Tue 8 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.