The New York Rangers all did their mother’s proud on Sunday as they turned in their best effort of the playoffs – with Mamma Lundqvist and Mamma Brassard smiles shining the brightest.

However, the NHL didn’t do either team any favors as there will be no rest for the weary as the Rangers and Capitals return to the ice for a seventh and deciding game about 25 hours after Game 6 ended. It might not be the ideal situation, but it is one that Rangers Coach John Tortorella believes the players need to embrace.

“If I am a player, I want to play right away,” Tortorella explained in his post-game press conference. “The regular season crap means nothing. You make your legacy in these games. You see what kind of character you have as a player and a team.”

The quick turnaround time might prove to be the one chance a team has to carry the momentum over from game to another. If the Rangers are able to get off to another quick start they can go a long way to help neutralize the Caps home ice advantage.

In the end, the next game’s momentum is only as good as the next game’s goaltenders.

Henrik Lundqvist’s legacy does not need to be built – he is merely adding on to an already impressive resume. It is players like Derick Brassard who are embracing hockey’s biggest stage. After struggling to find his playoff legs during the first two games, Brassard has scored seven points during the last four games.

You have to love Brassard whether it was his brutal honesty or naiveté of youth when he said that his game-winning goal came as a result of listening to the Garden crowd’s chant of “Shoot”.

The one thing that was overlooked on his goal was Brassard’s slight hesitation before he shot the puck. Brassard’s delay was just enough to open up a shooting lane. It also didn’t hurt that Rick Nash was camped out in front of Braden Holtby.

If the Rangers want to win their first Game 7 on the road after five defeats, the Rangers need to replicate what they did on that goal – especially on the power play. The Rangers need to find ways to open up shooting lanes and get traffic in front of Holtby – especially on the power play.

As you can see, I am stressing the Rangers need to find ways to score – especially on the power play. Game 6 was the first time that the winning team did not score a power play goal. The Rangers can’t continue to fritter away power plays – especially those of the five-on-three variety.

The Rangers power play needs success on a dual-level. The obvious first level is to start producing goals. The second level is finding ways to maintain momentum on those man advantages when they don’t score. During Game 6, the Rangers power play failed on both levels.

It is kind of amazing that the Rangers could be so aggressive during five-on-five play and then become so passive on the power play. More often than not, the Rangers power play appears to be five guys standing around waiting for a bus. There needs to be more player movement and more MEANINGFUL puck movement. Merely passing the puck from the left point to the right point is not going to get it done.

If the Rangers keep a man in front of the net at all times, it will force one of the Capitals defensemen to play the man. That would turn the man advantage into a pseudo four-on-three – which opens up the ice and should help open up the shooting lanes.

Okay, as my wife Roe would say, the horse is already dead and buried so there is no need to keep beating it.

Speaking of beating dead horses, the Capitals are sounding the drums of discontent concerning the way the series has been called – with the five power plays to none advantage the Rangers ahead being one of the main topics of conversation. The other was the charge that Mike Green’s cross-checking penalty was a result of Derek Dorsett’s slew-foot attempt.

“That play to me is the one that does concern me because it looked like a slew-foot to me and obviously that’s why Mike reacted,” Oates said following the game. “Mike’s not that type of player, and you’re watching it. To me it looks like a slew-foot. Very dangerous play. Greenie’s one of those guys that they want to target, but to me, that’s a very dangerous play.”

In her game story in the Washington Post, Katie Carrera offered this definition of a slew-foot: “The Capitals said Dorsett slew-footed Green, which is when a player uses his legs or feet to knock an opponent’s feet out from under him.”

$100 to the first person who can provide me with tape that shows Dorsett knocking Green’s feet out from under him. Of course, I am not going to have to pay out that Benjamin because it did not happen – regardless of what Oates, Braden Holtby, or Joe Micheletti opine.

I am sure that this quote from Dorsett didn’t help the post-game meal go down any easier.

“In the postseason, they’re letting us play a little bit too,” Dorsett told Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times. “You’ve just got to make sure you don’t retaliate and just play hard and try to get under their skin.”

If you watch the play, Green begins to initiate contact and is in the process of shouldering off Dorsett. As he is doing that, Dorsett’s left leg comes off the ice as he crashes into the boards. Was he going to attempt a slew-foot? The only person who knows that is Dorsett, but the bottom line is that he didn’t knock Green down.

Funny, but I don’t remember Oates or the Capitals complaining about the referees catching the retaliation when Brian Boyle slashed Mike Ribeiro after he was cross-checked in Game 5, nor do I remember the Capitals putting up much of a fuss when Jason Chimera fast-washed Ryane Clowe into the glass earlier in that very same Game 5.

Frankly, Green and the capitals should be relieved that Green didn’t get four minutes for that cross-check because he did draw blood.

Honestly, if Washington is going to harp on how they are having to battles the Rangers and the officials, then the Blueshirts task of winning Game 7 is half complete.

Yes, Washington has been whistled for 31 penalties as compared to the Rangers 19, but there is one thing to remember – the Rangers were the least-penalized team in the NHL during the regular season (averaging 9.2 PIM per game).

As loud as the Capitals were in voicing their displeasure over the officiating, Comcast SportsNet analyst Alan May, a former Capital, really let one of the officials have it. According to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, May offered the following assessment via Twitter: “1st Star today for Rangers #25 referee Marc Joannette, even worse today than he was at MSG Wednesday.”

Here are my random Ramblings from Game 6:
• As tough as it is on the Rangers and Capitals having to play Games 6 and 7 on back-to-back nights, how do you think the Boston Bruins feel? Mechanical problems with their charter plane forced them to spend the night in Toronto and fly home this morning. In the mean time, the Toronto Maple leafs spent the night in Boston.
• Okay, let’s get all of the negative numbers out of the way. The Rangers have lost 10 of their last 11 playoff games at the Verizon Center. The King is only 3-10 in Washington in the post-season – the same record he has in playoff overtime games. Conversely, Holtby is 5-0 in home playoff games. The Blueshirts have twice rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to win (1994 against New Jersey and 2012 against Ottawa); however, in both cases Game 7 was at MSG.
• You know the games are getting more intense and important when you see Alex Ovechkin hit the ice twice to block shots on the same shift. Ovie revved up his engines last night as he fired five shots on goal – compared to the three shots he managed in Games 3 and 4.
• Green’s cross-checking penalty might have been born more out of frustration at his play that anything Dorsett did. Granted the Caps had no power plays, but Green was pretty invisible until the final moments of the game. By the way, big block by Brian Boyle on Green’s point shot with 25 seconds left in the game.
• Ovechkin wasn’t the only superstar who stepped up his play. Rick Nash was more active in Game 6 than in any other game in the series. While he raised his level of play, you can see that Nash is still not 100% because he seems to be missing that extra gear. Still, it was Nash’s rush and screen that helped lead to Brassard’s goal.
• In the middle of such an important and intense game, Caps rookie Tom Wilson provided a light moment when he pretty much had to crawl back to his bench in the second period after having his skate blade break off.
• Speaking of the second period, it might have been one of the best periods of hockey all season. The Rangers have had all kinds of problems in the second period – allowing seven of Washington’s 12 goals in the second period (and that does not include the two overtime goals scored during the “long-change”).
• Washington is facing their straight seventh and deciding game. They defeated Boston in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals before losing to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
• The Rangers face a bit of a Catch-22 in terms of shooting the puck. They have to find ways to hit the net more while avoiding all of those shots that are hitting Holtby in his chest. They might need to look to take wrist shots and try and pick corners rather than slap shots trying to overpower Holtby. In addition to creating traffic, they need to get Holtby moving one way and shooting back against the grain. Also, when they attempt wraparounds they need to get a better angle because he is doing a good job of holding tight on the post.
• The Blueshirts need to be active and aggressive on the forecheck from the opening whistle. They have to look to make plays at all times, most importantly in their own end. They are still being too passive in terms of clearing the puck during battles at the blue line. While it didn’t cost them a goal on Sunday, it did lead to Ovechkin’s thundering hit on Dan Girardi.
• If the key to real estate is location, location, and location, the key to tonight’s game will be faceoffs, faceoffs, and faceoffs. After a poor Game 5, for the most part, the Rangers responded well in Game 6. They lost at least 10 seconds after losing the faceoff on their five-on-three power play. Winning faceoffs will help the Rangers manage the tempo of the game and help derail the power plays the Capitals will get tonight.
• The last word goes to Officer Steven McDonald: “We need one play, one shift, one block, and a goal to make this game and this season a memorable one … so get it done!”

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Coach John Tortorella can call Game 6 whatever he wants. However, whether he wants to admit or not, his Rangers have their backs to the wall in a must-win, do-or-die, now-or-never, please-fill-in-your-own-sports-cliché elimination game.

“I don’t consider it an elimination game, we’re trying to win one game,” Tortorella told Andrew Gross of The Record. “I’m not going to even use that word. Again, we’ve bounced back. Guys that haven’t been in it, it’s an opportunity; that’s the way they have to look at it. So we’ll go home and try to win a game.”

In trying to win Game 6, Tortorella should show his team the first 19 minutes of the game and the 10:36 of overtime because they pretty much did not bother to show up for the second and third periods – outside of Henrik Lundqvist. It would be most interesting to see how much more the Vezina Trophy nominee could accomplish with a little help from his friends. As crazy at it might seem Lundqvist is 3-10 in the playoffs in overtime.

“Frustrating and disappointing, but it’s not over,” Lundqvist lamented to Dan Rosen of nhl.com. “We have to go home and regroup. It’s going to be a tough couple hours and then you just forget about it.”

The Blueshirts got the quick start they needed 53 second into the game when Brian Boyle buried Derick Brassard’s centering pass for a 1-0 lead. The quick start allowed the Rangers to carry over the momentum they built up in the games at Madison Square Garden. But as well as they played in that first period, there were ominous signs ahead following their goal in the game’s first minute.

In a replay of Game 1, the Rangers never managed to find a way to extend their precarious one-goal lead – even though they had their chances. The Ranger squandered two first period power plays and saw Derek Dorsett and Carl Hagelin denied on breakaways with Hagelin’s attempt disrupted by a trip by a John Erskine trip.

While they dodged a bullet when Anton Stralman returned to action after suffering some type of leg injury, they were not so lucky when Jason Chimera rammed Ryane Clowe into the boards. The subsequent power play was little consolation as Clowe never returned and his status for Game 6 is up in the air. Joe Micheletti later said that it appeared to be a head or wrist injury. Given that Clowe was coming off a concussion and his head did hit the glass, it is probably a good bet that Clowe has suffered another concussion.

Despite all of that going against them, the Rangers had a 1-0 lead after the first period. However, a seemingly innocent flurry of shots at the end of the first period by the Caps would prove to be the momentum changer for the game – and possibly the series.

Down a goal, the Capital intensity, urgency and physical play picked up and the Rangers never managed to match the caps until the start of overtime. By that time, it was too late. The aggressive and confident Rangers team from the last seven periods of hockey was replaced by a passive team content to let their all-world goaltender carry them to victory.

Much like Game 1, Friday night’s game turned on special teams play. While the Rangers continued to kill two minutes while on the power play, the potent Washington power play tied the score.

The Rangers mantra coming into this series was to stay out of the penalty box and avoid taking bad penalties like the plague. However, after wearing the hero’s garland for about 27 minutes of playing time, Boyle donned the goat’s horns with his retaliatory penalty against Mike Ribeiro. Not only did Boyle’s penalty put the Capitals on the power play, it killed a possible four-on-two rush for the Rangers.

“It’s a dumb penalty and you don’t kill those off,” Tortorella said to Rosen. “That’s a guy that is playing really well for us, but it’s a dumb penalty.”

As stupid a penalty as it was, and it was a stupid penalty, it was a case where both players should have gone to the penalty box because Ribeiro obviously cross-checked Boyle – a fact that he fessed up to.

“I went to the net, he fell down, I cross-checked him, he turned around and give me a good whack on my calves,” Ribeiro admitted to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times.

Joel Ward’s power play goal proved to be a chance at a Game 5 redemption because just a little more than a year ago Ward was the goat in the Capitals Game 5 loss to the Rangers at the Garden on May 7, 2012. His double-minor for high-sticking led to Brad Richards tying goal with 6.6 second left in regulation and Marc Staal’s game-winner in OT.

“Wardo’s a horse,” Karl Alzner said to Rich Campbell of The Washington Times. “He’s a playoff performer. I think that’s the main reason why we got him here.”

If the Rangers second period was bad, the third period was worse as they were outshot 13-4 in the final 20 minutes – and that is as result of a “flurry” of three shots in the final two minutes.

The biggest surprise of the night had to be the way the two teams approached overtime. Rather than be content to sit back and wait for the other team to make a mistake, both teams attacked early and often. The Rangers were way more engaged offensively in overtime then they were in the second and third periods. One has to wonder how the game would have turned if they showed that type of energy and urgency in the second and third periods.

The Rangers caught a bad break on the winning goal when John Moore blocked Mike Green’s shot from the point. The young defenseman was hurt momentarily, but it was just enough for him to be late to cover Ribeiro who was able to convert on the loose puck on Alzner’s shot from the point.

It is a lesson the Rangers forwards should heed – you need to be in front of the net (and facing the net) to bang home rebounds.

Here are my random Ramblings from Game 5:

• The Rangers must find a way to combat the “long-change” curse that has haunted them in this series. Seven of the Caps 12 goals have been scored in the second period – when both teams have to skate to the other end of the ice to change lines. When you factor in the overtimes, the number balloons to nine of 12 goals during the “long-change”.
• I have come to the conclusion that Rick Nash is hurt. I know that Washington is blanketing him like the Rangers are blanketing Alex Ovechkin, but all of these incessant spinorama attempts are most telling. Nash is not using his size and skating to drive to the net, nor is he snapping off his strong wrist shot. Either his leg, wrist or a combination of both are hurting him.
• The Blueshirts have no chance at extending the series to a seventh game if Nash, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards do not elevate their games. Enough with the secondary scorers leading the way. There is a reason these guys are paid what they paid and why they wear letters on their jerseys and putting up a big effort in Game 6 9and Game 7) is that reason.
• If the Rangers want to win Game 6 (and Game 7) they better score a power play goal. The winning team as scored a power play goal in each game. It makes sense when you consider how close the games are. 10 of the last 11 playoff games between the Capitals and Rangers have been decided by one goal – with four of those games going to overtime. The Rangers are 5-5 in those 10 games.
• The more the Rangers struggle with the man advantage, the more liberties Washington is going to take without fear or giving up a goal.
• With Clowe out of the lineup, Tortorella has a decision to make. Does he insert Kris Newbury to give the fourth line a center or does he go for the high-risk/high-reward offensive style of play of Chris Kreider. My decision would be to roll the dice and go with the offensive Kreider and give him a regular shift. Odds are Torts will go with Newbury and the more responsible defensive player.
• Newbury might not be a bad idea given how horrible the Rangers were on faceoffs in Game 5 – losing 42 of 72 draws.
• Ultimately, the Game 5 loss is my responsibility. For the first time in the series I decided to write and post a game preview – thus changing the mojo of the series. Don’t worry it will not happen again because my wife has already read me the riot act .

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The Rangers better be prepared mentally and physically from the opening faceoff tonight at the Verizon Center because the Capitals are going to look to throw everything at the Blueshirts – including the proverbial kitchen sink – at the start of Game 5. Of course, that is easier said than done given the troubles the Rangers have had at the start of games during the abbreviated season.

It is imperative that the Rangers stay focused and concentrate on what they do best when they are playing at their best – be strong and aggressive on the forecheck, responsible in the defensive zone and stay out of the penalty box.

While the Rangers main concern is to stay the course from Games 3 and 4, the Capitals realize that they need to change their strategy to combat the Rangers.

“They kept their two guys coming strong and the third guy was just quick to follow,” Karl Alzner said to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post. “So it made it a little bit tougher for us to get the puck and bump it over like we like to. They were a lot better with their dumps as well. They made some adjustments, so we’ll have to adjust now.”

You can bet that Hart Trophy nominee Alex Ovechkin is going to look to lay waste to the Rangers after managing just three shots at Madison Square Garden – and that starts with some adjustments from his linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus “JoJo” Johansson.

“I don’t think they changed how they play,” Ovechkin explained to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times. “Of course they put [captain Ryan] Callahan against our line and we all know what he gonna do. He try and make physical contact on you. Girardi and McDonagh, they just stay back and try to block the shots. If we have our chance to shoot the puck, we have to shoot it. Don’t wait one second — or more — because if I’m gonna be in front of the net with JoJo we still have to shoot.”

Lest Ovechkin think that the Rangers are singling him out, Rangers Coach John Tortorella said the team is just doing what it does.

“We’re playing defense the way we always play defense,” Tortorella said to Jeff Z. Klein of the NY Times. “Any top line, that’s any team’s strategy, to try to keep them in their own end zone. No one’s reinventing the wheel here in this series.”

Tortorella had a much easier time dictating matchups at the Garden because he the last change as the home team – an advantage he won’t have in Game 5.

Even with the last change, Caps Coach Adam Oates knows that keeping his top line away from the Rangers top defensemen is not an easy thing because, as he explained to Whyno, “it’s still difficult because they play those two guys so much. They play 30 minutes.”

While much has been made about the matchups, it takes more than just one or two players to shut down Ovechkin, as demonstrated by their play in the games at the Garden.

“The last two games, we’ve had better structure with our forwards in the neutral zone,” McDonagh admitted to Klein. “If he gets through there, we’re able to have good gaps because of our structure. We talk about having to defend in units of five — up the ice in five, and backcheck in five.”

The Rangers will have one advantage in that Martin Erat will not be playing in Game 5 and his availability for the rest of the series is uncertain. Oates declined to comments on the results of Erat’s MRI – just going to show that Torts is not the only coach in this series who is keeping injury information to a bare minimum.

It is expected that former 2012 first round draft pick (#16) Tom Wilson will be inserted into the lineup on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks. While he is expected to get the ice time that Chris Kreider got last year, Wilson is looking to write his own Kreider-like story.

The 6-foot-4 and 210 pound RW went from the OHL Playoffs with the Plymouth Whalers to the AHL playoffs with the Hershey Bears and now to the NHL playoffs – all at the age of 19.

While the Capitals will be without Erat, the Rangers will be without Marc Staal who continues to struggle to get back into the lineup on a regular basis. After not speaking with the media prior to and after Game 4, the Rangers alternate captain spoke today.

“On the ice it didn’t go particularly well and then as the day went on I just couldn’t see myself getting into a game situation,” Staal told Andrew Gross. “It’s hard to explain, I don’t really want to try to, it’ll probably get misunderstood. If I’m ready to go, obviously I want to play I just couldn’t last game.”

Gross wrote that Staal did not go into details on the specifics, but Staal did say that his decision not to play in Game 4 (and presumably any games beyond tonight) had nothing to with what happened in Game 3.

It would be foolish for me or anyone else to speculate as to what the problem is. Suffice it to say that if Staal’s is not comfortable playing then he is making the right decision. The last thing he needs to do it put him into a situation where he is putting himself in danger.

While the NHL is making news on the ice with the Stanley Cup playoffs, the league is also making news off the ice as they continue to release the names of its award nominees. You can expect the crowd at the Verizon Center will be vocal in recognizing Ovechkin as one of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, along with Sidney Crosby and John Tavares. You can also expect a lot of noise coming out of the Western Conference since all three finalists are Eastern Conference players.

The other big news has the NHL releasing/leaking that the league will be shutting for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics break from February 9-25, 2014.

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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.

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As fans of The Odd Couple know, one should never assume. However, I think it is safe to assume that Washington goaltender Braden Holtby found Game 3 to be a bit more of a straining game in comparison to his Game 2 shutout.

For the first time in 11 playoff games between the Rangers and Capitals one team scored four goals. The last time it happened was In Game 4 on April 20, 2011 when Washington erased a 3-0 deficit as Jason Chimera scored the game winning goal in double overtime.

Some people will claim there is no such thing as a “must-win” game until you are facing elimination. Considering only three teams have ever overcome a three games to none deficit, last night’s game was ever inch a must-win game.

“We knew we had to win this one,” Henrik Lundqvist related to Tracee Hamilton of The Washington Post. “It was a must-win. We really stepped up as a group and they kept coming. They’re a good team and you have to respect that, but we scored some big goals tonight.”

The game’s first star, Derick Brassard, echoed his goalie’s sentiments.

“It was do-or-die for us,” Brassard said to the AP. “We competed really hard for 60 minutes. We stuck up for each other, and that’s what we need to do.”

The Blueshirts received an emotional list with the return of Marc Staal to the lineup after missing 27 games. Staal’s importance to the Rangers cause was not lost on the Capitals.

“He plays great shutdown, he’s got a great stick, he makes the right plays, he can chip in offensively,” Karl Alzner related to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Post. “He did some damage against us last year in the playoffs. I just like his game. Even if he’s 60, 70 percent I think he could really help them out.”

Whyno also wrote that Alzner called Staal one of his favorite NHL blue liners.

The hearts of the Rangers faithful skipped a couple of beats when Staal absorbed a huge hit from Troy Brouwer. Despite banging his head on the boards, Staal shook of the hit and ended up playing 17:17. The one thing that was overlooked was how Rick Nash hit Brouwer right after the hit on Staal.

Not too many people would have been willing to give the Rangers good odds to win a high scoring matchup against the Capitals. Those odds would have been even steeper if you were betting on the Rangers to win the battle of the special teams while losing the five-on-five game within a game.

The Rangers managed to dig deep and find a resilience they have not shown since last year’s playoff run. It would have been easy for a team as fragile as the Rangers to not bounce back every time the Capitals countered. However, the Blueshirts managed to fight off the Capitals comebacks.

“Every time we had a goal they would come back and kind of deflate us,” Rangers nemesis Mike Green told Whyno.

The Rangers were able to climb back into the series because they finally had a clue on offense. While they still had a tendency to settle for play on the perimeter, the Rangers offense kicked into gear when they got it into their thick heads to attack the Washington net.

Brian Boyle’s goal, which was a byproduct of a power play, ended the Rangers goalless streak at 124:06. It was the type of goal that shows the benefit for driving to the net rather than playing to the perimeter.

The other three Rangers goals were pretty much carbon copies of each other as the Rangers cycling and forechecking paid off because Rangers forwards put themselves in perfect scoring positions by going to the slot.

While the Rangers were 1-6 on the power play, for the most part the Blueshirts were more active and were playing with a purpose and a heartbeat with the man advantage. The Blueshirts “official” power play goal was a result of the perfect recipe for power play success: faceoff win plus player movement plus puck movement equals goal.

All of the Rangers positive work on the power play could have come undone if the penalty kill weren’t 3-3. They were aggressive when they needed to be and were patient when they needed to be – especially on the power play at the end of the game as the Capitals pulled Holtby for a six-on-four advantage.

The Rangers effort in the final 1:54 brought back memories of last year’s Black-and-Blueshirts mentality.

“If anything, [the Rangers] did a really good job, obviously, protecting [Lundqvist],” Coach Adam Oates explained to Whyno. “We probably just could’ve tried to figure out a better way to get to the net, just to start the process of now they’ve got to recover, maybe there’s a rebound, second wave. Probably a little too cute with it.”

If Rangers fans didn’t know any better, Oates’ lament to Whyno could easily have been made by John Tortorella in reference to his team’s power play.

With the special teams battle turned upside down, so to was the five-on-five play as the Capitals’ forecheck game pinned the Rangers in their zone far too long for comfort. I was glad to hear Brian Leetch echo the sentiments that I have been extolling for some time now.

While Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti seemed at a loss to explain why the Capitals were pinning the Rangers in their zone, Leetch explained that since the Rangers forwards drop down low to protect Lundqvist and clog the shooting lanes, the Washington point men are open – which leads to the Rangers chasing the puck in their own zone.

Here are my random Ramblings from Game 3:

• This was the one game where I wanted NBC to cover because I needed to hear what Pierre McGuire had to say about Alex Ovechkin’s embellishment of Brad Richards’ slashing penalty. The only problem I have with the penalty call on Richards is that it should have been high sticking, not slashing. However, Ovechkin should have been hit with a diving penalty much like Derek Dorsett was in Game 2 and Sidney Crosby should have been assessed in OT of Game 3.
• Derick Brassard Stat #1 – The Elias Sports Bureau reported that the last time a Ranger scored three points or more in his playoff debut at Madison Square Garden was Sergei Zubov in 1994. erick Brassard Stat #2 – The AP reported that Brassard was the first Rangers to score four or more points in his Rangers debut since Doug Bentley did against Boston on January 24, 1954.
• What is up with the Daily News running a trumped up story about Bernard King “dissing” Carmelo Anthony instead of the rangers Game 3 win – like Newsday and the NY Post. needless to say, my buck went to the Post today. I urge everyone to do the same thing if the Daily News is going to lead with non-stories instead of hockey.
• The Rangers inability/unwillingness to cover the Capitals point men makes Mike Green more dangerous that Alex Ovechkin. They can’t continue to leave Green alone for shots from the point.
• What is with all of these Nicklas Backstrom commercials for Geico? Does he have dirty pictures of the gecko and the cavemen?
• Darroll Powe received a concussion after being hit with a Joel Ward elbow. Do not expect a suspension because it will be termed an inadvertent elbow along the same line of Michael Del Zotto’s hit to James Neal. It is the second concussion Powe has received at the hands of the Capitals – the first came after a collision with Matt Hendricks on February 17. Powe’s injury should pave the way for the return of Ryane Clowe, if he is healthy.
• The NHL changed its playoff format in 1987 to make all series the best-of-seven. Since that time, Washington has won the first two games of a series six times – and all six time the Capitals lost Game 3. In addition, they ended up losing four of those six series. Of course, one of those series victories was against the Rangers in 2011.
• If the Rangers big guns are going to continue to struggle offensively, they are going to need scoring from their secondary players – as well as continued pinching of their defensemen. Prior to the game-winner, Derek Stepan had only one goal in 27 playoff games. Richards is now without a goal in his last nine playoff games and Rick Nash has just one goal in seven playoff games.
• Last night’s victory was the Rangers seventh straight at home – a stretch that has seen them score 30 goals in those games. The Blueshirts will attempt to win two playoff games in a row for the first time since the Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators in Games 6 and 7 last year.

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Only once in their 86-year history have the New York Rangers erased a two games to none deficit – in 1996 when they spotted the Montreal Canadiens the first two games of their Conference Quarterfinals battle. What made that accomplishment even more incredible was that the Blueshirts had dropped the first two games at home.

In that respect, the 2013 Rangers have an advantage because they have the opportunity to start their series comeback Monday night at Madison Square Garden. However, unless the team finds a way to revive their moribund power play the series may never switch back to the Verizon Center.

The Rangers and Capitals entered the series as two evenly matched teams that were separated by just one point. However in terms of their power plays, Washington’s man advantage scores a TKO in the battle with the Rangers inept power play.

It was apparent midway through this game that two teams were already facing “overtime hockey” because Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby were on their games. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the game within a game that is the “game of inches” were going against the Rangers. Anton Stralman rang a shot off the pipes three minutes and change into the game and then Rick Nash hit the post in the final four minutes of the second period as his bulrush drew a Rangers power play.

There it goes again, the Voldemort of the Rangers: the-thing-that-must-not-be-named. It is the thing that has the Rangers in a 2-0 deficit rather than even, or dare I say, ahead two games to none.

While the four blind mice, er officials, blew the delay of game call in the final minute of regulation, did it really matter? The Rangers squandered the power play that Nash drew and then they wasted the golden opportunity the Caps gave them when Washington was called for delay-of-the-game early in Overtime.

Then when Ryan McDonagh was sent off for his own delay penalty, even the most diehard Rangers fan knew that the end was near.

The Capitals were able to force the Rangers into that penalty because of the Blueshirts habit of dropping their forwards so deep in the defensive zone, that they are unable to prevent back passes to the point. While that style helps seal off the shooting lanes, it also tends to put the team back on their heels as they are forechecked into turnovers, mistakes, or penalties – which was exactly the case in Overtime.

I don’t normally agree with Barry Melrose on too many things, but ESPN’s analyst was dead solid perfect in explaining the Rangers power play woes on ESPN News following Game 2.

“This is a power play with tons of talent … they’re not getting shots through,” Melrose explained. “They play a very stagnant power play …. It’s basically five guys standing still.”

Contrast that with the Capitals game-winning goal and you see the difference in the two power play units. Washington moved the puck and themselves and opened up a shooting lane for Mike Green. The Rangers? They continue to settle for keeping the puck on the perimeter as they over-pass in an attempt to find that mythical perfect power play shot.

Here are my random Ramblings for Game 2:

• Call me a mark, but I always enjoy any hockey game Mike Emrick calls. I know he can get a bit annoying when he repeats his pet keywords (e.g. pitchforking the puck), but the man has an encyclopedic knowledge of the game that is only second to his passion for the game. I also don’t mind Ed Olczyk as the color analyst – so much so that I would like to see him work on MSG. However, as for Pierre McGuire, I’d be willing to cough up a Benjamin Franklin to the first place who rings a puck off his head.
• No offense to Braden Holtby, but why does every goaltender the Rangers face – especially in the playoffs – turn into a Vezina Trophy winner? Why can’t one of them look as bad as Marc-Andre Fleury did in allowing that bank shot game winner against the New York Islanders on Friday night?
• While the Rangers would have spit-the-bit on the ensuing power play anyway, how did four officials miss that delay-of-game penalty at the end of regulation? It is calls like that which give pause to the conspiracy theories Rangers fans hatch against the NHL. It is a black and white call that leaves no room for interpretation. Frankly, I’d like to see the NHL give officials a little leeway, especially on plays like that where a player is trying to clear a rolling/bouncing puck. Instead of calling the penalty, keep the faceoff in the defensive zone and treat it like an icing – the offending team is not able to substitute players.
• While I am on my officiating soapbox, I detest it when referees eliminate a power play by calling an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving. As far as I am concerned, it is one or the other. If it is a penalty then I don’t care if a player dives/embellishes on the penalty. Referees don’t call penalties on players who stay on the ice after blocking a shot and then miraculously skate off the ice on their own and never miss a shift.
• If Derek Dorsett deserved the diving penalty, then why wasn’t one called on Rick Nash when Nicklas Backstrom took him down in the neutral zone in the second period? If there is no penalty Backstrom, they Nash “must” have taken a dive to try and draw a penalty.
• Here is why I hate McGuire so much. On the play where Dorsett was called for the dive Pierre said, “Professional players don’t fall like that”. Wow, I could have sworn NBC and McGuire have covered Pittsburgh Penguins games because a certain #87 dives as much as Greg Louganis.
• Rangers are now 1-9 in their last 10 playoff games at the Verizon Center. The lone win was Marian Gaborik’s triple overtime winner nearly a year ago (May 2, 2012). In those 10 games, the Rangers have scored nine goals (just one on the PP) while allowing 23.
• Game 2 was the first time since 1933 that a Rangers playoff game ended scoreless after regulation. The Rangers and Montreal Maroons played to a 0-0 tie. According to the NHL playoff format at that time, the series was a two-game, total-goals series. The Rangers were eliminated when they lost the second game 2-1 – thus losing the series two goals to one.
• Looking ahead to Game 3, it will not surprise me to see the rest of the Rangers walking wounded return to the lineup. Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett skated in Game 2 and I would look for Ryane Clowe and Marc Staal to be dressed for Game 3. On Friday, Coach John Tortorella said that urgency is more important than conditioning in terms of players getting back into the lineup. “If we don’t win, we’re done. So I don’t give a damn about the conditioning,” Tortorella said. “If I think a player is gonna help us, he’s going to play.”
• The Rangers have to get more traffic in front of Holtby and get more shots ON GOAL – especially on the power play. When they have the man advantage, they have to stress movement of players and the puck as a means of opening up shooting lanes and they have to throw a lot of rubber ON GOAL.
• Tortorella needs to get Brad Richards off the point on the power play. He is too tentative with the puck. The Rangers need someone who is more decisive and willing to shoot the puck. While has hasn’t scored yet, Rick Nash has stepped up his effort. Richards, not so much.
• At the same time, forwards have to go to the top of the crease and stop setting up at the side of the net. Going to the top of the crease will draw at least one defenseman’s attention – which opens up the ice and sets up the next bit of advice.
• Working the offense from behind the goal line, and more specifically, from behind the net is still a good strategy. The only adjustment they might want to make is not trying as many stuff-in wraparounds. Instead, they might want to take an extra stride or two so that they have a little more room, and a better angle, to shoot.
• The Rangers also need to stop settling for long-range shots. They need to start driving to the net with the puck. That will draw defenders and open chances for rebounds and loose pucks. It also might draw more power plays. Look even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then and if the Rangers keep drawing power plays they are bound to score on of these days.

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The optimistic glass-is-half-full Rangers fan looks at the team’s Game loss as extension of the cliché that hockey is a game of inches. An inch here and inch there and Carl Hagelin tallies a hat trick and john Moore’s goal that wasn’t a goal turns out to be the game-winner.

The pessimistic glass-is-half-empty Rangers fan realizes that the team’s fortunes were doomed as a result of their inept five-on-three power play that paved the way to the Capitals victory.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, the pessimistic Rangers fan, which is kind of redundant, wins the Game 1 debate because Capitals fans can bemoan the same lament of opportunities that were “just missed” chances. However, there is no arguing that the Rangers inability on their power play proved to be a momentum/game changer – a belief that both sides signed off on.

“Anytime you kill a five-on-three, especially in playoffs, the momentum goes the other way, for sure,” Jason Chimera told Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times. “If they get a goal, they’re feeling it. If we get a kill, obviously the crowd gets into it or we get into it. Everyone’s pumped up. It’s a good way to create momentum for us.”

It is one thing for a team not to score on their power play, but it is another thing for that power play to be so incompetent that the momentum shifts as a result

“That’s what the playoffs is about: Momentum swings and trying not to get hurt when you lose the momentum,” Ryan Callahan explained to Mark Giannotto of The Washington Post. “I thought tonight we got hurt when we lost it.”

Most fans are conditioned to see momentum as something that is carried over from game to game. While that might be the case in some instances, more often than not, the idea of momentum and momentum shifts are confined within the framework of a game.

Teams that are able to stem the tides of momentum shifts are the teams that win in the playoffs – especially when you have two evenly matched teams. Contrary to what might be written, only one point separated the Southeast Division champion Capitals and the sixth seed Rangers.

The difference in Game 1 was that the Blueshirts not only didn’t seize the momentum of the game during their two-man advantage, they served up to the Caps on a silver platter in a 46-second stretch that proved to be the margin of victory.

In terms of goals against, the Rangers were pretty consistent (34-38-36). However, it seems like that whenever the Rangers lose it turns out that their play in the second period proves to be their undoing. I don’t know that as a fact, but it sure feels that way to me.

Prior to the third period, assistant coach Michael Sullivan told MSG’s John Giannone, “We actually played a pretty good second period.” Putting aside “coach speak”, there is no way you turn a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit and say you played a pretty good period. I would hate to see what a bad period would look like.

The key thing for the Rangers is to focus on what they did right in and make sure they correct what they did wrong in Game 1. The Blueshirts main objective is to gain a split of the first two games at the Verizon Center. While it is always better to win that first game because it sets you up for the possibility of returning home up two games to none, a win on Saturday afternoon will go a long way to help erase the memory of Game 1.

Here are some random Ramblings on Game 1:

• If the officials are going to hunt for calls to make like they did on Jay beagle in the first period and Aron Asham in the second period (the one that the Caps scored on), then the NHL might as well save everyone’s time and advance the Capitals to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. While the Rangers did not the five-on-five “mini-game”, they are not going to win a battle of power plays.
• With that said, the Blueshirts looked very confident killing penalties when they were in aggressive mode and put pressure on the Capitals – it even led to a Hagelin shorthanded breakaway. By the way, Hagelin was, by far, the best Ranger on the ice last night.
• On the downside in the special teams battle, the Rangers need to find a way to win faceoffs because they were horrible last night. It showed how much they miss Brian Boyle and his 56% faceoff record.
• If my wife Roe has her way, that guy who blows that horn at the Verizon Center will be blowing out of another orifice if she ever sees him – and I believe her!
• While Steve Oleksy made a gorgeous pass to Marcus Johansson on the eventual game winning goal, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have to do a better job of communicating so they don’t let any forward sneak behind them.
• Speaking of Oleksy, the rangers have to capitalize (pun not intended) when Adam Oates sends out Oleksy and Jack Hillen. John Tortorella has to use the last change advantage at the Garden to the fullest against that pairing.
• On the rare times that Rangers forwards do meander in front of the net to screen Braden Holtby (especially on the power play); they need to stop facing the point because they are in no position to bang home any rebounds. There was one point in the second period where Callahan was in front and was facing the point as he jumped as a shot was put towards goal. It was nice that he was in front, but since he was in the air and facing away from the goal he was in no position to pounce on a potential rebound. Then again, that would require the rangers to hit the net with their shots.
• I forgot where I read it online, but some writer mentioned that Holtby is weak on wraparounds. Granted Hagelin’s goal did bang in off John Erskine’s skate, the Blueshirts might want to treat Holtby like Martin Brodeur – work the puck from behind the net and direct as many pucks on net as possible – bad angle shots included.
• Case in point: John Moore’s goal. I know it was a goal, you know it was a goal; even Holtby knows it was a goal even though he said he had the puck in his blocker hand. The bottom line is that the officials and the league office in Toronto got the call right. You could not tell “exactly” where the puck was. You have to wonder if there is a way for the NHL to put tiny camera on the underside of the cross bar or something that would give a real close view of the puck in those type of situations.
• I love Henrik Lundqvist as much as the next Rangers fan, but he can’t afford to give up weak goals like he did on Chimera. It wasn’t the reason the Rangers lost, but it sure made that hill to climb a lot steeper than it needed to be.
• Rangers entered the game with an 18-2-1 record when scoring the first goal and a 13-0-1 record when leading after the first period. So much for statistics. Hopefully another statistic will bite the dust – this one courtesy of Larry Brooks of the NY Post. Brooks wrote that the Rangers have not won a playoff series after losing the first game since their Second Round win over the New Jersey Devils in 1997. Of course, that state is a bit misleading because the Rangers weren’t even in the playoffs for a lot of those years. However, they have lost the last four series since the lockout where they have dropped Game 1.

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Yogi Berra would be very proud of the New York Rangers-Washington Capitals playoff matchup because he would be able to say that it is a case of “déjà vu all over again” as the two teams meet for the fourth time in five years. Unlike last year’s seven game battle, the seventh and deciding game will be at the Verizon Center, not Madison Square Garden.

In the case of the Rangers and Capitals, familiarity does indeed breed contempt. Why else would Nicklas Backstrom feel the need to stoke the fire on the series while speaking to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post?

“Obviously we felt we were better for seven games last year,” Backstrom opined. “We know they’re a good team and we played them before. It’s going to be a tough battle. I think we’re ready and they’re probably ready as well. It’s going to be, I think, a long series.”

If he doesn’t back up that opinion, it is going to be an even longer off-season.

Honestly, I am not that big of a “bulletin board material” kind of guy. If you need something like that to motivate you to win at this time of the season, then you have already lost the battle.

With that said, I like the response that Dan Girardi gave when he was asked for his take.

“We’re not getting into a war of words,” Girardi responded to the AP. “They’re playing really well. Like us, they had a really solid April. We expect the series to be hard-fought, with a lot of hitting.”
Smart man that Girardi, he is going to let his actions speak louder than words.

Both teams enter the playoffs from similar standpoints – they each relied on red-hot finishes to secure their playoff berths. The Capitals overcame a 2-8-1 start under rookie coach Adam Oates as they thundered home at a 15-2-2 pace to win the Southeast Division.

While the Rangers were not as hot as the Caps down the stretch, the Blueshirts still finished up the regular season on a 10-3-1 run as they earned the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference – and given the teams in the first two spots, that is a good thing. As a measure, the Capitals went 11-1-1 during that same time period.

While the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens each have their own woes, both teams feasted on the Blueshirts with the Rangers only garnering a 6-1 win over the Penguins late in the season and tallying only one goal in three losses to the Habs.

As a result, the Capitals might have been the best matchup for the Blueshirts given the other two alternatives. The Rangers went 2-0-1 with Washington winning the final game of their series in a shootout on March 24.

Obviously the Rangers must find a way to neutralize Alex Ovechkin in the series. He was held without a point in both Rangers wins and scored a goal and an assist in the Caps victory. Keeping Ovechkin at bay is easier said than done because it has been his resurgence that keyed the Capitals drive to the Southeast Division title. The Caps captain scored 22 goals in his final 21 games as he grew more comfortable with his shirt to right wing.

Rangers Coach John Tortorella will have to work extra hard, especially when the Blueshirts on the road, to get his preferred matchup against Ovechkin. Ideally, he would use the tandem on Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. However, with Oates controlling the matchups with the last change at home, Torts might have to split his top two defensemen to cover all his bases.

Even if the Rangers manage to limit Ovechkin, they have another task that is equally as important – stay out of the penalty box. The Capitals led the NHL with a power play that connected at a 26.7% clip – which is was too close to doubling the Rangers man advantage numbers (15.7%). Simply put, the Rangers need to make this series about five-one-five play despite what happened in the season series.

Believe it or not, but the Blueshirts had the better of the power play battles during the regular season as they scored a power play goal in each game (3-9) while the Capitals scored just once in 10 attempts. Of course, that one power play goal came in Washington’s lone victory.

If I asked you who led the Caps in scoring in their three games against the Rangers, Nicklas Backstrom’s name would probably come up after Ovechkin. With his goal and assist, Backstrom was tied for the team lead against the Blueshirts. The other name would not be among your first 15-20 guesses as defenseman Steve Oleksy also scored a goal and an assist.

For the Rangers, Derek Stephan proved to be the go-to guy as he scored a goal in each of the games – including PPGs in the first and third games. Four other Rangers also posted three points against the Caps: Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin each had a goal and two assists while Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash each had three assists.

You can take all of those stats with a grain of salt and pretty much wipe the slate clean. Each team has pretty much been transformed from what they were at the start of the season. Heck, the Rangers have reshaped their team twice during the 48-game season without so much as a benefit of a pre-season – with much of it coming after the trade deadline.

Prior to the deadline, the Blueshirts were averaging 2.26 goals per game and were stumbling with a power play hovering around 14%. After the deadline, the Rangers offense jumped to 3.61 goals per game and a power play around 20%.

It was no coincidence that Washington turned their season around after their horrid first 11 games. During that 2-8-1 stretch, they were averaging just 2.27 goals per game. During their final 37 games, the Capitals offense jumped up to 3.21 goals per game.

The biggest key to the Rangers success against the Capitals, and really any team, is to keep the puck out of their own end. Far too many times the Rangers get pinned in their own end to the point of being caught out of position – which leads to goals against.

The reason is simple, the solution not so much. The Rangers forwards spend a lot of their time in the defensive zone collapsing down below the circles as they look to block shots and clog the shooting lanes. The problem with style is that it leaves your opponent’s defensemen open at the points.

As a result, the opponent can ease the Rangers checking (and backchecking) by rotating the puck to the point. That forces the Rangers forwards to have to scramble to get back into position to cover the defensemen. If the opposition is moving the puck quickly enough, the Rangers find themselves scrambling because the puck can always move faster than a player.

The Rangers are not going to completely change their defensive system so they have to be extra mindful of the back passes to the point. The forwards are going to have to be more active in two areas: deflecting back passes with their sticks and getting out to the defensemen quicker to put more pressure on them – thus interrupting or slowing the puck movement.

In the offensive end of the ice, The Rangers need to get bodies in front of Braden Holtby and make his life difficult when it comes to seeing shots from the point. Of course that strategy does require the Rangers to shoot more and to be more accurate with their shots. They also need to be more selfish with the puck and not look to set up the perfect play when a shot on goal is just as good. Sometimes your best passes are shots on goal.

As you might imagine, both teams are difficult to beat when they get the first goal. Washington was 17-8-1 when scoring first while the Rangers were 18-2-1.

The same can be said with in terms of the two teams being difficult to beat when they lead after two periods: Washington is 19-3-0 and the Rangers are 16-0-0.

The Rangers task would be much easier if they were healthier. Then again, that could and should be said about all teams in the playoffs. While the NHL’s regular season was only 48 games long, teams are still recovering from injuries and assorted bumps and bruises.

The Capitals will be missing C Brooks Laich who is expected to miss at least the first round of the playoffs following a sports hernia surgery in early April and RW Joel Ward should be ready to play after recovering from a knee injury.

The status of Brian Boyle, Ryane Clowe, Derek Dorsett and Marc Staal are all still up in the air. Of the foursome, Staal’s absence is the one that hurts the Rangers the most. A healthy Staal would give Tortorella another weapon to defend Ovechkin and would limit Oates’ ability to get Ovechkin on the ice against a non-lockdown defender.

With Ovechkin playing right wing, the heavy duty of defending him falls more on the left defenseman. While McDonagh is more than capable to the task, it would be much easier in terms of matchup if Staal could play. Staal has been quoted as saying that he is “probably” not going to play one. If I were a gambling man, it would not surprise me to see Staal in the starting lineup for Game 3 at the Garden – if not sooner. Remember, Staal’s return to the lineup last year for the Winter Classic seemed to come out of leftfield.

The loss of Clowe and Dorsett should not be overlooked either. Both players would provide much needed size, grit and, as Torts is fond of saying, jam in a series that shapes up to be another war. Clowe would also provide the Rangers with someone who thrives on winning board battles and battles in front of the net. It also robs them of someone who has 65 games of playoff experience.

From all indications, Dorsett would bring the same style of play and intangibles that Brandon Prust brought to the table.

While fans like to bemoan all of the things that Brian Boyle doesn’t do, the Rangers miss the one thing that he is the best at among the Rangers – winning faceoffs. Boyle’s 56.4% faceoff percentage is the best in the series and he is one of the forwards who receives heavy rotation killing penalties.

The possible return of these three forwards would go a long way in supporting the top two lines. With the return of these skating wounded would deepen the Rangers to the point of having four solid lines – even if Tortorella’s penchant is for rolling three lines.

One knock I have seen people level against the Rangers is the playoff inexperience of their best offensive threat. Yes, Rick Nash is 0-4 when it comes to playoff games. However, those same people fail to take into account all of his International experience.

Nash won Silver Medals in the world Juniors 92002) and World Championships (2005 & 2008) and Gold Medals in the World Championships (2007) and the Olympics (2010 – also played in 2006). In 54 International games as a pro, Nash has 53 points.

I have come to the point where it is time for me to put or shut up and make my series prediction. I thought long and hard about taking the “safe” way out and predict the Rangers in six or the Capitals in seven, but that is a gutless to go.

As a result, my prediction is the Rangers win the series in six games. The four days off were just the elixir the Blueshirts needed to get bumps and bruises healed while giving some extra time for the walking wounded to return. It would not surprise me to see all of the injured players back in the lineup by the end of the series.

I also base my prediction on the one trump card the Rangers can play in each and every playoff matchup they are in. They enter any series with the best goaltender on the ice. Henrik Lundqvist got close to the Holy Grail last year and has to be even more determined to take the final steps to the Stanley Cup.

I also base my prediction on the resurgence Brad Richards had at the end of the season. B-Rich can go a long way to make Ranger fans forget his dreadful regular season –sans the last few games. He can also go a long way in ending the calls for the Rangers to use their final buyout on him this summer.

Lastly, I base this prediction on the 2013 playoffs being Rick Nash’s Breakout Party. During the regular season Nash’s third period play offered a glimpse into what Rangers fans can expect as he takes the next step onto the NHL’s brightest stage, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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I am not sure if Branch Rickey had Brad Richards and the Rangers in mind when he uttered, “Luck is the residue of design”, but design or not, Richards’ pinball goal in the closing minutes of the third period helped ease the minds of all Rangers fans. I am sure there are a few players, coaches and front office executive who also are breathing a sigh of relief that the Rangers playoff hopes did not come down to having to beat the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

As it turns out, the Rangers didn’t need bank shot nor did they need Ryan Callahan to channel his inner Mark Messier because the Montreal Canadiens came from behind to defeat the Winnipeg Jets last night. Still, it feels better that the Blueshirts “earned” their way into the playoffs rather than “backing” their way in.

As the NHL heads into the final weekend of its abbreviated season, the eight Eastern Conference teams have been set. What we don’t know are the playoff matchups. The Rangers can finish anywhere from sixth to eighth and face Pittsburgh (#1 vs. #8), Boston or Montreal (#2 vs. #7), or Washington (#3 vs. #6).

If we learned anything from last year’s playoffs, a team’s seed does not necessarily guarantee a team playoff success or failure. The top-seeded Rangers faced a pair of grueling seven-game series against the eighth and seventh seeds before being eliminated by the sixth-seeded Devils who, in turn, lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.

While it might not always appear that way, the Rangers are playing some of their most productive hockey – at least in terms of producing points. They are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games and if you extended that out over the course of a 48-game season, the Blueshirts would have been in a battle for the first/four seed rather than in a battle to just make the playoffs.

The Rangers strong finish to the season allowed them to avoid repeating a repeat of history 20 years ago. In 1991-92, the Rangers won the President’s Trophy before a disappointing elimination to the Penguins. In 2011-12, the Rangers finish with the second best record in the NHL (even though they topped their 91-92 point total) before a disappointing elimination to the Devils. In 1992-93, with expectations high, the Rangers crash and burn and miss the playoffs. In 2012-13, the Blueshirts nearly replicated missing the playoffs.

Of course, there might be some who would argue that the Rangers should have missed the playoffs this year in order to really finish off the 20-year history: 1993-94 Stanley Cup Champions — 2013-14 Stanley Cup Champions.

Regardless of the Rangers playoff opponents, there are two things that all Blueshirts fans can take for granted. First, the Rangers will go into the series with a goaltending edge – no disrespect to any of the other playoff goaltenders. The New York Rangers live and die with Henrik Lundqvist and in the vast majority of times he has responded.

The second thing is that the Rangers will struggle to score goals. That is pretty much a given in any playoff series not involving the 2011-12 Flyers playing the 2011-12 Penguins. Those scoring struggle may only get worse as teams tighten up their play in the playoffs.

That is the main reason why I believe that the key to winning in the playoffs is finding a way to increase your offensive production because goals are always at a premium. The only positive for the Rangers is that there are a couple of areas where an improvement would produce improved scoring production.

I know it is a lot to ask given the way the Rangers power play has struggled since the first two years after the first lockout, but any semblance of an NHL-caliber power play will pay major dividends. In addition to finding ways to score, the Rangers must find ways to keep their power play from being momentum killers. Creating shots and chances is a good thing. Stumbling your way into the offensive zone and throwing the puck around the perimeter is a bad thing.

That leads me to the second thing the Rangers need to improve on: shoot the puck – on net. There is no more frustrating sight than to see a Ranger player have a step on a defender and watch him windup and drive a shot wide of the net (can you say Michael Del Zotto). Not only do you lose the offensive chance, but far too often that missed shot ends up as an odd-man rush against the Rangers. Therefore, in the simplest terms I can use, hit the net.

Of course, in conjunction with hitting the net is getting bodies in front of the net. Any goalie will tell the hardest shot to stop is the one he can’t see. The second hardest shot to stop is the one that gets deflected.

While we are talking about shots, the Blueshirts have a bad habit of being too unselfish in their play. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it does make sense. Far too many times Rangers try to make the extra pass when they have a scoring chance of their own. Sometimes it is a player deferring to a scorer and sometimes it seems as if a player just is plain afraid to take the shot. In either case, sometimes being selfish is a good thing in hockey.

Now if you combine getting more shots, on goal, with bodies in front for screens and deflections, and you to take the scoring chance you have; guess what you have? You have a team whose power play is a lot more successful than the Rangers and you have a team who is increasing their scoring chances.

The final word belongs to Steven McDonald who pretty much summed up the Rangers task on the night that Ryan Callahan became a four-time winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.

“We need one play, one shift, one block, and a goal to make this game and this season a memorable one … so get it done.”

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If the NHL Trade Deadline was the game of Clue, not too many people would have had Marian Gaborik to Columbus for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Even fewer people would have had Brassard, Moore and Ryane Clowe (who had not scored a goal all year) combining for four goals and four assists (including four power play points) in their first game as New York Rangers. For one night, Glen Sather’s wheeling and dealing paid off.

It remains to be seen how these two deals shape the rest of the Rangers season and if they were enough to make the difference in missing the playoffs and having the chance to replicate their 2012 playoff run.

Only time will tell if the Rangers will have enough time to gel as a team while trying to make a run at the playoffs. The Blueshirts have now reshaped their team twice within the confines of one season – and both times doing so without the benefit of training camp and a full 82-game schedule.

Whatever is in store for the rest of this season, the Gaborik trade was made with an eye towards the next two seasons.

With the NHL salary cap dropping by $6 million in 2013-2014, the Rangers needed to find a way to create some salary cap flexibility with Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonough and Derek Stepan needing new deals as RFAs, and Clowe set to become an UFA.

Even if the Rangers did not trade Gaborik, there is no way they were going to re-sign him after next season with the likes of Martin Biron, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, and Anton Stralman all set to become UFAs and Michael Del Zotto becoming a RFA – as will Brassard and Moore.

CapGeek lists the Rangers having $14.8 million in cap space available for next year. That figure does not factor in all of the free agents or any of the youngsters who are assigned to the AHL (e.g. Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller). Given the numbers game alone, the Blueshirts might need to move out more salary (Aron Asham? Taylor Pyatt?) in order to build next year’s team.

Setting aside the financial considerations, the Rangers trades reshape the team along the lines of the team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The big change is that the main scoring winger this year (Nash) is a far more physical player than last year’s main scoring winger (Gaborik).

In addition, the Rangers added depth to their roster, as well as getting bigger and younger with the additions of Brassard and Moore – two former 1st round draft picks who still have room to grow in terms of reaching their potential.

Sather’s deadline dealings leaves the Rangers without a first and second round pick this June and they also dealt away one of their three third round picks, but they might be able to recoup it if they do not make the Stanley Cup Finals. If that is the case, then the Rangers receive a third round pick from Columbus as part of the Rick Nash trade.

In addition, the Rangers still have an opportunity to restock their prospect pool by signing undrafted collegiate and Junior players. The Blueshirts already fortified their defense corps with the signing of Conor Allen and Tommy Hughes.

Here is a detailed look at all of the newest New York Rangers.

RYANE CLOWE

Clowe is a 6-foot-2 and 225 pound LW who brings the “jam” that Coach John Tortorella often talks about. The 30-year-old Clowe was San Jose’s 7th round draft pick (#175) in the 2001 NHL Draft. Prior to his goal scoring drought this season with the Sharks, Clowe averaged about 21 goals and 33 assists during the last four seasons – including a career best 24 goals and 38 assists in 2010-11. He also added six goals and nine assists in 17 playoff games that year.

Here is his Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Plays a solid up-and-down game, and is a throwback winger who loves to check and do the dirty work. Strong on the puck, he’s versatile enough to line up on either wing. Is a good scorer in close and an excellent scrapper, too.

Flaws: Can be a bit too streaky in the goal-scoring department. As he has become a bigger scoring threat, he has become a little less physical, too. Also, he is not an elegant skater; he’s somewhat of a plodder, in fact.

Career Potential: Solid power forward.

DERICK BRASSARD

The 25-year-old Brassard was the sixth overall selection in the 2006 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-1 and 202 pound Center was the ninth rated prospect by the International Scouting Service (ISS) who compared his playing style to that of Paul Kariya. ISS attributed his hockey sense to his hockey background as his father Pierre was drafted in 1976 the 6th round by the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL Draft and in the 10th round by the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA Draft. While Pierre did not play professional hockey, he did star for three years with Cornwall (QMJHL) – averaging 61 goals and 63 assists in his final two seasons.

Of Brassard, ISS said, “The shifty pivot is one of the most exciting forwards in the offensive zone; speed and agility allows him to find the open space. With all his offensive ability he still shows good defensive awareness and the willingness to help out in the defensive zone.”

His career has hampered by a pair of shoulder injuries that caused him to miss large chunks of playing time. In the 2006-07 season, Brassard was limited to just 14 games with Rimouski (QMJHL). In 2008-09, another shoulder injury forced Brassard to miss the final 50 games of the regular season and all four Columbus playoff games.

In 2010-11, Brassard set career highs in goals, assists and points (17-30-47).

Here is Brassard’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Skates well and possesses plenty of scoring instincts. Can excel at both ends of the ice, and is a determined athlete. Owns leadership qualities.

Flaws: Must learn to shoot more. Needs to continue adding more strength to fully maximize his vast potential. Has to overcome his propensity to get injured.

Career Potential: Talented, but inconsistent forward with upside.

DEREK DORSETT

Rangers fans will have to wait before the debut of their new RW. The 6-foot and 192 pound Dorsett is on Injured Reserve recovering from a broken collarbone. Some reports have him out for the rest of the season while others say he could be back for the last week of the regular season or the start of the playoffs.

The one thing that is for certain is that fans of Brandon Prust are going to love Dorsett as he plays the same style of game that Prust does. Dorsett did kill penalties while a member of the Blue Jackets.

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch tweeted the following in the aftermath of the Rangers-Blue Jackets trade, “Fully expect Derek Dorsett to be a fan favorite in Madison Square Garden. He’s not big, but his heart swells in the sweater. Tortorella will love this guy, as long as he limits ill-advised penalties. But he’s fearless and relentless player. Will fight anybody.”

His willingness to scrap, and take some ill-advised penalties, contributed to his NHL best 235 PIMs – which were fueled by his 19 fighting majors. Despite spending all that time in the penalty box, Dorsett did score 12 goals and add 8 assists as well last season. He was averaging about 16 minutes of ice time this season and tallied three goals and six assists in 24 games with Columbus.

Dorsett was part of Columbus’ 2006 NHL Draft that produced NHLers Brassard, the recently traded Steve Mason and Tom Sestito. Dorsett was the Blue Jackets 7th round pick (#189).

Here is Dorsett’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Is an industrious winger who never backs down from challenges. Loves to initiate contact and agitate the opposition. Will drop the gloves on occasion. Can play any forward position if he has to.

Flaws: Is somewhat limited in the scoring department at the National Hockey League level. Needs to get stronger and avoid injuries in order to survive in the NHL playing with such reckless abandon.

Career Potential: Effective, fearless agitator.

JOHN MOORE

The 6-foot-3 and 202 pound defenseman was Columbus’ 1st round pick (#21) in the 2009 NHL Draft. The Rangers selected Chris Kreider two picks early and Calgary drafted Tim Erixon two picks later. As we all know, thanks to Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire, played triple-A amateur hockey with the Chicago Mission who was coached by Ed Olczyk. What the NBC Sports guys didn’t mention is that former NHL defenseman Steve Smith was also one of Moore’s coaches.

In 2009, Moore was rated the 16th best prospect by ISS and they compared his playing style to that of Joe Corvo.

Of Moore, ISS said, He has the size and skill to go along with great playmaking abilities. Tremendous skater. Moore is blessed with very light / quick feet that enable him to get to and from the puck/plays in an expeditious manner. In addition, Moore’s checking skills have also improved as he is holding his checks better along the boards with improved balance etc.”

After spending 73 games in the AHL in his rookie seasons (two games with Columbus), Moore played 67 games with the Blue Jackets (two goals and five assists) last season (just five games in the AHL).

The 22-year-old blueliner was limited to just 18 games with Columbus as a lower body injury caused him to miss five games in February and a recent shoulder injury forced him to miss eight games as he was on the Injured Reserve List and only was activated in mid-March.

Here is Moore’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Has a good frame to grow into, and owns exceptional skating ability. Can play an offensive role and likes to be on the attack. Can fire the puck and eventually quarterback a power play. His speed is also very useful on defense.

Flaws: Is still learning the nuances of the NHL game. Needs to add more strength in order to better handle big forwards. Needs to keep working on his defensive consistency with regards to his decision-making.

Career Potential: Extremely mobile defenseman with good upside.

CONOR ALLEN

The 6-foot-1 and 210 Allen was the first of two undrafted free agent defensemen the Rangers signed leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. The 23-year-old played his collegiate hockey at the University of Massachusetts. Believe it or not, there is an Olczyk connection with Allen. While at UMass, Allen was a teammate of Eddie Olczyk, Ed’s son.

Signing free agent UMass defenseman is nothing new for the Blueshirts because they signed Thomas Pock at the end of the 2003-04 season. Much like Matt Gilroy, Pock was a forward who was shifted to the blue line in college.

The Rangers have three other UMass connections. Defenseman Marvin Degon, an AHL signee, played 85 games with Hartford in 2005-06 and 200607.

In 2011-12, Casey Wellman played 31 AHL games with the Connecticut Whale after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild.
Danny Hobbs, the Rangers 7th round pick (#198) in the 2007 NHL Draft played four seasons at UMass before turning pro and spending this season in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors.

Allen also played in USHL with Sioux Falls Stampede (2009/10) with Dallas 2011 1st rounder Jamie Oleksiak, and was an NAHL teammate of Devils goalie prospect Keith Kinkaid in 2008/09 with the St. Louis Bandits.

Allen is looking to duplicate the jump to the NHL two other Minutemen have taken – LA’s Jonathan Quick and Toronto’s Mike Kostka.

Allen spent the previous two summers on two NHL Summer Development Camp Rosters – the Washington Capitals (2011) and the Vancouver Canucks (2012).

His college coach for his first two seasons, Don “Toot” Cahoon, gave an insight into Allen’s game during a September 2010 interview.

“Allen will be a great skating defenseman in this league,” Cahoon told Dick Baker of MassLive.com. “He really transitions the puck by foot as well as with a strong pass.”

UMass Sports Blog Fear The Triangle offered up this summary of Allen’s season.

“I thought Allen was consistently one of the best UMass players on the ice this season and even one of the better defenseman in the conference. Defensively, he was easily the best player for UMass. He more than doubled his blocked shots from last year from 24 to a team high 57. He doubled his assists from last year, from 7 to 14, and added 5 goals of his own.”

TOMMY HUGHES

The 6-foot-2 and 216 pound defenseman comes to the Rangers as an undrafted free agent out of Canadian Junior hockey and from a team they are quite familiar with – the London Knights. Both Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto were member of the Knights.
Hughes, a native of London, Ontario, is looking to follow in the footsteps of Girardi and become another London blueliner who went from undrafted free agent to NHL star with the Rangers.

If Hughes does make the Rangers in the not-too-distant future, he will have the chance to team with London Knights alum Rick Nash, whose #61 is retired. Former Ranger Brendan Shanahan also has his number retired (#19).

Ottawa’s Marc Methot is another undrafted Knights defenseman who has battled his way into the NHL.

Currently, Hughes is one of five members of the London Knights who have signed contracts with NHL teams while another five Knights have been drafted but have yet to sign with their draft teams.

Hughes actually serves as a perfect complement to Allen. Whereas Hughes is a right-handed shot, Allen is a left-handed shooting defenseman.

However, while Allen has signed an Amateur Tryout (ATO) agreement with the Connecticut Whale, Hughes’ pro debut is on hold as he leads his Knights into the Second Round of the OHL playoffs. London’s opponent is, ironically enough, the Kitchener Rangers – one of the teams London defeated last year on their way to an OHL championship. The Knights and Baby Rangers have a couple of wild playoff battles during the last few years and this year should be no different.

Hughes is finishing up his fourth season with London and is serving as an Alternate Captain for the Knights. The defensive d-man set career highs in games (67), assists (15), points (16), and PIMs (66).

Being an undrafted player is nothing new to the soon to be 21-year-old (on April 7). He joined London as a “walk-on” during the 2009-10 season (playing seven games) after playing his AAA midget hockey with the London Jr. Knights.

The Rangers interest in Hughes did not appear all of a sudden. The Blueshirts invited him to their Summer Development camp this year, but a broken foot put the kibosh on his availability.

You know that Hughes will be ready for the rough-and-tumble world of the NHL given that his Junior coach is Dale Hunter.

“He blocks shots, he’s fearless out there,” Hunter told John Matisz of Metronews.ca. “He just kept getting better and better every year.”

Hunter also spoke to Matisz about London’s ability to train and develop undrafted NHL blueliners.

“They were like that for me when they were here, and that’s what Hughesy does for us,” the former Washington Capitals coach explained – referencing Girardi and Methot.

In reference to Hughes Matisz wrote, “A trademark of Hughes’ game is his unorthodox skating style. Though it often appears like his long strides slow him down, Hunter insists it’s quite the opposite.”

“He’s a very good skater. He’s fast. He stays in a crouch, which he should anyways, and he’s strong,” Hunter said in defense of Hughes.

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