The Rough Start
When the Rangers went down 2-0 to the Capitals after a 1-0 overtime loss in game two, many questions were raised about the Rangers ability to generate offense. They had been outscored 4-1 by Washington, with Carl Hagelin registering the only goal. Ryan McDonagh and Ryan Callahan were the only two players with points, outside of Hagelin. They had been shutout in game two, and afterwards, Braden Holtby decided to take a subtle shot at the Rangers by saying “It [game 2] wasn’t a very hard game for me.“.
Brad Richards, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, and Derek Stepan had all been held scoreless by the Capitals’ defense prior to game three. The Rangers powerplay was a miserable 0-for-9; that includes a lengthy 5-on-3 that the Rangers had when up 1-0 in game two that failed to score. They also failed to capitalize on a powerplay at the start of overtime in game two — on the flip side, the Capitals managed to capitalize on their first PP chance in the OT, after they forced McDonagh to take a delay-of-game penalty with a punishing shift. They also scored a PP goal in game one. Even Henrik Lundqvist had his struggles in game one, after giving two questionable goals in the span of about 45 seconds. However, he certainly made up for it in game two with a tremendous performance.
Injured Players Returning Replenishes Depth
There wasn’t much space available to the Rangers in those two games away from home — the Capitals managed to keep the Rangers to the outside, along the perimeter of the offensive zone, for the majority of game one and game two. In game three and four, however, the Rangers managed to dominate the Capitals in their own zone, and were much improved on their forecheck. They were also able to shut down the Capitals’ big name players. One of the main reasons?
The Rangers were able to inject some toughness and size into their lineup. Derek Dorsett made his Rangers debut in game two after suffering a fractured orbital bone on March 7th, and Brian Boyle also played his first game since April 16th after he injured his leg against the Flyers. Brian Boyle made a huge impact in game two, scoring a goal when the Rangers were down 1-0 in the first, and assisting on Derick Brassard’s PP goal early in the second period of game three.
Dorsett hasn’t produced a point yet, but he is a bit of a loose cannon on the ice, and keeps players along the boards honest with his physical, punishing brand of hockey. For the record, it will also take time for him to get adjusted to the Rangers system, and he’s probably a little out of shape after missing all of that time with an injury — it will take him a few games to get back into a groove.
The Rangers ended up winning game three by a score of 4-3 — the winning goal came late in the third period when Rick Nash made a slick pass to Derek Stepan, who tipped the puck through Holtby’s five-hole to give the Rangers a one goal lead. Also of note, tough guy Arron Asham managed to score a goal in game three early in the third period. Marc Staal also played a shade over 17 minutes in game three, but decided to sit game four out. Why he sat out has not been disclosed.
After game three, Alex Ovechkin commented on the Rangers’ toughness, or “lack thereof”:
“Well, McDonagh is a good skater, but they don’t play much of a physical game,” Ovechkin said. “So it’s kind of nice to know when you go to the corners, they’re not going to hit you. They play too (many) minutes, and if they’re going to make one or two hits, their energy leveling (will be) going down …”
Ryane Clowe returned for game four and made a significant impact early on. Early in the game, he had a chat with Steve Oleksy, who had been running around a bit in games one and two. After that little chat, Oleksy was fairly unnoticeable for the rest of the game. Clowe also made an excellent play on Carl Hagelin’s goal, earning an assist. He played important minutes late in the game and he had definitely earned him. The return of Clowe is a big factor for the Rangers. He is a proven playoff performer, and the toughness factor that he adds is invaluable. Also, going back to Ovechkin comments, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh really responded to those comments from Ovechkin. The Rangers were physical with Ovechkin, and in the end, he mailed it in — check out his “effort” on the game-winning goal.
The Rangers Are Now Healthy, But The Caps Are Banged Up
We’ll truly see how effective these three players are for the Rangers in game five at the Verizon Center, an arena that has not been kind to the Rangers as of late. They have one playoff win in Washington in their last nine games there, averaging a goal per game. The Rangers were fairly beat up in game one in two — now, the Rangers are fully healthy up front, and Staal hasn’t been ruled out for game five. He could potentially play, which would be a big boost after the poor outing that Eminger had in game four. On the other hand, John Erksine, while playing, is playing injured (he left for a portion of game three after he was nailed by Ryan Callahan early on — he has been a bit shaky since that hit, although he has been able to play), and Martin Erat has been ruled out for game five after an awkward collision with Derek Stepan and Alex Ovechkin.
Hopefully, that is enough to provide a spark to the Rangers — stealing this game on the road would be monumental, as they would have a chance to close it out at Madison Square Garden. Home has been kind to the Rangers as of late, they are currently riding a eight game home winning streak and have produced a number of goals over that span. A chance to close out the series at home might just be enough to push the Rangers to round two. Henrik Lundqvist will need to be on his game, and the forecheck must be as effective and aggressive as it was in games one and two, or else the Rangers playoff hopes may hang in the balance.