When the Rangers play their game and push the pace, they’re tough to hang with and even tougher to beat. That’s what they’ve done at points during the current series against the Capitals, particularly during the first period of Sunday’s game six, and that’s what they’ll need to do for a full 60 minutes during game seven on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
Winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, the Rangers have garnered praise from coaches and executives of opponents for the speed at which they play the game. Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau was particularly impressed with New York after his team fell to the Blueshirts on two occasions during the regular season.
At certain points of the current series, the Rangers have done what they’ve needed by using speed and skill to their advantage. Unfortunately though, those times have come in spurts and not consistently enough.
In the first 10 minutes of game one we saw the Rangers overwhelm the Capitals, but after Holtby held New York goalless, it was the Capitals who skated away from the opening period with a lead, and the game with a win.
In game two, the Rangers again completely outplayed the Capitals in the early going. After 20 minutes of play, New York led Washington in shots by a 15-4 margin, and 2-0 on the scoreboard. The Rangers came out flying and the results reflected that. But that dominant play did not hold up, as the Capitals battled back by out-shooting the Rangers 28-20 over the final two periods, and New York wound up dropping the hotly contested game 3-2.
The Rangers also found themselves starting quickly in game’s three and four, but still went on to lose each of those, and thus they suddenly found themselves in a tough 3-1 hole in the series.
While the Rangers somehow found a way to extend the series with a win in game five, it wasn’t their sharpest display of hockey. But it was the latest game, game six in Washington, where the Rangers appeared to re-find their ability to push the pace to their liking the most, at least for a time.
After a lousy first shift, Chris Kreider blazed down the length of the ice and beat Holtby with a gorgeous finish to put the Rangers ahead 1-0. Kreider went on to add a second goal in the final second of the first period to double his team’s lead heading into the intermission.
While the 20-17 shot advantage in favor of the Rangers suggested a closer period than 2-0, it was the type of period that suited this year’s Rangers squad very well.
All throughout these playoffs, we’ve heard the ongoing narrative of how hard goals have been to come by. We’ve heard about how the Capitals have made it difficult for the Rangers to get shots through, and how the Blueshirts have struggled so dearly to create space for themselves.
Well that was not the case in the opening period of game six. The Rangers had plenty of space to create plays, they made life very hectic for Braden Holtby, they scored twice in one period, and they relied on their star goaltender to make the big saves when needed.
Kreider and Lundqvist all day in first period! Rangers attacked in waves. Must continue. No let up on the gas pedal. #nyr
— Linda Cohn (@lindacohn) May 11, 2015
That was Rangers hockey through and through. As we all witnessed, though, that only lasted for those 20 minutes as the Caps responded with a furious and all-around dominating push in the final 40 minutes despite ultimately coming up short.
Living on the edge. That’s all this team knows. #nyr
— Linda Cohn (@lindacohn) May 11, 2015
Conversely to the way they wanted to play, the Rangers found themselves defending on their heels, trying desperately to hold on with their season hanging in the balance. That, on the other hand, was not Rangers hockey, and that will not bode well for them if that occurs during game seven.
Wednesday’s game seven will ultimately be a toss-up as far as I’m concerned. Both teams have strong goaltenders, and both teams have exuded dominance at various points during the series. If the Rangers are to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay, they are going to need to push the pace tonight against Washington. If they don’t and proceed to get dominated the way they did for the latter part of game six, it will spell trouble for the Blueshirts.
Whichever way you slice it, its game seven between the Rangers and the Capitals. It doesn’t get much better than that. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.