Thu 9 May 2013
To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, “The report of the New York Rangers’ death was an exaggeration.” Left for dead and nearly buried after scoring just one goal in their two losses at the Verizon Center, the Rangers took advantage of some home cooking at Madison Square Garden and evened the series at two games apiece.
In doing so, the Blueshirts showed the adage of momentum carrying over from game-to-game is a fickle notion at best. If that were the case, the Washington would have capitalized (pun intended) on their Game 2 overtime victory.
For the most part, momentum swings within a game – and in this series – have been keyed by the success/failure of the Rangers power play. In Game 1, the Rangers inability to convert a two-man advantage shifted the momentum to the Capitals who would go on to win Game 1.
The Rangers must find a way to carry over their intensity, desperation and forecheck from Game 4 into the start of Game 5. That is the only way that the momentum from the games at the MSG will carry over to Friday night.
Last night, it was the Rangers ability to cash in on Jason Chimera’s gift power play that keyed the Blueshirts to their Game 4 victory. While Coach John Tortorella has gotten a lot of much-deserved heat for his inability to fix the Rangers power play, his willingness to shake things up at the start of the third period was the difference.
Only Torts knows for sure whether his keeping his top guns (Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash and Brad Richards) on the bench for the start of the power play was a case of holding his stars accountable for their poor power play work or if he was holding them for the second half of the power play – which would match them against the Capitals secondary penalty killers.
Even with the Rangers eventually regaining a second two-goal lead, nothing ever comes easy for the Blueshirts. You just had a feeling that Washington was not going to stop throwing pucks on goal because they seem to have penchant for scoring some ugly goals with their third period goal being about as ugly as they get.
Despite the Rangers inability to protect two-goal leads (something they MUST correct as soon as possible) Washington never seemed to get into a rhythm like they did in the first two games.
Katie Carrera of the Washington Post summed it up best: “For the first time in this matchup, and perhaps the past several months, Washington was thoroughly outplayed at even strength — especially in the first half of the contest. Despite erasing a two-goal deficit at one point, they were never able to establish control.”
Even though the Rangers “exploded” for four goals, last night’s game was close to the success they had during the 2012 playoffs. Larry Brooks of the NY Post noted that the Rangers 33 blocks were more than any game against Washington in last year’s playoffs – with the exception of the triple overtime game where they had 41 blocked shots.
In addition to making the series a best-of-three, Games 3 and 4 served as the coming out parties for Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.
Brassard, in his first NHL playoff action, has shaken off his playoff nerves to the tune one goal and four assists in the last two games. Even more impressive is that he is winning 65.8% of his faceoffs including a ridiculous 88.9% in Game 4.
“He’s grabbed a hold of it here and makes just a great play on Danny’s goal,” Tortorella said to Dan Rosen of NHL.com in reference to Brassard’s play. “He’s stepped in here to try and make a difference and he’s made some big plays for us. I’m not afraid to put him a lot of different positions in a lot of different situations.”
After scoring just one goal in his previous 22 playoff games, Stepan has notched the game-winning goals in back-to-back games as the Blueshirts win two in a row in the playoffs since winning Games 6 and 7 last year against Ottawa.
Tortorella spoke of Stepan’s “resiliency”. It’s always been there,” Tortorella said to Rosen. “That is what has fast-tracked him into a guy that plays 23 minutes a game in all situations. It’s because of the intangible that he has. He has given us some really big minutes here for us to crawl into the series with these two games.”
Interestingly enough, this series has evolved into a battle of the secondary scorers. Of Washington’s top three scorers, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin each have a goal and an assist and Mike Ribeiro is pointless.
Conversely, the Rangers big three (Callahan, Nash and Richards) have combined for just one goal and three assists.
With the last change at home, Tortorella has been able to get favorable matchups against Ovechkin. So much so that Washington’s captain had only three shots in the last two games.
With the series shifting to the Verizon Center, the Rangers will have to shift their focus in terms of shutting down the Capitals high octane offense. The easiest way to do that is to force Washington to defend and for the Blueshirts to stay out of the penalty box. And, above all, they will have to keep the monster (Ovechkin) in his cage.
The Rangers will also need to have an effective power play in Game 5 because you can expect Washington to rededicate themselves to defensive hockey. An effective power play does not mean the Rangers have to score on every advantage. Rather, it means being active in the Capitals zone and being aggressive and getting their shots on goal and traffic in front of Braden Holtby.
In Game 3 the Rangers power play was active and did not suck the air of the Garden and served as a means to change and hold momentum in a positive way. Last night, outside of Dan Girardi’s power play goal, the Rangers power play reverted back to its ugly ways as it had a negative impact on momentum.
Here are my random Ramblings from Game 4:
• Sky Kerstein of 106.6 WJFK-FIM tweeted that in the last 14 games (regular season and playoffs); the Capitals are 1-9 when Ovechkin doesn’t score and 5-0 when he does.
• Six times Washington has lost Game 4 to even a series at two games apiece – and they have lost all six series.
• Prior to last night’s loss, Braden Holtby was 7-0 following a Capitals loss in the playoffs.
• Unlike some fans and beat writers, I have no problem with defensemen dropping to the ice to block shots or break up odd-man rushes. With that said, I am still trying to figure what Michael Del Zotto was doing on the Capitals first goal. Rather than go hit the ice with a purpose, MDZ seemed to flop to the ice for the sake of flopping to the ice. Then again, he might not have had to do that if Steve Eminger didn’t get caught making a hit in the neutral zone.
• It is a good thing that Eddie Shore is not Del Zotto’s coach. Shore hated when his goaltenders would go to the ice to make a save – so much so that he would tie them to the crossbar in practice in order to break them of that habit.
• Hmm, might be a good thing that Shore isn’t Henrik Lundqvist’s coach as well. The King needs to resist dropping to the butterfly when there is a lot of traffic in front in attempt to look over the screens it might have made a difference on their third Caps goal.
• Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times wrote that Martin Erat’s “upper-body” injury is an injury to his wrist. Two former Rangers could be inserted into the lineup by Coach Adam Oates – Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb. With the Hershey Bears eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs, the Caps recalled Crabb and former 1st round draft pick Tom Wilson.
• However, could there be a dark horse replacement for Erat? Brooks Laich skated with the team on Wednesday. Laich, who is recovering from a sports hernia surgery that no one has admitted to, would be more likely to see action in a Game 7 than Game 5. Whyno tweeted this morning that “Brooks Laich clarifies that he had a small groin procedure, not sports hernia.” Insert your own joke here
• Someone needs to put a BOLO for Rick Nash. By the end of the game Nash had been dropped to the third line. One has to wonder if maybe he is playing hurt because it shouldn’t be a case of him being overwhelmed by the state of the playoffs. Nash is a veteran of many international tournaments as a member of Team Canada, including the Olympics. Nash needs to put away the spinoramas and concentrate on going to the net with a purpose and shooting the puck a beat earlier than normal to try and catch Braden Holtby and the Caps off stride.
• Marc Staal was not on the ice for today’s optional practice, although Andrew Gross reports that 12 regulars and Martin Biron did skate. Staal did not address the media and, as expected, Tortorella would not discuss Staal’s availability for the rest of the series.
• Gross did write that Torts addressed Ryan McDonagh’s comments after the game in reference to Staal’s decision not to play because the blueliner was not able to play at an acceptable level. Torts response to McDonagh’s comments was, “Mac should shut up.” Freedom of speech might not be dead around MSG (with Knicks and Rangers personnel on a short leash), but it might be on life support.
• It was nice to see the Rangers finally with the “game of inches” for a change. After watching a couple of shots clang off iron in Game 2, Joel Ward had a scoring attempt just skitter past the post towards the end of the game.