Thursday, May 28, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Game Seven; Defend This House!


Defend This House!

Eastern Conference Finals

Series tied 3-3
I - NYR 2; TBL 1
II - TBL 6; NYR 2
III - TBL 6; NYR 5
IV - NYR 5; TBL 1
V - TBL 2; NYR 0
VI - NYR 7; TBL 3

Tampa Bay Lightning
The Center of the Universe
33rd Street @ 8th Avenue

NEW YORK RANGERS: Both teams drove their flag into each other's ice this series.  Now it's time for Tex's Rangers to Defend This House!


Derick Brassard enjoyed the best regular season of his career, and has been the Rangers best forward throughout the post-season.  Facing elimination in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals, he played his finest game.

As a team, the Rangers came correct!

Just 3:36 into the opening period, Brassard lit the lamp on the Rangers first shot of the game, and muted the arena with haste (except for all those Rangers fans in attendance that is..).  Roughly 12:00 minutes later, Brassard fed Keith Yandle, whose goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

At the 17:00 mark, Derek Stepan, Steven Stamkos, and Chris Kreider (who actually started the whole thing) were all awarded minor box time for beating each other with sticks, fists, and fists holding sticks.

With Tampa on the power play, an Anton Stralman pass split Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi like a football through the uprights, and caught Callahan's stick mid-stride at the blue line.   For 8 seasons as a member of the New York Rangers, Ryan Callahan took shots against Henrik Lundqvist every day in practice.  In Game Six, he took one more and converted on a breakaway to make it a 2-1 Rangers lead.

  • On that note, one of the keys in Tuesday's victory was limiting penalties and preventing Tampa from going on what's been a highly fruitful power play.  The Blueshirst committed just two penalties all game, which matched their low from Game Three.  They did not commit their second until Dan Girardi's delay of game infraction with 4:24 left in the game.  Otherwise, the Rangers have put Tampa on the PP an average of 3.7 times per game.  Tampa in turn has gone 7 for 22 (32%) and scored in every game except Game Four.  The Rangers mission for Friday night, then, is to keep penalties at a minimum.

Henrik Lundqvist played an inspired 2nd period to preserve the Rangers precarious 2-1 lead.

Then came New York's unforeseen, nevertheless explosive 3rd period.

It's not so much that Tex's Rangers scored 3 times within the first 7:30 of the period, or scored 5 goals throughout the period, that should be taken away from their performance.  It was refreshing to see them opt against the defensive shell strategy and continue pressing the Bolts instead.  They came out strong and stayed on the attack.

  • The Nash/Brassard/Miller line played like titans.  They combined to score 13 points, on 5 goals and 8 assists.  Derick Brassard scored 5 of those points, while Miller had a goal and 3 assists, as did Rick Nash.

After Nash and Brassard set up J.T. Miller's goal at 3:02 of the 3rd, the Rangers kept coming in waves.  A mere 3:00 later, James Sheppard literally crashed the net and scored again.  Then just over a minute later, Rick "the Brute" Nash brilliantly picked Nikita Kucherov's pocket, and set up Miller who fired on net - Brassard then cleaned up a juicy weak side rebound to make it a 5-1 game.

That was the back breaker, literally - to see Ben Bishop sprawled on the ice in the dead cockroach position, then heading towards the bench when Coach Cooper pulled him in favor of back-up Andrei Vasilevskiy with nearly 13:00 minutes still left in regulation.

Rick Nash eventually went on to score, and at 18:19, Derick Brassard shot into an empty net to complete a hat trick and give the Rangers their 7-3 margin of victory.

Like Bulls in a China Shop! 

As noted, Derick Brassard's third goal was scored into an empty net, while Keith Yandle scored in the 1st period from the point.   Otherwise, 5 of the Rangers 7 goals in Game Six were scored from Ben Bishop's (and Vasilevskiy's) doorstep.  You could even say Yandle scored because Bishop was screened.  He never saw the puck coming, which means the Rangers had sufficient traffic in front during 6 of their scoring opportunities.

You can't deny that I've been screaming about that since Game One.

Whenever Alain Vigneault let the bulls loose inside Tampa's china shop this series, the Rangers won each and every time.  Tampa has left the gates to their front porch wide open, and have displayed no desire to push the Rangers out of the way.  That's why I found it utterly ponderous Coach Vigneault and the Rangers went away from it in games Two and Five.

Don't stray again!

Line in the Sand:

There's a lot of familiarity that builds over the course of a 7 game series.  Alain Vigneault's line adjustments have been subtle, yet very effective.  Maybe another not so subtle shuffle is warranted.

My Spidey sense tells me there is a shake up in store for Game Seven, partly in an effort to awaken Carl Hagelin, and to get anything they can from Martin St. Louis (who by the way should finally be excused from the power play).  The Rangers have had two days off, which is plenty of time for new line partners to get acquainted.

That said, I'm very curious to see how often Coach deploys Dominic Moore (who is the only one pulling his weight on face-offs), and with whom.

James Sheppard and Kevin Hayes saw limited minutes in Game Six.  All I know is that Hayes is big, physical, skates with speed, will crash the net when told, and as a rookie doesn't seem the least bit intimidated by the enormity of playing in the conference finals.

If both teams aim to dominate the neutral zone, there's going to be a lot of dumping and chasing.  I would think some of the Rangers larger forwards should be able to bull their way through Tampa's smaller bodies, and retrieve the puck..., right?

Stop Bullying Those Blueshirts:

Steve Stamkos has been the Lightning's toughest player...all 6'1", 188 pounds of him!  I wonder if it's time to give him some Tanner Glass?

I was okay with Chris Kreider going after Stamkos for his hit on McDonagh.  He just didn't need to go after Stamkos twice.  I think that's the general consensus.  Stupid on Kreider's part..., again, but still worthy of a pat on the back this time.  Chris obviously needs to exercise more self-control Friday night, and get back to being the play maker he's been during this post-season.  The Rangers do not get this far without some gritty play on his part.  That's the Kreider the Rangers need in Game Seven.

Don't get me wrong though, Friday night Steven Stamkos needs to get hit, repeatedly.

The Triplets haven't exactly responded well to physicality either.  That needs to continue.

Ice Breakers:

So much for Ben Bishop being lauded as some net-minding hero after Game Five.  In the 3rd period, he got caught in a crossfire hurricane.  And I howled, at my ma in the drivin' ....  Sorry, I digress.

How quickly can he recover?  Is his confidence even recoverable?  I expect Tampa to execute a similar game plan to Game Five in order to minimize opportunities against him.

In truth, it may be too late for Bishop, as the book on him is already out.  By now, everyone knows how to beat Tampa's goalie.  If you don't know, then you haven't been watching.  The Rangers just need to follow through with what got them to Game Seven, which has been playing tough and being relentless around the net.

Meanwhile, the book on Lundqvist is still being researched.  The league has been trying to figure him out for a decade now.

Henrik Lundqvist has been in Ben Bishop's shoes before, but he's a master at deleting such poor performances from his mind and moving on.  Henrik is also an experienced proven performer under elimination circumstances.

About that...

A lot is being made of Henrik's brilliance in past Game 7 performances.  I don't pay mind to that, as none of it has any bearing on Friday's game.  This is strictly about playing hard for 60-minutes, defending well in front of Henrik, and coming out on top.

I will cede, however, that Henrik Lundqvist needs to tighten up his game.  He has no doubt surrendered a handful of questionable goals this series.   However, when I listen to Coach Cooper speak, this is what I interpret from him: 
...the Rangers goalie is better than my goalie; my goalie's confidence is questionably shattered; and I don't trust him to win Game 7 on the road.

I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.  I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.

Yeah, yeah, I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was crowned with a spike right through my head.

But it's all right now, in fact it's a gas!

That's what I hear...


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