2012 Playoffs


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 CBC.ca 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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The stars were all aligned for a Game 1 letdown. The Rangers watched as the Capitals tied the game with 3.5 seconds left in the first period. The Blueshirts were battling the mental and physical fatigue of a quick turnaround after eliminating the Ottawa Senators less than 48 hours ago. Past Ranger teams would have folded under such pressure, but not the 2011-2012 version of the New York Rangers.

“That could have hurt us big time, but we came in here, regrouped, talked about staying patient and just let the game come to us,” Henrik Lundqvist explained to Ira Podell of the AP. “Coming from that Game 7, such an emotional and big win, it was important for us to regroup and start all over. This team doesn’t give up much so we have to be smart with pucks. They kind of wait for mistakes, so the key for us is not to make too many.”

According to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News, the victory was Lundqvist’s 20th as a Ranger, third behind Mike Richter (41) and Eddie Giacomin.

As expected, the two teams were mirror images of each other as the Capitals managed 18 shots to the Rangers 14 and both teams were credited with 15 blocked shots.

The Rangers battle back against adversity received a big boost from an ill-timed line change by defenseman Mike Green and an absolute “goal scorer’s goal” as Dan Girardi would say from Chris Kreider. The rookie from Boston College not earned the Broadway hat, but he is earning more and more ice time and responsibility from his coach.
“All the players dictate their own ice time [based] on how they play. What he’s getting he deserves,” Coach John Tortorella said about Kreider.

”We just want his instinctiveness and his speed. We just want him to go out and play. Forget about what he is doing on the ice. The mental part of the game, as far as him trying to make a difference every shift, is real good stuff for a young kid.”

The Rangers managed to put thoughts of fatigue by getting off to a quick start. The Blueshirts looked to use long indirect passes to beat the Capitals forecheck and trap. As the first period wore on, Washington finally got their skates under them.

The game would see its first turning point early in the second period when the Rangers killed off a pair of Caps power plays that included a two-man advantage for 34 seconds.

Less than three minutes later, the Garden crowd experienced a déjà vu moment when Artem Anisimov fought off and outmuscled Green and channeled his inner Stephane Matteau as his wraparound attempt from behind the net beat Braden Holtby for the game’s first goal.

After seeming to not get any breaks during the Ottawa series, the Rangers caught one when Marcus Johansson’s “goal” was disallowed as the referee blew the play dead as Johansson knocked the puck and Lundqvist into the net. It appeared that Anton Stralman tripped up Johansson, but the goal was waved off and Stralman escaped a trip to the penalty box.

Unlike points during the Ottawa series, the Rangers were not content to sit on their lead – which for once – turned out to be a mistake. After watching Brad Richards walk in and pass on a shot in the final minute, the Capitals knotted the game as Brooks Laich found Jason Chimera for the redirect – the same Jason Chimera who won Game 4 last year with his goal in double overtime.

The fact that the Rangers did not wilt under the adversity of giving up a tying goal in the final seconds of the second period shows that they are a special team and could be positioned to make a long run in the playoffs.

“I just like the way we rebounded after getting scored on at the end of the period,” Tortorella said. “We kept within ourselves, just played our game, and found a way to score a couple of goals in the third.”

It is still very early in this series, but the Capitals might rue their inability to take advantage of the Rangers gift at the end of the second period. Curiously, there was a feeling among the Capitals that questioned that inability.

Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times wrote, “Jason Chimera and other decried the Caps’ lack of effort to match the Rangers intensity. That’s tough to get a grip on considering New York just polished off the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.”

One has to wonder if Coach Dale Hunter’s new defensive philosophy might have taken something out of the Caps’ mystique. Washington pulled a 180 degree turn in style of play from offensive to defensive, rather than add a defensive component to their offensive style of play.

While it served them during the regular season as they went 30-23-7 under Hunter since he took over on November 28, it remains to be debate if the Caps change in play was too drastic a change.

The one thing that can’t be debated was the impact Chris Kreider had on the third period. In addition to scoring his second goal of the playoffs, which is also his second game-winning goal of the playoffs, he helped set up the Rangers insurance goal just 90 second after giving the Rangers the lead for good.

It was Kreider’s work along the left wing boards that allowed Richards to pick up a loose puck and patiently outwait Holtby to ice the game with his third playoff goal.

Right wing Troy Brouwer pretty much summed up the Capitals Game 1 frustrations.

“They’re a good defensive team and when we had guys jump up in the play and we turned it over, then they had guys going the other way,” he related to Whyno.

“Then they were able to get the puck in our zone and cycle it around. Sometimes, when you’re taking chances, it’s going to bite you.”

Katie Carrera of the Washington Post pointed out a very interesting, and telling, statistic from Game 1. The Capitals trailed for 20:18 on Saturday afternoon. In the Boston series, Washington only trailed the Bruins for 24:23 during the entire seven games.

Washington might have lost the first battle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose the war. Seven times the Capitals have the lost the first game of a seven-game playoff series and six times they have come back to win the series – including their 1990 Divisional Finals matchup against the Rangers. After dropping the first game of that series 7-3, Washington won the next four games (the last two in overtime) by a combined score of 19-8; and their 2009 seven-game series victory against the Rangers after spotting the Blueshirts a three games to one lead.

On the plus side for the Rangers, they have a 31-11 series record when winning Game 1.

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It is fitting that the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals are meeting in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Both teams each survived a tight checking opening series that went seven games. In terms of style of play, one could say that the Rangers and Caps are mirror images of each other.

Katie Carrera of the Washington Post described the series as “… a team-defense, shot-blocking palooza. Washington demonstrated its ability to sacrifice the body and absorb shots from the Bruins, finishing with 139 blocks through seven games.”

The Rangers, the NHL playoff leaders, were credited with 155 shots blocked against the Senators.

“By being an ex-player I know what it takes, what the players are going through over there, they get to blocking shots and taking big hits, they’re sacrificing,” Coach Dale Hunter explained to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “So for players, I think it’s one of those things when you win big games like this it’s because they sacrificed and they did [Wednesday night] and through the whole series.”

Whyno offered up his take on how Hunter’s system differs from former coach Bruce Boudreau’s defensive system.
“It’s a departure from years past, even last season, when former coach Bruce Boudreau tried to tighten things up and play a more trapping game. This is a real 1-3-1 neutral zone trap that forces opponents to think more about where they’re putting the puck and takes advantage of mistakes,” Whyno wrote.

There are two main differences between the teams. First off, the Capitals have more potential offensive weapons with the Big Four of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green.

The second difference would normally be a major deciding factor in who will win the series. The Rangers are led by veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist while Washington is relying on rookie Braden Holtby. Normally, that would a big edge to the Rangers, but recent history says that is not the case.

The Capitals have eliminated the Rangers the last two times the teams met in the playoffs with rookie goalies leading the way. In 2009, it was Semyon Varlamov relieving an ineffective Jose Theodore in Washington’s seven game series win. Last year, it was rookie Michal Neuvirth instead of Varlamov pacing the Caps to a five game series win. Will the third time be the charm for the Rangers?

As one might expect, John Tortorella puts no credence in the 2009 and 2011 playoff matchups.
“It doesn’t even come into the equation as far as what we have done before. This is another series,” the coach said.

Holtby’s stats during the Bruins series (2.00 goals against average and .940 save percentage) are nearly identical to those of The King (1.70 goals against average and a .945 save percentage).

Holtby defeated the Rangers on the final day of the regular season stopping 26 of the 27 Blueshirt shots in a game that saw the Rangers spot the Caps a 4-0 lead. It was also one of the few games that the Rangers did not seem to have the whole heart in as the reverted to cruise control rather than chase after the President’s Trophy.

The team split their four regular season games with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The Rangers limited the Capitals to just 89 shots in the four games while firing 109 shots of their own. The Rangers defeated Neuvirth twice while losing to Holtby and Tomas Vokoun, who is out indefinitely with a strained groin.

For the Rangers, Lundqvist won two of three games he played with Martin Biron getting tagged with a 4-1 loss at Washington on December 28.

The one disconcerting fact to consider is that the Rangers only faced the Caps Big Four once during the regular season, the 4-1 loss on April 7. Mike Green missed each of the first three games due to injury. As a result, the Caps Big Four became the Big Five with the emergence of John Carlson in the series. In the four games, Carlson scored three goals and three assists – tying him with Backstrom for the team lead (2-4-6).

Rounding out the Big Four, Ovechkin tallied a goal and two assists while Semin had three goals.

For the Rangers, Ryan Callahan was the Rangers leading scorer in the series (1-4-5). Brandon Dubinsky was second with four points (1-3-4) and Brian Boyle (2-1-3) and Brad Richards (1-2-3) followed with three points each.

The Rangers received good news at Friday’s practice as Boyle returned to the ice; however, his status is still uncertain depending on how he bounces back from practice.

Dubinsky did not practice today and is listed as day-to-day as a resul.t of a lower body injury (thought to be an ankle or knee injury). Dubi missed nearly the final 12 minutes of Game 7.

If Boyle and Dubinsky can’t go, one would expect the Rangers to recall a forward from Connecticut – possibly Kris Newbury who would fill in on the fourth line with Artem Anisimov stepping up to the third line – as he did Thursday night.

Following practice, Tortorella offered matching “no comment” responses when asked for updates on Boyle and Dubinsky.

While most fans are questioning the NHL’s decision to make the Rangers play just 41 hours after finishing off the Ottawa Senators, Tortorella not only refused to join the chorus but he takes the opposite view.
“No, in fact I would rather have it this way,” Tortorella responded to a question about the quick turnaround. “I think when you play a Game 7, and you start another series, if you wait a couple of more days, I think there even could be a letdown.”

“I like the quick turnaround in this type of situation.”

While the coach might not see any problems, I believe the Rangers need to get off to a quick start in Game 1 in order to give themselves some breathing room after the initial shot of adrenaline wears off.
In addition, a quick start takes some of the pressure off of facing the red-hot Holtby and it might help make the rookie goaltender realize that he is just a mere mortal.

So how do the Rangers accomplish this goal? I hate to go back to my Game 6 article, but they must play “their game”. They need to carry over the positives from the Ottawa series.

That means they need to forecheck hard and puts pressure, and bodies, on Carlson and Green early and often.
It means the Rangers’ forwards need to use their speed, especially Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, to force the Capitals defense to back up. That will enable the Rangers to activate their defense to get more involved in the offense – as they did in Game 7 – a strategy that Jamie McLennan of the NHL Network praised the Rangers for doing against the Senators.

Conversely, the Rangers must pay more attention to Washington’s point men in this series. The Rangers might have to sacrifice some of their shot-blocking in order to better control their defensive blue line. Also, they have to be better at clearing the puck during battles near the blue line because the Capitals have the offensive talent that can make a team pay for such a mistake.

While the Capitals have playoff history on their side by winning three of the five playoff series the teams have played, they are facing a mighty tall task for a seventh seed.

According to an article by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, 15 seven seeds pulled off first round upsets. Of those 15 teams, 11 of them lost in the next round and the remaining four lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I see the Rangers-Capitals series being as tight as the team’s first round matchups were. As with the Rangers-senators series, I see the Blueshirts prevailing in a seven-game war as home ice advantage will payoff in another Game 7 victory.

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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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“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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