Wednesday, April 13, 2011

N.Y. RANGERS ~ NHL Playoffs; Round One Preview



8th Seed ~ 44-33-5 ~ 93 Points ~ 3rd Place Atlantic Division


Washington Capitals
1st Seed ~ 48-23-11 ~ 107 Points ~ 1st Place Southeast Division

Rangers 16th ~ 233
Capitals  19th ~ 224

Rangers  5th ~ 198
Capitals  4th ~ 197

Rangers  18th ~ 16.9%
Capitals  16th ~ 17.5%

Rangers  10th ~ 83.7%
Capitals  2nd ~ 85.6%


Blueshirts Seek Revenge Against Washington for 2009 Playoff Elimination.

Two years ago in the opening round of the NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs, we held a three games to one advantage over the Washington Capitals.  Then four things happened to us that ruined our season.

ONE - Washington's Coach Bruce Boudreau yanked his starting goalie; Jose Theodore in Game 4 and inserted a rookie; Semyon Varlamov.  Varlamov played in six games for the Capitals during the entire 2008-2009 season.  Did I say SIX games?

TWO - Coach John Tortorella benched Sean Avery in Game 5.  He was arguably the Rangers' best player that series.

THREE - Coach John Tortorella received a well deserved one game suspension in Game 6 of that series. 

Is it all coming back to you now?

FOUR - ...and out the door.  The New York Rangers lost Game 7. 

The Rangers blew a three games to one lead.  They lost three in a row.  They lost the series four games to three.  They lost.  I like the pain of being repetitive and saying we lost as many ways as I can.  I say, Embrace The Pain!  Because we'll know not to do it again.  Perchance to dream...

Warm-Ups ~ Rangers vs Capitals; 2008-2009  NHL Playoffs


For me personally, the move of the series was Coach Boudreau swapping out his goalies.  What a bold move.  And Varlamov, the rookie, played like a ten year Pro in return for the opportunity.  This season, Coach Boudreau triggered an equally bold move similar to the way he inserted Varlamov in-series two years ago during the playoffs.  Coach Boudreau demanded the Capitals play defense for a change, from the mid-season on.  We caught the Capitals in mid-lesson a pair of times this season.  Learning a new defensive system didn't come to the Caps right away.  But just in time for these playoffs, they seem to finally get it.  Hurray for us.

Two years ago, the experts kept reiterating over and over again that if Sean Avery turned out to be the Rangers' best player on the ice, they'd lose the series.  They turned out to be right.  But the fact remains, Sean Avery was staging a clinic against Washington.  But both he and Coach Tortorella decided to lose their minds at the same time and well....., we just spiralled into the toilet.  There's little chance of that scenario playing out again.  Coach Torts has limited Sean Avery's minutes all season long and made him a healthy scratch several times down the stretch.  There is little to no trust at all on Coach's part to work with.  With Chris Drury back, there's no reason to believe Coach Torts will allow Avery to skate meaningful minutes throughout this series. 

But you know what?  Both Coach and Avery are unpredictable.  Avery can very well squeeze himself into the line-up if Coach remembers just how good he was against the Caps two years ago.  But before we say there is hope for the embattled forward, ask yourself if Coach Torts is willing to exponentially increase his risks of putting Washington on the power play?  Put that way, it's not so personal anymore.

The quality and quantity of young Rangers called upon to fill needs over the last two seasons makes that Washington series two years ago seem like a very distant memory.   We finally got around to at least start disassembling that team of two years past.  Those who remain suffered injury riddled seasons.  But that season was presented to you by the Ranger's Old Guard. 

Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Marc Staal were still under different tutelage then.  Today they are the young vets driving the New Ranger Guard.  In this year's version of the Rangers, the older veterans compliment them.  True, Ryan Callahan will be lost for what could be the remainder of the playoffs, but the quantity of young, gritty hockey players on this roster, might be able to over-come his loss.

The question in this series is which team adapted faster and is better adjusted to their Coach's demands?  Have the Capitals mastered the defense Coach Boudreau asked of his team more quickly than the young Rangers have gained maturity to be strong minded enough in order to meet the physical challenges of NHL playoffs?

Stepan, Zuccarello, Sauer, Anisimov, and McDonagh are all pretty much entering the Unknown Zone.  The regular season was just a quiz compared to the test they will start taking Wednesday night.  Get plenty of sleep and eat your Wheaties, Boys.  This won't be easy.

The Rangers won the season series against the Capitals three games to one.  If that gives the Rangers nothing else, it gives them confidence they can tame Washington long enough to win four games before they do.  But if we do something stupid like think we are their equal...? - We will surely lose.  A tally of the end of season numbers indicate the Rangers and Capitals are very close in most offensive and defensive categories.  But we seem to play best when we appear over-matched on paper.  So, the Rangers must stay true to the plan and take care of all the little things, so that the bigger things will take care of themselves.  Cliche'?  Yes,  But in our case, - True.

As a Rangers fan, because Callahan is out, you have to be thinking, - if only Chris Drury can ride the wave of his goal scored against the Devils into and through the playoffs.  A blast from the past performance by the Ranger Captain would be most welcome.  He's certainly been through this before and will be able to shed a lot of light as to what it takes to win playoff games and impart some of that knowledge on the young guys.  But remember I said this; - IF Chris Drury is skating upwards of 19:00 minutes a night, it means we're killing off too many penalties.  That's just food for thought.

Ruslan Fedotenko and Coach Torts have done this before also.  There will be growing trust in Fedotenko moving forward.  Likewise, I see Vinny Prospal getting a lot of ice-time.  He's been on fire since returning from a bad knee finishing with twenty points in the last twenty games.  He scored in his first game back this season and went on to score the last goal of the regular season for the Rangers against the Devils.  If his knee is up to the grind, he may lead the Rangers in minutes over several of these games.

This team is still in dire need of the occasional goal from Wojtek Wolski, Brandon Prust, and Brian Boyle.  They will all have to score at least a goal each in this series if it goes deep.  Marian Gaborik is still yet to perform like the 40+ goal scorer of last year and it appears as if Coach Torts is losing more confidence in him by the day.  Gaborik was increasingly benched for long periods during games down the stretch.  I am terribly interested to see what line the beleaguered forward gets put on.  But if there's a time for last year's Gaborik to show up, there's no better time than now.

Outside of Ryan Callahan, I have left "the core" for last. 

This may sound bold, but I am expecting Marc Staal to have a HUGE series.  Great players need great moments to unfold before them.  Then, they seize it.  I think the challenge of these playoffs will bring out the animal in Staal and that our back-line star is about to become unleashed.  I think he has finally grasped the concept of anger.  Enter Alex Ovechkin and all that's left is to drop the puck and watch it happen.

My picture from 2008-2009 playoffs vs Washington.

The challenge of the playoffs is also knocking on Brandon Dubinsky's door.  These playoffs may very well determine whether or not Brandon Dubinsky is a New York Ranger for the long term.  Round One and any subsequent playoffs for the Blueshirts are now his ocean to sink or swim in.  He is the Rangers' leading scorer this season, but I think it's hardly a representative number.  I am not picking on Dubinsky.  I'm merely stating there is another level of play that must be achieved by our beloved forward, and it needs to be tapped into now; when the team needs it most, and while his Partner In Grind is down with a busted ankle.  Is Brandon Dubinsky the core player that Coach Torts always says he is?  Brandon Dubinsky needs to prove that out right now.

And of course, our biggest weapon against the Capitals is obviously our goalie; Henrik Lundqvist.  I apologize for wasting a lot of your time.  All I had to say was everything starts and ends with Henrik and we could have called it a night.

Can anyone see Coach Torts giving Chad Johnson a start?  ...Didn't think so.

After riding Henrik Lundqvist for seventeen consecutive starts to end last year's season, he needed treatment on his knees after amassing 73 starts in total.  He was breaking down more-so than we knew.  After Marty Biron's injury this season, Henrik has started twenty-seven consecutive games to end the season.  Playoff game one, will be number twenty-eight.  But Marty Biron still enabled Henrik to keep his starts at a lower number than last year before he went down.   The King looks, and says he feels great.  His 36-27-5 record; 11 shut-outs; 2.28 GAA and .923 Save percentage back that up.  The bottom line here is that our goalie is better than their goalie.

Nothing we do is easy.  But we do many things well.
It's going to take all seven games and it may not always be pretty,
but I'm picking the Blueshirts in Seven.



From 2008-2009 NHL Playoffs



My photos


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