EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Rangers Lead Series 2-0
I - NYR 7; MON 2
II - NYR 3; MON 1
III - Thursday Night
New York Rangers
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
NEW YORK RANGERS: Let The Blueshirt Bacchanalia Begin
With the incremental, methodical power of a glacier and the rogue intentions of a pillage thirsty viking, the New York Rangers entered the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference finals as the number one seed.
During the regular season, that team led the league in fighting (and fighting majors), and were especially feisty inside the first five minutes of any game.
Generally speaking, Tortorella instituted a strict defensive strategy, that mandated finishing checks and blocking pucks. He demanded a stiff fore check, and capitalizing on opponent's mistakes. Offensively, he was about possession, cycling the puck in an effort to create chances, and gobbling up rebounds. In other words, grunt style hockey.
In watching the present day Rangers, one might be surprised to find out that Tortorella's team scored more regular season goals than this year's team. But as we know, it only got Tortorella and those Rangers so far.
Alain Vigneault's team scored more regular season power play goals than did Tortorella's group of two years ago. Improving the PP was one of the main reasons for hiring him. The even strength results were odd, but most likely stemmed from having to learn a new system.
After five straight victories and taking a 2-0 series against the Montreal Canadiens, that system now appears to be in full effect.
Some of John Tortorella's tenets live on in the form of blocking shots and a solid fore check, etc. But Coach Vigneault has handled the club very differently than his predecessor, or even from the way he himself handled the Vancouver Canucks prior to his dismissal.
Alain Vigneault presently trusts his 12 forwards equally. With regards to combinations and time on ice, he roles out 4 lines with unwavering consistency. Tortorella either trusted you, or not. He picked his top five forwards of the night, and mixed lines throughout a game. His top two forwards routinely clocked in 25:00+ minutes a night, where you'd be hard pressed to find a forward getting more than 20:00 minutes under Vigneault.
If you were among the untrustworthy and forbid, committed a mistake under Tortorella, there were huge ramifications. Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kreider in particular, would have never been able to play through their mistakes. Dan Carcillo would have been an unlikely contributor against the Flyers as well.
Chris Kreider has made a huge, if not dramatic impact since his return, enough to help the Rangers comeback from a 3-1 series dilemma against the Penguins, and propel them to a 2-0 lead against the Habs. Since Kreider's return, his speed and physical play have so far gone unanswered.
The collective speed with which Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, and a few others are playing with is a far cry from the recent "ice age" to say the least. The accurate open ice passing and skating also mark the team's biggest transformation. And, they've shown toughness when they had to.
Yeah, I was down on this team throughout the year and all the way through game four against the Pens.
Would this style have worked against the Boston Bruins? Who cares. So far, it's working against the Montreal Canadiens.
After sucking the life out of the Montreal Museum, Tex's Rangers are back home in Madison Square Garden for games Three and Four.
As John Davidson used to say, Oh Baby!
A response to P.K. Subban's foolishness awaits. Staked to a 2-0 series lead, I expect Thursday night's gathering at 33rd Street and 8th Avenue to be at its raucous best, with torch and pitch fork in hand.
Let the Blueshirt Bacchanalia commence early in Joe Louis Plaza, enter the building, fill the seats, sections and levels, then during the anthem and opening face-off, and on through the night, revel, and chant King Henrik The Lucky's name in praise.