down to its basic element in his post-game press conference. Torts said the key was each team’s inability to grab a two-goal lead. The Rangers had their chances up 1-0 as they outshot Washington 17-4.

The Capitals had their chances in the third period to go up 3-1, but didn’t capitalize (pun intended) – among the chances being Nicklas Backstrom hitting the cross bar at about the seven-minute mark.

“At the time you don’t realize how important those plays are, ” Lundqvist said after the game. “Looking back at it now, every little play we made in the third obviously made a difference in the end.”

It should come as no surprise that neither team was able to get that elusive two-goal lead. Both teams have become masters of the one-goal game. Of Washington’s 12 playoff games, 11 of them have ended in one-goal decisions. The only one that didn’t was the Rangers Game 1 victory.

The Blueshirts are no shrinking violets when it comes to one-goal games either. Of their 12 playoff games, nine of them have been one-goal games and really for intents and purposes that figure should be 10 because Ottawa scored an empty net goal with 54 seconds left in their Game 5 win.

Those Ranger faithful who were resigned to the fact of having to repeat their Games 6 and 7 exploits against Ottawa can take solace that even The King shared those same thoughts.

“When it got to 10 seconds … I was already thinking about the next game, I’m going to be honest with you, ” Lundqvist said to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “Then it was from a low to a high in a second, and with only [6.6] seconds left, I’m glad I got the chance to regroup in the locker room during intermission and think about what I needed to do.”

The Rangers have to continue to win these types of games where they keep the Capitals Big Four off the scoreboard because the Brooks Laichs and John Carlsons of the world have a way of finding a way to score.

Kudos to Anton Stralman who finally figured out a way to beat the Capitals shot blocking. Rather than fire a shot into a Capitals defender, he faked Matt Hendricks, skated around and used Dennis Wideman as a screen on the first goal.

It was no coincidence that the Rangers second power play goal occurred with two men in front of Holtby. Artem Anisimov provided the main screen, but it was Derek Stepan at the hashmarks that forced the Washington forward to not aggressively attack Staal at the point.

In the playoffs, the Rangers need Henrik Lundqvist to be the best goaltender on the ice. In this series, that has not been the case through no fault of his own. That is how good Braden Holtby has been.

There is a reason why the Capitals are winning the battle of blocked shots 128-87 – the Rangers have been able to carry most of the play during the series. While Holtby has seen more shots, Lundqvist has probably had to make the bigger saves.

We have seen that momentum has not carried over from game-to-game in the Rangers first two series. After all, the Capitals bounced back from their heartbreaking triple overtime loss in Game 3. The question is can they do they respond to being 6.6 seconds away from having a chance to close out the Rangers in Game 6 at the Verizon Center.

Washington Coach Dale Hunter believes his team can continue to be the comeback kids who are 3-0 when following up an overtime loss in the playoffs.

“We’ve been resilient all year. Just come back and play a hockey game, ” Hunter said in his post-game press conference. “The guys are going to come out and battle. That’s all you ask from your team is to go out and battle. We win at home, that’s what we need to do.”

Looking ahead to Game 6, pay close attention to the team that scores first. Washington is 6-1 when they score first and the Rangers are 7-2.

Also expect both teams to ratchet up their defensive coverage on faceoffs as four goals last night came off lost faceoffs.

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You have to give Brendan Shanahan credit for one thing; he is consistent – consistently bad – but consistent nonetheless. Once again the NHL’s Director of Player Safety (and Chief Clerk and Bottlewasher) dropped a one-game suspension on Claude Giroux for his hit on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus.

In announcing the suspension, Shanahan referred to Giroux’s “late, reckless hit to the head”. Kind of like the one that Alexander Ovechkin delivered to Dan Girardi in Game 4 on Saturday. If you are trying to figure out what the difference was between the two hits, well, let’s just say that is the question at hand.

The funniest thing that has come out of the Ovechkin-Girardi play is how, all of a sudden, people are bringing up Girardi’s hit on Matt Hendricks. If you are trying to recall that hit, don’t fret if you can’t because no one ever gave it a second thought until the NHL needed a distraction to duck, dodge and deny an Ovechkin suspension.

In one way you have to feel bad for Giroux. The Flyers forward has put together a remarkable playoff run, but he has not reached the true rarified air of “superstar”. If he had, Giroux might have skated on a suspension like Ovechkin did and just like Shea Weber did.

As his custom, Shanahan explained his decision to suspend Giroux on the NHL’s official web site.

“This is a violation of the illegal check to the head rule which states: ‘A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head, where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact, is not permitted, ” Shanahan reasoned.

I am sure Shanny would be quick to refer to that statement if you asked him about Carl Hagelin’s three-game suspension for his hit on Daniel Alfredsson.

However, how does Shanahan then let Ovechkin off without even a disciplinary hearing?

Oh yeah, that is right, Girardi was not hurt despite the fact that Ovechkin left his feet to deliver the head shot – the exact same action that caused Ovie to be suspended for three games in January. Yes, that is the same suspension that caused Ovechkin to pull out of the 2012 All-Star Game.

So we have a repeat offender in Ovechkin and there isn’t a paltry $2, 500 fine. Chris Neil injured Brian Boyle with a head shot and he doesn’t warrant a disciplinary hearing or a slap-on-the-wrist fine.

If your head is spinning trying to figure out Shanahan’s actions, join the club.

Perhaps the NHL needs to do to Shanahan what they did with Colin Campbell once his son Gregory reached the NHL. Perhaps Shanahan should not be allowed to rule on any disciplinary actions involving one of his former teams. Therefore, someone else involved in the NHL’s executive offices would rule on any actions by a member of the Devils, Blues, Hurricanes (Whalers), and Rangers.

I know that is a bit harsh and doesn’t put Shanahan in the best light, but let’s face facts. I could understand and rationalize Shanahan’s decisions if it were only one or two “disciplinary actions” that went against the Rangers. However, when you reach three such decisions then something is rotten in Denmark and it ain’t the Limburger cheese.

You really have to wonder what an opponent would have to do to a Ranger in order to receive a suspension. I guess anything short of decapitation goes – and I am not too sure that Shanny would classify a Ranger decapitation as a “long-term injury”.

Enough about Shanahan because there is no way the Rangers are ever going to win this battle. You can’t fight City Hall and you can’t fight the National Hockley League.

Let’s take a quick minute to focus on Game 5 tonight at Madison Square Garden. The last thing the Rangers want to face is a repeat of the Ottawa series where they have to go on the road in Game 6 just to force a seventh and deciding game. This would be a good time for the Rangers to take the easy road for a change.

They key to that easy road will be scoring the first goal. The Washington Capitals are 6-1 when they score the first goal during the playoffs and 0-4 when they don’t.

Conversely, the Rangers are 6-2 when they score first and 0-3 when they don’t.

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The one thing that we can take away from the New York Rangers 3-2 loss in Game 4 to the Washington Capitals is that momentum does not carry over from game to game. If that were the case, it would have been the Rangers who stormed the Verizon Center during the first period on Saturday afternoon.

Instead, it was Washington that carried the play during a first period that saw the Capitals outshoot the Rangers 14-3, and more importantly, lead the Rangers 1-0 on an Alexander Ovechkin shot that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would love to have back.

You can also bet that rookie winger Chris Kreider wishes he could have a mulligan on the play that led to Ovechklin’s 40-foot slapshot. While the NBC announcers thought Kreider was looking to pass to Brian Boyle, it appeared that Kreider rushed the play because he was feeling pressure. Rather than take his time to work the puck along the boards, he went cross-ice with the puck.

Ovechkin’s goal went against the tenor of a series that has seen nine of the 12 previous goals scored from the low slot or in front of the net.

Two of the Capitals three Game 4 goals would be scored from the outside with only Nicklas Backstrom’s goal being the lone tally from the high-traffic area.

In my preview to Game 4, I wrote that the Rangers needed to win the special teams battle. Unfortunately for the Rangers and their fans, they lost that battle and ended up losing the war on Mike Green’s power play goal.

Washington is a tough team to defeat when their Big Four are going. On Saturday afternoon, three of the Big Four struck for goals and Alexander Semin was very active during the game.

It remains to be seen in the Big Four will get a chance to play a part in Game 5. It all depends on Brendan Shanahan and the NHL calling a disciplinary hearing for Ovechkin’s hit on Dan Girardi. There was no question that Ovechkin left his feet and that Girardi’s head was the first impact. Then again, it was pretty clear that Chris Neil deserved a suspension for his hit to Boyle’s head in the Ottawa series.

While Ovechkin will get the benefit of the (superstar) doubt, he is a repeat offender and was nailed with a three-game suspension for leaving his feet to hit Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek in January.

It will be interesting to see how Shanahan and his minions spin their way out of suspending Ovechkin. In the end, Shanny will probably levy one of his patented $2, 500 fines.

I am not a fortuneteller, nor do I play one on TV, but Shanahan will probably question exactly what the impact point of the hit was and will reference the fact that Girardi was not hurt. Of course, that goes contrary to his ruling on the Neil-Boyle hit, but the NHL’s Director of Player Safety (talk about oxymorons) never let the facts get in the way of a good explanation.

While the puck was at his feet, it did not appear that Ovechkin made a concerted effort to play the puck. To me, it seemed like he was more intent on delivering a big hit.

“It hit me in the head first, ” Girardi told Andrew Gross of The Record. “I’m not the judge of that (whether or not it should have been more than a minor). You guys can make your comments about that. I don’t know, they called a penalty on it, that’s all I know.”

As you might expect, Ovechkin had a different opinion on the hit.

“I just missed the puck. I tried to kick the puck and I saw he was coming, so I just got to protect myself, ” the Capitals captain said to Gross.

You have to admit that leaping and launching yourself at a player, and hitting him in the head, is an “interesting” way to protect oneself.

Ovechkin offered up another excuse, er explanation, to Lindsay Applebaum of the Washington Post.

“In the head?” No, I think it was the shoulder, ” reasoned Ovechkin.

Washington Coach Dale Hunter called the hit “incidental contact”. Given his brutal attack on the Islanders Pierre Turgeon in 1993 (the one that got Hunter a 21-game suspension to start the next season), do we even need to be hearing from this jackwagon?

Also expect the media to ratchet up their attacks and sniping at Rangers Coach John Tortorella who set the land speed record for blowing off the media at the post-game press conference. It would not surprise me to see the NHL fine Torts and let Ovie skate.

Getting back to the game, both of the Rangers goals were scored from in front of the net with Artem Anisimov scoring one and assisting on the second. Anisimov picked Brooks Laich’s pocket while screening Braden Holtby and tied the game in the opening minutes of the second period.

Anisimov played a huge part in knotting the game as he raced in to win a loose puck behind the Capital net when icing was waved off. With the Washington defense easing off, Anisimov set up Marian Gaborik for a replay of his Game 3 winning goal.

I am not one to complain about penalties called or missed, but the third period was a microcosm of what is wrong with NHL officiating. If you look up the word inconsistency in the dictionary, you would see the picture of an NHL official.

While they whistled Carl Hagelin for the slashing and breaking a stick, the referees swallowed their whistles a couple of minutes earlier when Boyle’s stick was broken at the Capitals blue line.

The referees, and the linesmen for that matter, silenced their whistles after the Green goal when they missed Mike Knuble’s delay of the game when he batted the puck over the boards.

That might not have been such a big deal given the Rangers power play which has resorted back to its regular season ineptness. Gone is the quick passing puck movement and player movement. Back is the constant over-passing and indecision that stagnates the Blueshirts man advantage.

Even if they were moving the puck and looking to shoot, odds are the Capitals would have blocked the shot anyway. Washington dominated the shot blocking game 25-7.

If the Rangers are going to take anything out of their Game 4 loss is that they need to work harder at getting shots through to Holtby. If the Capitals are going to sell out to block shots, then the Rangers need to fake shots and look to move stickhandle into a better position.

One of the biggest culprits was Michael Del Zotto who had a couple of shots blocked in the closing minutes.

If you are fans of numbers, there are some interesting ones that came out of Game 4. First off, Holtby has not lost back-to-back games in his last 27 games. The Capitals have not lost two games in a row since March 22-23 when they lost a shootout to Philadelphia and an overtime game to Winnipeg.

The Capitals are now 3-0 in games following overtime losses in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Washington is 6-1 when they score first in the postseason.

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For the second time in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs the New York Rangers have an opportunity to put a stranglehold on a series following an emotional Game 3 win. Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout over Ottawa was followed by their marathon victory over the Caps. While Game 4 on Saturday afternoon is not a “must-win” game, it sure can be classified as a “boy-it-would-be-really-nice-win” game.

The sooner the Rangers can wrap up this series, the sooner they can start healing up the bumps, bruises and lacerations that come with playoff hockey. It also gives Brandon Dubinsky and Mats Zuccarello some extra time to recover from the injuries that have kept them out of the lineup.

There has been a lot of discussion centering on does momentum carry over from one game to another. If this game had been played on Friday, we might have had a clearer insight into this debate. As it stands, Saturday’s game won’t settle the issue, but it will lend some insight into the psyches of both teams.

Capitals associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig shared his perspective of being on the losing end of a marathon overtime game.
“I haven’t been on the winning end of one of those, so I don’t know how it feels after you win one of those, but I know it’s pretty deflating after you lose, ” Kolzig explained to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times on Thursday.

“Just continue to play the same way. That’s all you can say. You’re going to have games like that. You’re going to have games where your team bails you out. It’s just keeping your emotions in check and playing with a steady level.”

Kolzig not only feels Braden Holtby’s pain, but can top it after suffering a quadruple overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996.

For their part, the Capitals seemed to realize that what’s past is gone and the important thing for them is to focus on the task at hand.
“It’s a challenge, ” Karl Alzner said when speaking to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post following the Game 3 loss.

“But with the two days off, it’s a little easier to forget and focus on [Game 4]. “You replay it tonight; then tomorrow you got to forget about it. You can’t keep looking back on games. If you look back, then you’re going to be playing that game [all over again] in the next one. You have to look forward.”

Rangers Coach John Tortorella does not expect the Game 3 marathon to play any part in his team’s Game 4 performance.

“This is playoff hockey. It’s no big deal. They’ll be no problems with our club, ” Torts stated during Thursday’s conference call.

I guess winning triple overtime games must agree with Tortorella because he was rather talkative, for him anyway during today’s talk with the media. In fact, he even drew some laughs from the writers in attendance.

When asked about whether Ryan Callahan is more of an on-ice leader or vocal guy, Tortorella responded, “He doesn’t say shit, really. What you see is what he is. It’s easy for people to talk – it’s more important for a leader to do.”

Elliotte Friedman of had an interesting take on why Tortorella seems to be so adversarial when dealing with the media of late.

Friedman wrote, “Convinced the edgier-than-ever John Tortorella media conferences have to do with his recent $20, 000 fine. There were always things he wouldn’t discuss, but this is a new level. You could always find something he’d have a (great) opinion about.”

Looking ahead to Game 4, I have a few observations on things to be on the lookout for on Saturday afternoon.

First off, is there anything more annoying than that guy in Washington who blows that stupid plastic horn? Can’t the Rangers send John Scott over to that guy so he can hit him over the head every time “Dizzy Gillespie” put that horn to his lips?

Ottawa fans may be cool people and their “Alfie” chant was a classy move, but they have spawned a monster. First it was the Garden crowd doing a countdown to “Ovie sucks” and now the Verizon Center crows is doing their version of the countdown in support of their captain. Can we all agree to call a truce?

Now that those rants are over, let’s take a look at what might happen on the ice during Game 4.

We can expect to see the Rangers continue to activate their defense on offense. However, they must make sure that their forwards are paying attention and cover up for the pinching/rushing defensemen. That is especially the case if the Capitals are going to look to stretch passes on their breakouts in attempt to key breakaways and odd-man rushes.

The Rangers need to win the battle of the special teams. With offense at a premium, special team performance may very well decide this series. After scoring on their first man advantage, the Rangers forgot what they did on that power play – especially when they squandered the overtime power plays.

The Rangers have to find a way to get shots from the high traffic areas. Draw a rectangle from the hashmarks of the faceoff circle down to the goal line and this is where the Rangers need to concentrate their attack. Shots (on goal) from the point will be more effective with players stationed in this area.

They also need to stop playing on the perimeter so much. That goes for both the power play and even-strength. Far too often the Rangers attack veers off wide to the boards rather than directly at the defense down the middle of the ice.

I have noticed one bad habit that Brian Boyle has fallen into during some faceoffs. He has a tendency to bend so low that is practically toppling over. As a result, he does not have good balance and is slower to react if he loses the draw. That is what happened on the draw that cost the Rangers Game 2 against Ottawa.

One thing I noticed as overtime progressed was that Holtby seemed to be dropping into the butterfly a little quicker than normal. I am not sure if it was a natural reaction as the game dragged on or if I might have been imagining things.

One thing I am sure of is that when he dropped down he seemed to be jabbing at the puck with his glove rather than letting the shot come to him. It bears watching during Game 4 because it could be a rookie netminder getting a little anxious in goal.

Given the enormous amounts of ice time the Rangers top four defensemen saw, you can beat Washington will be ratcheting up their forecheck and looking to be very physical against the Blueshirt blueliners – especially given a comment made by their coach.

“They did play one guy too much. We basically played six D. …You just want to finish your checks on their D and hopefully tire them out, ” Coach Dale Hunter said to El-Bashir.

I have one final piece of advice for the Rangers. Should they find themselves in overtime and they are pinned in their zone as they pass the midway point of the overtime period, merely ice the puck and take advantage of the mandatory ice maintenance break – just the Capitals did twice during Game 3.

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Early this morning the New York Rangers settled all family business in respect to the streaks that have been haunting them. The Rangers triple overtime victory in Game 3 wiped clean two losing streaks: the seven game playoff overtime streak is history as is the five game playoff losing streak at the Verizon Center. Marian Gaborik’s game-winning goal at 12:15am ended a stretch f eight games without a goal.

I don’t think the Beatles had this game in mind when they recorded “A Hard Day’s Night”, but it sure became the anthem for Game 3. Quite honestly, the Rangers didn’t win the game – they survived it.

Henrik Lundqvist pretty much summed up the feeling for all Ranger fans.

“Usually when we score I’m so excited that I scream, but I was too tired for that, ” The King explained to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “I was just, ‘Oh My God, Oh My God, it’s over.’

“I felt like it was never going to end.”

Washington had their chances to continue the Rangers losing streaks as Alexander Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman each hit posts and Troy Brouwer missed the net when he was left alone about five minutes into the first overtime.

Of course, the Rangers had a chance to end it in double overtime, but Mike Rupp’s shot hit Brian Boyle’s backside as he was screening Braden Holtby. Overall, it was a tough night for Boyle who partially blocked a shot with his face and then had his other end nearly cost the Rangers a victory.

The only thing more fitting would have been to have played this game on April 29 – a date which features prominently in Rangers mystique – as mentioned by Andrew Gross of The Record.

In 1971, Pete Stemkowski’s goal at 1:29 of the third overtime sent the Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks to a seventh and deciding game. Interestingly enough, Stemmer won Game 1 with a goal just 1:37 into overtime.

On April 29, 2007, Michal Rozsival’s shot from the right point at 16:43 of double overtime proved to be the game-winner against Buffalo – the last time the Rangers had won a playoff overtime game prior to Game 3.

Last night’s/early this morning’s marathon was the losing game in Rangers history since March 21, 1939 when Mel Hill scored at 19:25 of the third overtime period as the Boston Bruins eliminated the Rangers in seven games. Hill earned his nickname, “Sudden Death” for his three overtime winners in that series. Hill also tallied a triple overtime winner in Game 1 of the series.

The Blueshirts did set a record during that series by becoming the first NHL team to force a seventh and deciding game after losing the first three games of a series.

The Capitals are not without their own overtime playoff history. Four times Washington has ventured into triple overtime or beyond and four times the Caps have come up losers. In addition, the Capitals lost all four of those series as well.

The main question to ask is how will both teams respond when they meet for Game 4 on Saturday afternoon?

The NHL did both teams a favor by adding an extra day off between Games 3 and 4. While it was done for television purposes, it turns out to be a blessing – especially for the Caps.

I am not a big believer in momentum carrying over from one game to another, but if Game 4 was scheduled for Friday I have to believe that the Rangers would have a big advantage. While key Rangers logged incredible amounts of ice time, the mental toll of losing a triple overtime game would weigh more on the Capitals then extra TOI on the Rangers.

Even though the extra day helps Washington in terms of putting the loss in perspective, I can’t say that I agree with their coach in terms of how he characterized Game 3.

“Both teams went through it. It’s a game where they both played the same minutes, same players, same game, ” Coach Dale Hunter told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “We’re always in the same boat. So it’s just another game then.”

Of course, it is easy for a veteran of the NHL wars like Hunter to take an even-keel approach. It is different among the players, especially the younger ones.

“That’s extremely, extremely disappointing, ” Karl Alzner relayed to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “Whenever you lose in overtime it sucks, but when you lose in triple overtime it’s even worse. We had so many chances and they either blocked it or [Henrik] Lundqvist came up with the save, or we hit a post. That just makes it even more frustrating.”

Rangers Coach John Tortorella is going to have to rethink some of his lineup decision as we approach Game 4. He can’t afford to dress Stu Bickell if he is only going to give a token four or five minutes of ice time. If he does not have enough confidence to give Bickell 12-15 minutes of ice time, then he needs to find a defenseman who he trusts.

It doesn’t matter if that defenseman is Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka, Tim Erixon, Dylan McIlrath or even if they have to place Wade Redden on re-entry recall waivers, but the Rangers can’t have their sixth defenseman seeing less than four minutes in a game that goes 114 minutes.

When asked about the situation during the post-game press conference, Tortorella did not duck the question.

“You get into a situation where you ice Bick, and you just know this is going to go on for awhile, but it is an awful tough situation to put Bick into after he is sitting for awhile so we made the decision just to stay with the five [d-men], ” Torts admitted.

If Bickell is going to continue to see reduced ice time, and Tortorella trusts no other blueliner in the organization, then the Rangers should call up the best faceoff man the Connecticut Whale have.

The need to use all 18 skaters at some points in the playoffs is a certainty given the way the playoffs become grind – especially the way the Rangers play. When you factor in the Capitals’ similar playing style, it becomes amplified.

That need grows exponentially more important when you get to overtime and beyond. The thing that makes NHL overtime hockey the best experience in sports also makes it the toughest. During overtime, there are no television timeouts. As a result, you have less opportunity to rest your stars so you have to rely on your entire roster.

It becomes amplified because of both team’s style of play.

“You look around the ice and probably half the players on the ice have blood on their jersey by the end of it. Some of our guys did; some of their guys did, ” Brooks Laich said to Whyno. “It’s a grinding game. That’s the way it’s going to go.

One change the NHL needs to make is in reference to their overtime “mandatory ice maintenance” policy. The rule states after the first whistle after the 10-minute mark the ice is dry-scraped to remove the snow. Twice during the overtime periods, the Capitals iced the puck at that exact time.

The NHL needs to modify the rules so that teams do not get a chance to rest their tired skaters after icing the puck. Delay the maintenance until the next whistle if you must.

Looking ahead to Game 4 and the rest of the series, it sure would be nice if the Rangers didn’t continue to play such tight games. Outside of Game against Ottawa, the Rangers could have lost all the games they won and won all the games they lost.

A comfortable Rangers victory now and then would be a welcomed site because I am getting too old for this shtye.

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Noted hockey scribe Yogi Berra would have described Game 2 of the Rangers-Capitals series as “déjà vu all over again” because it was a repeat of a couple of games we have seen in these playoffs. It mixed in the ill-timed “own goal” of Game 2 of the Ottawa series – a 3-2 road win – and it mixed in the “iron play” of Game 1.

Capitals rookie goaltender Braden Holtby showed that he has a post-playing career as a hockey analyst.

“You look at the difference in the two games … We hit two posts last game, and they hit two this game. That’s how close it is. … the hockey gods were on our side tonight, ” he explained to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News.

No one can fault the Rangers for not taking the game to the Capitals. They were physical on the forecheck and were the more active team offensively as they had more attempted shots than Washington by a wide margin (65-46, including 25-13 in the third period).

The game came down to four components that all went against the Rangers.

The first came as a result of a bad play by Stu Bickel whose foolish cross-ice pass at the Caps blue line turned into a three-on-two rush capped off (pun intended) by Mike Knuble. Bickel need to make the safe, and smart, play and get the puck deep along the boards. Needless to say, Bickel saw just one more shirt the entire game and might be a scratch when the series resumes Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.

The second break that went against the Rangers might be the turning point of the game. At one end of the ice, Holtby turns aside Chris Kreider’s breakaway as he stepped out of the penalty box and at the other end luck and happenstance favored the Capitals as Jason Chimera pin-balled a shot off Ryan McDonagh’s skates and into the net.

Henrik Lundqvist was caught in no-man’s land when he went behind the net to touch the puck. He had to wait for the puck to get to the trapezoid or risk taking another penalty. Chimera’s speed on the forecheck forced the eventual turnover.

The third factor was Alexander Ovechkin stepping up in a big situation to score the eventual game-winning goal on the power play.

“I was surprised when I turned and no one came to me, ” Ovechkin said. “I had a perfect lane for the shot, and I see it and I’m going to the net.”

Well, Ovechkin had a little help thanks to Nicklas Backstrom’s “subtle” pick play on Brian Boyle after winning the faceoff back to Ovechkin.

I am not going to on an anti-Rangers bias rant over the Capitals two third period power play chances. Rather than it being anti-Ranger calls, it just another case of NHL referees looking to even up penalty calls to the point of looking for calls to make.

Give Ovechkin credit, he did what all superstars do. When the game is on the line, they rise to the occasion.

He’s our big-game guy. He’s got to be scoring for us to do well. That was a great moment for him, ” Knuble told Whyno. “Great timing. Timing is everything, I think, in this game and playoffs. Having guys score at the right time and your big guys scoring and feeling great going into the next game can do a lot.”

For example, Richards probably did deserve his penalty – even though John Carlson initiated the contact. My question is how do you rule that “holding” as opposed to “interference”? Not that it matters, but it is frustrating to watch referees make up a call to justify a penalty.

The final breaks that went against the Rangers were the two shots that Michael Del Zotto rang off the iron.

The Capitals Game 2 victory is proof positive that Coach Dale Hunter has completely transformed his team. Despite seven shots and the game-winning goal, the Caps captain saw only 13:36 of ice time, a career low for him. In fact, six other forwards saw more ice time that Ovie, including Jay Beagle who played 19:58.

“We all want to win. And he’ll do whatever it needs to be. Tonight not too many guys could’ve scored that goal from way out there, ” Hunter said to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “So every time he’s on the ice he’s dangerous. He doesn’t need to have too much ice to score goals …. Four lines and six D were all going tonight. They were all going hard, so it’s easy to play everybody.”

While the Capitals big gun fired, the Rangers top goal scorer continues to struggle to find his scoring touch. While he did register the primary assist on Brad Richards’ first period goal, Marian Gaborik has not scored since Game 1. His job is not going to get any easier as the series switches to Washington – thus giving Hunter the final change.

It will be interesting to see if Rangers Coach John Tortorella continues to juggle his first two lines like he did in the third period when the Blueshirts were trailing. He flipped Kreider and Gaborik and might look to do that again on the road. The Richards-Kreider-Carl Hagelin is intriguing because of the speed they bring to the game – an asset that can really be used to get in heavy on the forecheck.

Of course, Tortorella was not going to give anything away in the post-game press conference. His answers were more curt that usual as his frustration over his teams’ lack of discipline came to the forefront.

“You fight back to tie the game as hard as we did, you can’t take four minutes in penalties. You’re not going to win hockey games like that, ” lamented the Adams Trophy finalist.

One task that Tortorella must accomplish is finding a way to get Artem Anisimov more than 4:58 of ice time – especially in a game where the Rangers are trailing. No disrespect to Ruslan Fedotenko or Brandon Prust, but they could have used Anisimov’s offensive ability as seen in his Matteau-esque Game 1 goal.

One thing I want to see the Rangers do is replicate their strategy on their power play goal. With the Capitals’ forwards being very aggressive on the puck, the Rangers need to move the puck, and themselves, quickly in order to catch the Washington forwards running around. At the same time, they also need to station a forward at the high slot to either draw a defenseman out high or to get a forward to slide down – which will either opening up space down low or alleviate the pressure on the Rangers’ point men.

On the power play goal, Callahan is in front to deflect Del Zotto’s shot while Gaborik is at the hashmarks.

Looking ahead to Game 3, the Rangers need to do the little things that they did in Game 2 – especially the way they pounded the Capitals in their own end. If they keep banging away on Mike Green, they are going to get more calls against him and will cause even more turnovers in the Capitals’ zone.

We will give the final word to Ryan Callahan.

“We have to grate more. It’s a matter of trying to win every battle, ” the captain told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “All year we responded after losses and this is no different. It’s a tough place to play in Washington. They usually come out strong there. We’re going to have to be ready.”

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