In war, battles rage over territory and supremacy. The Eastern Conference champs must conquer the East before they can conquer the West. The process takes time, power and an army of soldiers ready to lie down to play the puck.
Resilience has buoyed the New York Rangers above other teams. Maybe it’s the New York attitude of closing the deal. As Brian Boyle said, “We hate to lose more than we love to win.” Remaining fresh and energized has been a lesson learned in the Sens series, when the guys looked tired and bedraggled allowing Ottawa to swing the adrenaline boost their way. But has New York let their guard down?
The Washington Capitals charged into game four seeking vengeance for the game three triple overtime loss, which could have swung their way. The Caps out-shot New York 14-3. Maybe it was the exhaustion of the Rangers from their scurrying in the pivotal game three, but the Blueshirts only had 20 shots on goal and blocked only seven shots, while the Capitals blocked 26 shots.
Deploying the top-four defensemen has been a successful tactic for the Rangers in rounds one and two, but the Caps are swarming the puck. For the Rangers to conquer game five, the defense must wear tougher armor as the Caps storm the gate.
Alex Ovechkin’s hit on Dan Girardi is yet another tactic to swing the pendulum. Whether the hit was intentional or not, Girardi displayed his chivalry avoiding the controversy and focusing on game five. Girardi gave Ovechkin an out saying he was, “just playing the game hard.” Dan Girardi defines the classic defenseman creating protection from intruders and putting his might into the fight. In game four, he had three hits in 22:46 of ice time and logged the assist on Artem Anisimov’s goal. Girardi had an assist in each of the last two games and is now tied for second among NHL defensemen with five assists and six points in the playoffs.
While the Rangers have a strong case in defense, it may be time to bring out the cannons. Though limited to less than eight minutes of ice time in game four, the wrecking crew of Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle and Willie Mitchell could see more ice time depending on the flow of each game in the series. Stu Bickel got the call and put in 7:02 of ice time in game four, and should also be ready to bust some moves as needed.
King Henry has once again pulled this team out of the wreckage. Henrik Lundqvist, a decorated goaltender this season with nominations for the Vezina, Hart and Ted Lindsay Award has Hank unruffled in his pursuit of a perfect season. Humbled and honored, he’s remained calm and together, working though his stumbles in stride. He’s the netminder to beat in the East, but with talent in Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick and Phoenix goalie Mike Smith on the verge of advancing, King Henry must command his kingdom and slay the dragons.
On the brink of elimination to the Ottawa Senators in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs gave the New York Rangers an opportunity to examine their will and fortitude moving forward. And here they are again with the Capitals.
The Blueshirts of the Brickyard roll with the punches, but have become testy in their fortress. Coach John Tortorella isn’t playing nice anymore, blatantly detesting the media while ranting about dumb questions. It’s apparent Torts is growing more perturbed every day.
The Rangers cannot afford to be on the brink of irritation.
The Rangers have a target on their back as the team to beat. As the highest seed remaining in the playoffs, New York is the kingdom to bring down. If the Rangers are playing to bring the Cup back to New York after an 18-year absence, taking one opponent at a time may not be enough. New York needs to scan the landscape and prepare for multiple attacks. The Rangers have had enough soul-searching. It’s time to wage the war and plan tactical maneuvers to win the campaign.
Heidi has been a Rangers fan since the Gretzky years. While focusing on The Blue Line and hockey’s stalwart defenders, Heidi also connects with the human side of hockey. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or at her blog Don’t Cross My Blue Line.