Sat 23 Apr 2011
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” There will be time in the coming days and weeks to discuss the postmortem on the New York Rangers season and to look ahead to next year. However, now is the time to reflect back on the Blueshirts who let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers against the Washington Capitals.
“We had some opportunities we needed to grab and we didn’t. We had a couple of chances to get some wins in Game 1 or Game 4,” Henrik Lundqvist explained to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News. “You can’t expect to win every night, but when you have that chance, that opportunity, you have to grab it. We didn’t do it. That’s not good enough.
The New York Rangers had enough chances in this series that their Game 5 loss could have been a precursor to being in the position to win the series at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
Unfortunately, the Rangers could not hold a lead late in Game 1 and then, for the first time all season, fail to hold a lead going into the third period of Game 4.
“I thought the most important thing of the series was in the first four games, we have a lead (in three of them) in the third period, and we come out with one win, Rangers Coach John Tortorella told Carpiniello. “And there’s not many opportunities, against a team we’re playing against, when you have them there, just to get it done one time. So I thought that was a very key situation within the series.”
For the first time in the series, it appeared that the Rangers suffered from a carryover effect from the previous game. While the Blueshirts came out strong on their first shift, the Capitals took over the tempo of the game and never looked back. The Rangers never seemed to get back off their heels until they fell behind by two goals.
The biggest problem is that the Rangers best line was the The Pest Line of Sean Avery, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. All three are solid support players, but they can’t be your best offensive players in a deciding game – and in Game 5 – they were.
When you look back at this series, the easiest way to dissect it is to realize that Washington’s most talented player, Alexander Ovechkin, dominated the Rangers most talented offensive player, Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers had to constantly account for Ovechkin for every second he was on the ice. The Capitals did not have the same concern when Gaborik, or any other Ranger forward, was on the ice. With Washington not having to worry about one specific player, it was easier for them to carry out their defensive system and stay within the framework of that game plan.
It seemed that every Capitals rush and shot put the Rangers into a “life and death” shift on defense while every Rangers rush and shot attempt was a “day in the park” for the Capitals defense.
Prior to the game Boyle told NBC, “We need to make it a little harder on them – get shots to the net, some traffic [in front of the net and] second and third shot opportunities. We can’t be one shot and back out of the zone again.”
As it turns out for the Rangers, this was far too often the case in the series, never mind just Game 5.
The deeper into the playoffs the Capitals get, the more interesting it will be to see how their new defensive style of play holds up against a team with more offensive weapons than the Rangers.
The Rangers might have been able to overcome all of their offensive shortcomings as compared to the Capitals if their power play showed any semblance of life. The reality was the Rangers power play proved to be their biggest detriment. They managed just one power play goal in 21 chances against the Capitals and finished the season going 2-46 in their last 14 games – playoffs included.
Given how well The Pest Line was playing in Game 5, perhaps Torts should have kept them together on the power play rather than put Boyle between Brandon Dubinsky and Gaborik.
It is that pathetic power play that makes some of the strange calls/non-calls seem irrelevant, but I need to vent so here goes.
All series long the officials were letting both teams get away with a lot of physical play after the whistle with no penalties being called. However, as a result of the scrum following the Capitals first goal, one of the referees decides to go and call a bench minor penalty against the Blueshirts.
With about eight and a half minutes to go in the third period, Boyle had a partial break but was slashed on the stick but no penalty was called – even though there was one called against Avery in the third period of Game 4 which eventually led to the Caps tying goal.
Not too long after that, Jason Chimera banged into Lundqvist while The King was in the crease and no calla was made – even though Boyle was called for two goalie interference penalties in Game 4.
Again, given the Rangers anemic power play, those two calls were not going to make a difference but they do make you go “Hmm”.
While the Rangers sorely missed the inspiration and perspiration that Ryan Callahan brings to the lineup, to point to his loss as the reason the Rangers lost this series is not fair to the Capitals. Besides, the Pittsburgh Penguins have survived and thrived without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
You have to wonder if the Blueshirts might have shown too much respect for the Capitals offense. The Rangers concentrated so much of their effort into stopping Washington that they were never able to generate enough “easy offense” such as breakaways and/or odd-man rushes.
In 1994, we all agreed that “This One Will Last a Lifetime”. Unfortunately, it is going to have last at least one more year. However, for the first time in a long time things appear to be going in the right direction for the Rangers.
“We’re still in a process. So we just keep on going. We try to get better. I think there’s areas on our team where we need to get better. So we continue to build,” Tortorella said to Carpiniello.
Well, at least I have the New York Mets.
Damn, I am screwed.