Wednesday, May 13, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Final Showdown Versus Capitals - Game 7


In Henrik We Trust

Series tied 3-3
I - WAS 2; NYR 1
II - NYR 3; WAS 2
III - WAS 1; NYR 0
IV - WAS 2; NYR 1
V - NYR 2; WAS 1*
VI - NYR 4; WAS 3
VII - Wednesday Night

Washington Capitals
33rd Street @ 8th Avenue

NEW YORK RANGERS: Both Head Coaches Have Previously Banged on the Door, But Failed to Break it Down.  Both Have Much to Prove With Their Respective New Teams, But Only One Can Win.

With a Game 7 loss, Washington stands poised to become the same old Capitals again.



The Capitals have Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen - two defensemen extremely familiar with Washington's present dilemma.  If anyone can impart upon the Capitals what to expect Wednesday night, it should be them.  They manned Pittsburgh's blue line last season when the Penguins had the Rangers down three games to one, and wound up losing the series.  Orpik and Niskanen are now potentially 60:00 minutes from reliving that nightmare.


These are Barry Trotz' Capitals now.  I respect what he's brought to Washington.  He believes in defense, more defense, physicality, and on-ice accountability - a throwback to John Tortorella's system.  His changes took time to take effect, but the Capitals finished the regular season as the Eastern Conference 4th seed, and by now feel the full heat he's generating behind the bench.

In the coach's own words, Trotz said he wants Ovechkin doing what Ovechkin does best when he has the puck, but doing what Coach Trotz demands when playing without the puck.  Never mind that Ovechkin only has 2 goals in the series, and none since Game 2.  He's capable of sudden offensive outbursts at any time, and against any team.

"We're going to come back, and win this series.  We're going to play our game and we're going to come back and we're going to play Montreal or Tampa." - Alex Ovechkin after Game 6.

The main thing is that Alex Ovechkin is listening to his coach - something I do not think Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, or Adam Oates ever accomplished, and which could very well be a huge reason why Washington lost two previous post-season series to the Rangers in 2012 and 2013, or, will advance under Trotz this time at the expense of the Rangers.

  • Speaking of Bruce Boudreau, how does Washington like him now?  He was the last Capitals head coach to defeat the Rangers in the post-season, and is presently leading the (mighty) Anaheim Ducks.

There's also the little Russian Rocket to consider now.  Evgeny Kuznetsov finished his first full season.  He will turn 23-years old on May 19th, and leads the Caps with 5 goals.  Who saw that coming?  As a centerman, he only scored 11 goals all season.  Do the Rangers need a dedicated spy on him too?

Of course, never overlook the fact Washington owns the best power play in hockey.  Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in power play goals.

For years, Barry Trotz banged on the door with Nashville, but failed to break it down.  The Capitals know that scenario well.  But, Trotz and Braden Holtby are Washington's difference makers now.

We'll see how much of a difference they'll make Wednesday night.

In Game 6, the Washington Capitals attacked in waves of fury, and nearly wiped out a 4-1 deficit.   But, the King withstood the fiercest siege yet brought upon his crease.  He faced 45 shots in hostile territory, and with 5:43 left in regulation, saved the Rangers from a tie game, or worse, from being completely demoralized.  At one point, Washington was out-shooting the Rangers by a 32-0 margin. Despite allowing 2 goals in the 3rd period and 3 overall, the Rangers indeed have Henrik Lundqvist to thank for keeping their season alive.  His 42 saves were a post-season high.

The Rangers waited till Game 6 to do it, but they did it nonetheless.  After two failed attempts in Games 3 and 4, then twice facing elimination, Tex's Rangers finally wrestled back home ice just in time for a decisive Game 7 showdown.

Hey!  Sometimes you have to win games by an unsightly 5-4 score, or in the case of Game 6, by a 4-3 final.  Every game can't always fall on Lundqvist to pitch a shutout.  That's not good hockey; that's not Stanley Cup hockey.

That said, see what happens when everyone cooperates?  Chris Kreider continued his romp, the power play scored a goal, and, yes, Rick Nash finally lit the lamp!

Chris Kreider did it again.  He has become the consistent scoring threat the Rangers sorely needed while Nash suffers through his post-season malaise.  He opened Game 6 with a stinging left jab a mere 0:40 seconds into the game, and closed out the 1st period with a straight right at the 19:59 mark. Kreider is now tied with Derick Brassard with a team leading 5 goals, while 4 of them have come this series.  All of them have been clutch.

The skill has always been there.  It's his mind that wasn't always properly focused.  One of the biggest differences in Kreider's game has been his ability to avoid taking stupid penalties.  He was second on the team (behind Tanner Glass) with 88 penalty minutes during the regular season, which limited his ice time to an average of 15:43 minutes a game.  Kreider has only served a mere 4:00 penalty minutes in 11 post-season games played thus far, which has allowed him to average 17:32 minutes of ice time.  Free from the penalty box, he is second behind Derick Brassard with a 17.2 shooting percentage.

Rick Nash's goal was not only the result of patience, strength, and stick-handling skill.  His second goal of the playoffs scored at the wee 0:54 mark of the 3rd period was very significant, unlike the inconsequential goal he netted against Pittsburgh.  At the time, it made Game 6 a 3-1 affair in favor of the Rangers.  The Rangers then got outscored 2-1, and grossly out-shot from that moment forward.

There's no denying Rick Nash has been playing a very effective game within a game, but without beating a dead horse, he was brought to Broadway for the purpose of scoring goals - many goals - playoffs goals.  Of course, there would be no better time than Game 7 for Rick Nash to reemerge as the team's top scoring threat.

There's a lot of pressure on Alain Vigneault.  Wednesday's game is perhaps the most important one of his short Rangers career.  The Rangers might have been content with just reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season.  This season, however, they set a franchise mark for wins and points, and captured a President's Trophy.  With that comes weighted expectations.  Meanwhile, his failure to win a Cup with Vancouver remains an 800 lbs. gorilla in the room.

Alain Vigneault's Rangers have thus far been characterized by resiliency and fortitude, and have been more effective at making game-to-game adjustments than Barry Trotz and the Capitals have.  As the home team, Alain Vigneault will have the advantage of final change, while the Rangers get the slight advantage on face-offs.

For the series, the Rangers are losing the face-off battle by a 167-203 margin.  The Rangers won the face-off battle in Games 2 and 5, but only barely.  In the Rangers Game 3 loss, the Capitals had their way with a 40-18 mark.  Face-offs mean puck possession - that's the name of Alain Vigneault's game.

Like it, or lump it - the Rangers must turn up their physicality.  They must go into the corners and other dirty zones of the ice, and earn their possessions.  They must fight for those 50/50 pucks, win more battles along the boards, and continue creating disturbances in front of Braden Holtby.

May the better team advance.  Or, should I say, may the better system prevail.


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