After losing Game 5 at home to the New Jersey Devils, it’s very easy for to think that the Rangers’ season will end in New Jersey on Friday night. The Rangers have been outplayed by an aggressive Devils squad for the majority of the series, and although you won’t hear it from inside their locker room, the team is beginning to physically wear down. Also, in a situation where momentum is critical, the Rangers have none after two consecutive losses and going on the road to try and keep their season alive.
The Rangers’ backs are against the wall to say the least. However, as anybody who has watched the Rangers play the season can attest to, this year’s team has been able to raise their game when their backs were against the wall. And Game 6 in New Jersey on Friday night will be no exception for the Broadway Blueshirts.
If experience is the best teacher, then the Rangers are well versed in dealing with elimination situations in the playoffs. The Rangers were in the same situation in their first round series against the Ottawa Senators, and they responded with a Game 6 victory in Ottawa and wrapped up the series at home in Game 7. In the Rangers’ second round series against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers played their two worst games of the series in Games 5 and 6 (although they won Game 5), but bounced back in Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Rangers have been strong in these situations because of the style they have played under John Tortorella, and because their goaltender has had the ability to carry the Rangers to victories throughout the season. Although Tortorella has been brief in his dealings with the media (particularly in the playoffs), one of the recurring phrases that comes up is his team’s ability to “stay with it”, referring to the game plan. Throughout the season, whether the Rangers were on an extended winning streak or trying to break out of a slump, the team’s style of play and mindset never wavered, and as a result their confidence never wavered.
Also, the way the Rangers try to play every night is in effect the perfect system for a playing a game on the road. At it’s best, the Rangers system is a north-south game, where offense is generated from puck possession below the circles in the offensive zone, and on defense, the crux of their game has been to collapse and block shots. And when the shots don’t get blocked, the Rangers rely on the frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy to get the job done in net.
Although he was the victim of a few bad bounces early in the first period of Game 5, Henrik Lundqvist didn’t play at the level that he has been at all season, or the level that the Rangers need in order to win in New Jersey on Friday and ultimately advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. But like his teammates, Lundqvist’s play has been at a high level when the Rangers have needed it most. In elimination games this post-season, Lundqvist is 3-0 with a 1.33 goals against average and a .948 save percentage. The Rangers’ goalie also has shown his ability to steal a game, as recently evidenced by his performance in Game 3, and there’s no reason to believe that he can’t turn in that type of performance in Game 7.
Finally, another positive note for the Rangers is that as a whole, Game 5 was probably the best game that they played the entire series. Although they put themselves in a huge hole in the first ten minutes of the contest, they dominated the next thirty minutes, tying the game in the process, and they foubd a way to sustain pressure against the Devils in New Jersey’s end.
The Rangers have found ways to get the job done when they were written off all season. Game 6 will be the latest chapter of that story.