Tue 14 May 2013
In his last two appearances with WFAN’s Mike Francesa, Pierre McGuire has spoken about the three things (or levels) you want to create in a playoff series, especially in a Game 7 – concern, doubt and then fear.
The Capitals Concern level had to be elevated when, in a matter of seconds, a Henrik Lundqvist save on Mike Green turned into a 1-0 lead courtesy of Aron Asham’s shot from the right circle.
As McGuire told Francesa, “Home [ice] matters only until the opposition scored the first goal.”
The Capitals Doubt level hit critical mass in the space of just over two minutes when the Rangers extended their one goal lead to a 3-0 advantage at 5:34 of the second period.
“Quite honestly, [it’s] tough to explain. It’s funny how over the years the seventh game turns into some form of blowout,” Caps Coach Adam Oates said to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post. “I wish I had an answer for that. Obviously we pushed very hard in the first period; he made a lot of great saves. They got a lucky one and every bounce seemed to go their way after that.”
Branch Rickey was quoted as saying that “luck is the residue of design”. That Rangers “lucky” goal was a result of one team staying within their game plan and executing it perfectly.
The Capitals Fear Factor came to a head when they hit the second intermission down three goals and facing the arduous task of trying to score three goals against Lundqvist.
The one level McGuire did not mention was the Realization level when a team realizes that the end is at hand – and that point occurred 13 seconds into the third period when Ryan Callahan picked nemesis John Erskine’s pocket on his way to his breakaway backhanded goal.
“Even after the second period, it was like we can do it because we saw what Boston did,” Alex Ovechkin explained to Mike Harris of The Washington Times. “We still had hope, if we were gonna make one play maybe it gonna turn around, but [Ryan] Callahan scored a big one and it was over after that.”
By the time Mats Zuccarello deked Braden Holtby out of his jock to finish the scoring, the only question was whether or not Lundqvist would become the first goaltender since 2002 (Domenik Hasek) to post shutouts in Game 6 and 7 in a series.
As Lundqvist was on the way to extending his shutout streak to 120 minutes, the Capitals faced the ultimate slap in the face with about eight and a half minutes left in their season. After The King stopped yet another Washington flurry of shots, the Blueshirt fans at the Verizon Center serenaded out chants of “Henrik, Henrik!”
The “Henrik” chant was not the only bit of the Garden that reared its head at the Verizon Center as a “Potvin Sucks” whistle was heard after Callahan’s goal.
While the Capitals refused to face facts that Lundqvist had gotten into their heads, Mike Harris of The Washington Times had no problem stating the obvious.
“He was clearly making the Caps think a little too much,” Harris wrote. Too often they tried to maybe get cute, look for one more pass, set up something perfect instead of just blasting the puck in Lundqvist’s direction.”
Following the Rangers Game 6 shutout, Coach John Tortorella spoke of how these situations are the ones that build player’s legacies. This series did not make Lundqvist’s legacy, it merely confirmed what we already knew – The King is the best at what he does.
“To have played this well in such an important game, it is definitely going to help us moving forward,” Lundqvist told Dan Rosen of nhl.com. “It is a lot about confidence, especially in a game like this and the one [Sunday]. You have to believe you can do it and you can’t question anything. You can’t think too much about things you can’t control. It is about going out and taking care of business and doing the things you talk about – and we did and it paid off big time.”
The Blueshirts Game 7 victory showed that the Rangers can successfully walk the fine line of defensive responsibility and Tortorella’s utopian idea of “safe is death”. Last night’s victory shows that the “Black-and-Blueshirts” do have the ability to score goals. Imagine what they could do if they had a functional power play.
In finally breaking through at the Verizon Center, the Rangers played a smart and aggressive game. Rather than sit back and try to protect their one goal lead, the Blueshirts continued to work and attack – as best exemplified by their third goal.
Taking a page out of the Capitals playbook, the Rangers were controlling the puck and kept cycling in the offensive zone before Michael Del Zotto shot deflects off Troy Brouwer’s skate and in between Holtby’s pads.
You kind of got the idea that it was the Rangers night at that point in the game because normally Del Zotto would overshoot that puck and miss the net. This time he got it on goal and the Rangers would take advantage of another deflection goal.
The Rangers need to bottle that shift and refer back to it any time they are on the power play against the Bruins as puck and player movement, along with a shot on net, leads to a goal.
Much was made about Ovechkin’s attempt to hit everything in white – including his borderline boarding major that was not called when the Caps captain rammed Ryan McDonagh into the boards face-first. The Not-So-Great-Eight did hit everything that moved, to the tune of 13 hits in Game 7.
The problem with that is it took Ovie away from what Washington needed him to do – key their struggling offense. McDonagh, Dan Girardi and the rest of the Rangers limited the NHL’s leading goal scorer to one goal in the series and a season-high five game goalless streak.
In addition to shutting down Ovechkin, the Rangers did a fine job in shutting down Mike Green in the last two games. While Green had three shots in each of the final two games, he had to struggle to find clear shooting lanes.
Since the Rangers can’t carve up the Broadway Hat, it was a fitting tribute to the team that McDonagh was awarded the honor. His job does not get an easier in the next round when he will have to do battle with Milan Lucic.
The Rangers were able to limit the Capitals offense – especially during the first period when the game was close. They were limiting the Capitals offensive zone time and Lundqvist was quick to freeze the puck and disrupt any tempo Washington had going.
Can you imagine what the odds would have been on Asham having more goals than Ovechkin? They would probably be as long as the odds on the Rangers winning a seven game series where they got only two goals from Callahan, Rick Nash and Brad Richards.
During the abbreviated regular season, the knock on the Rangers (other than a bad power play) was they were too “top heavy” offensively and were not getting enough production from their third and fourth lines.
Come the playoffs, it was the Rangers secondary scorers who stepped to the forefront to take up the slack of the top guns. You have to believe that at some point the Rangers big offensive producers will find their mark. If they do, and the secondary scorers continue to score, the Rangers playoff run will be a long one.
Here are my random Ramblings from Game 7:
• The Capitals 5-0 loss was their worst since losing a 7-0 decision against Pittsburgh in the first game of the 2000 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
• Washington’s core of Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom are 2-5 in deciding games – including four of five losses at home.
• The Rangers and Capitals back-to-back Game 7 matchup is the fifth time it has happened in the NHL and the first time since 2002 when Colorado and Los Angeles did it.
• This series marked the first time the Rangers faced the same team in three straight playoff series since they played Philadelphia is 1985-87.
• The Rangers will be facing Jaromir Jagr, Wade Redden and their Boston Bruins in an Original Six matchup for the first time since 1973 when the Rangers defeated the Bruins in five games. It will be the 10th playoff series between the two teams with Boston holding a six series to three advantage.
• In addition to Hasek in 2002, Lundqvist joins Harry Lumley (1950) and Curtis Joseph (1998) as goalies who posted shutouts in Game 6 and 7 of a series.
• Brad Richards is five for five in winning seventh and deciding games. John Tortorella is 5-1 in Game 7 – with the only loss coming at the hands of the Capitals in 2009.
• The Rangers have now won nine of their last 12 first round playoff series.
• The Blueshirts series victory marks the first time they won a seventh and deciding game on the road.
• Interesting regular season statistic that I don’t remember seeing – the Rangers led the NHL in scoring from the April 3 trade deadline (3.6 goals per game).