The Rangers held serve!
A team that looked finished just two games ago, now full of momentum faces a best of three for the chance to move on to the final 8. Maybe Torts was right, maybe this series was as close as that Fonz look-a-like said it was after game two.
On home ice, the Rangers burst off to a great start, getting the enormously important first goal when cocky Caps goalie Braden Holtby made a terrible decision. Holtby, made an awful decision to throw and ill-advised clearing pass up the middle that was knocked down by Taylor Pyatt. Carl Hagelin (once again one of the NYR’s top forwards) seized on the loose puck and ripped a clapper towards Holtby’s vacated net. But New Jersey’s own John Carlson made a great save on Hags’ shot and with Holtby sliding through the crease right past the net, Brad Richards pounced on the rebound and buried the puck for the 1-0 lead.
The Blueshirts were a different team during the two games at MSG from the team in DC, continuing their pattern of bi-polar play in 2013. At the World’s Most Famous, they hustled, forechecked, hit, crashed the net and found some offense.
At 10:13 of the second, the Rangers doubled the lead on a Carl Hagelin rocket. Ryane Clowe gave the puck to Derick Brassard just inside the Caps blueline and Brassard zipped a sweet cross-zone pass to a streaking Hags. The puck hopped a bit at the end of the pass, probably helping Hagelin, who tattooed the shot from the left circle by Holtby high glove. Hagelin and Brassard have been the NYR’s best forwards in the series, with Stepan a close second. If Nash and Cally can start popping some this team will be dangerous.
The Rangers could and should have been on their way to a rout, and if they had a semi-decent power play they would have been. The gift of a full two minute 5-on-3 given to the Blueshirts in the first when Martin Erat took down Step and Ovechkin tried to take the Ranger center’s head off but missed. Ovi missed Stepan completely and kayoed Erat from the game with his hit that shouldn’t have been a penalty. The 5-on-3 came up empty once again for the NYR.
The Capitals are a good team and when Mathieu Perrault put them on the board at 13:08 of the first. Joel Ward made a great power move from the off wing boards to the net around Michael Del Zotto. MDZ did a belly-silde/poke check try way too early and Ward cut back to the net for a stuff in try that Henrik Lundqvist brilliantly stopped. Unfortunately Brad Richards didn’t hustle to pick up Perreault on the door step and the Caps forward slammed home the rebound halving the Rangers lead.
As the second period ticked towards the end, Anton Stralman tried a clearing pass off the wall, that Brian Boyle didn’t get out of the zone. Mike Green kept the puck in at the line and hit Troy Brouwer in the high slot. Brouwer cruised in on Hank unmolested by Stralman or Stepan who just coasted towards the Cap forward as he whipped a backhand by Hank blocker side to tie the game.
The goal should have been a back-breaker swinging to the momentum over to the Caps’s side after they were outplayed for two periods. But on the ensuing shift, an overzealous Jason Chimera took a horrible penalty barreling Stralman into Hank as the horn buzzed to close the stanza.
The Rangers power play went to work in the third and 59 seconds in Mats Zuccarello touch passed the puck to Brassard along the off wing wall and Brassard got creative. The center moved towards the net pumping his leg and faking a wrist shot to draw the Caps in on him. D-Brass then pulled the puck back and threw a gorgeous backhand sauce to Dan Girardi at the opposite circle. G one-timed a clapper by Holtby stick side through traffic for the go-ahead goal.
Brassard should take Richards place on the first PP unit. The center is creative and makes things happen on the man-advantage. Hopefully after the two games at MSG, Torts will recognize this and make the change.
Five minutes after the Girardi goal and riding a wave of momentum, the Rangers scored their prettiest goal of the year. The Rangers buzzed the caps in their zone creating two turnovers, before Ryan Callahan sent a shot towards net that a spinning Stepan ticked across the crease to Hagelin. Rather than shoot, Hags slid a cross-crease pass to Step that completely faked out Holtby. Stepan slammed the puck into the wide open cage giveing the Blueshirts a 4-2 lead.
The Caps clawed back to within one 89 seconds later when Karl Alzner’s point shot hit Perreault in the back and changed directions on Hank at the last second before going in the net under the crossbar.
Of the 10 goals Washington has scored on Lundqvist, 4 were on re-directions and two have been on on rebounds where the NYR left their men wide open on the doorstep. Aside from the bad Chimera goal in game one, Hank has been money. Once again, he slammed the door on the Caps in the games final 12 minutes to preserve the lead and even the series.
The Rangers D smothered Ovechkin, keeping him to only 1 shot on goal. The Rocket Richard Trophy winner has only a single goal (a put back of a sot of the endboards in game 1) in the four games of the series. The rangers need to keep frustrating him.
The NYR were great in the faceoff circles 64-36 and had a massive advantage in blocks 33-20 and hits 38-20. Those stats are huge and go a long way towards winning games.
Torts reunited Stepan Callahan and Hagelin who they found their chemistry and were easily the Blueshirts best line. Hags is flying and winning puck battles. The Swede is also scoring, which is huge. Step is ascending and shaking off his previous poor playoff performances. Callahan is hitting everything and his response to Ovi’s attempted beheading of Step was right on point. The captain will have to start getting on the scoreboard though.
Zuccarello and Brassard were very good. Brassard is emerging and his play along with Stepan’s is keeping the heat of off Brad Richards, who the Rangers will need to be better.
Rick Nash needs to produce. The big guy is getting chances but is goalless in four games and will have to chip in for the Rangers to go far. Nash was brought here to put the Rangers over the top, and the longer he stays off the scoresheet, the harder that will be. A move away from Richards and towards Brassard might help the big fella get going.
Ryan McDonagh was a beast in his 31:29 of ice time. McD carries a huge load in the most critical spots (especially without Marc Staal in the lineup) and is a major reason why Ovi only has the one PP goal in four games.
For obvious reasons, Game 5 is the most important game of 2013 and the start will be huge. If the Rangers big guys start scoring, this could be over in 6.
Let’s go Rangers!