By Joe Dyton
I was ready.
I was ready to write the obituary for the Rangers’ 2012 season. With about six minutes or so left in Game Five Monday night, the Capitals were up, 2-1 and the Blueshirts couldn’t get anything going. I assumed the game was going to end, 2-1 or possibly, 3-1 on an empty-netter. I also figured Game Six would be nothing more than a formality. I know the Rangers took a 3-2 series deficit on the road in the first round, but the Caps are better than Ottawa and I figured they took care of business at their place. I shared this exchange via text message with my buddy Mike (a Caps fan) around the time I assumed the Rangers were toast:
Mike: “How are you feeling? I’m going crazy.”
Me: “I think the hourglass that is the Rangers’ season is just about out of sand. I am not sure they can pull off another Game Six and Seven back-to-back like they did last series.”
Mike: Caps haven’t won yet.
Could you blame me for thinking so negatively? The Garden was silent. The only line that was generating anything was the Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik-Carl Hagelin unit. All I could keep thinking was, “Who is going score?” The Rangers have some talented players, but no one who can just grab the puck and go score like the Capitals do. Even when the Rangers got that power play off of Joel Ward’s high stick, I didn’t get too excited because before that this as their power play for the night:
0-for-3, 0 shots on goal.
With a stat like that, I couldn’t get my hopes up even with Henrik Lundqvist pulled and the Rangers having a 6-on-4 man advantage.
Then, some way, somehow, the Rangers cashed in on their most important power play of the season. I don’t know what surprised me more; Richards tying the game with 6.6 seconds left, or the fact the Rangers scored on the power play. Either way, the Rangers had life.
Since Ward’s high stick drew blood, the Rangers got a four-minute power play and got to start OT up a man.
I thought it would be so great if the Rangers could just score on the PP and make it an early night. Then I thought it might be asking too much for them to score on both ends of a double minor.
Or was it?
Marc Staal and the Rangers PP proved me wrong again when he blistered that shot past a screened Braden Holtby. They got two power play goals in one game? I couldn’t believe it. Hopefully if they get any power plays in Game Six or (gulp), Game Seven the Rangers will employ the strategy they used for Staal’s goal. Get the puck to the points, forwards in front of Holtby and let it rip. Or at the very least, let the point-men wind up until the Caps’ forwards go down for the block attempt. Either way, I just know that the pass-pass-pass-perfect shot isn’t working and Holtby is stopping just about everything he can see.
A few other thoughts…
*I know the Rangers outshot the Caps, 38-18, but I felt like the Caps controlled the game after the Ranger-dominated first period. The Rangers had a lot of trouble generating quality scoring chances, while the Caps’ shot total wasn’t high, but the shots they did get were mostly high-quality.
*It’s scary to think how close the Caps came to winning this one. In the third period, they developed three great scoring changes on odd-man rushes and Nicklas Backstrom hit the crossbar after deking Lundqvist on a breakaway. It is game over (series over?) if he gets that puck an inch lower. Also, if Hagelin doesn’t bleed after he got hit by Ward’s stick, that’s perhaps a two-minute minor and OT starts at even-strength.
*The Rangers have to stop taking bad/lazy penalties. If the Caps had held on last night, the Rangers would have lost three games in this series on third period power play goals: Richard’s interference in Game Two, Hagelin’s slash in Game Four and Mike Rupp’s hook on Monday night. I’ll cut Rupp a little more slack because he was slowing down a scoring opportunity. Still, this series is too close and goals are too tough to come by to be taking needless penalties.
So, the Rangers have two cracks to win a trip to the Eastern Conference finals instead of one. I have a feeling that they might need both of the cracks. The Caps are going to come out even stronger than they did in Game Four; hopefully the Rangers will be more prepared for it this time.
Don’t be surprised if this goes seven.
Thanks for reading; until next time…
Joe Dyton is a marketing copywriter in Washington, DC and a freelance sports reporter for the Frederick News-Post in Frederick, MD. He is a former assistant editor for The Dealmakers real estate magazine in Hamilton, NJ and a former sports writer and copy editor for The Trentonian in Trenton, NJ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dyton99.