Rangers Capitals: How High the Blueshirts? Very
Thursday, February 23, 2017
By Stan Fischler
Three little words sum up the Rangers situation as they head for Washington and Game Six on Wednesday night.
ONWARD AND UPWARD.
Enthused over their 3-2 overtime win on Monday night at The Garden, John Tortorella’s skaters moved to one win away from eliminating the Capitals from the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
New York leads three games to two.
The MSG theme was “Heroes Galore,” starring Marc Staal who scored the overtime winner and Brad Richards who tied the game with 6.6 seconds left in the third period. Both were accomplished on power plays.
“I haven’t experienced an emotional swinging experience like that ever," exclaimed Staal in the winners’ dressing room. “The Caps defense was not making it easy on us to make plays, but we kept to our game plan and our resilience proved to be rewarding.”
Staal delivered the melodramatic shot 1:35 into the extra session. It happened this way:
John Mitchell won the face-off against Jay Beagle. The Rangers fourth-liner delivered the puck to Staal who powered it past the screened Caps goaltender Braden Holtby.
“I never saw the puck,” Holtby revealed. “We came back from a tough loss in the marathon overtime game and we can come back again.”
Staal’s heroics never would have been possible without Richards’ maneuver in the waning seconds. A four-minute high sticking penalty to Joel Ward put the Rangers in position to add two extra skaters with Henrik Lundqvist removed.
For a time the Capitals were able to dissolve New York’s attack. Then, the break came after Michael Del Zotto blasted a shot from the point to no avail.
Holtby then stifled multiple Ryan Callahan rebound attempts, until Richards was finally able to stuff a loose puck past the goal-line with 6.6 seconds remaining.
“He got two or three or whacks on the pad,” the rookie netminder explained. “He would have gotten more and spun me around on the open net. I tried to cover it quick and get my stick on it in hopes of clearing it out of the slot.”
The tying goal enabled the Blueshirts to take an intermission rest and come out refreshed to capitalize on the second half of Ward’s penalty.
“It might be,” said Tortorella, “that having the fresh ice benefited us in the overtime.”
Whatever the case, Staal delivered and now the Caps have the challenge of re-grouping at home.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Alex Ovechkin. ”I think we played a solid game. They had a power play in overtime. It’s not over yet. Somebody has to win; somebody has to lose.”
New York so thoroughly dominated the first stanza that the shots on goal stats, 17-4, in favor of the Blueshirts, understated the trend of play.
Surprisingly, the home club only came away with one goal on faulty netminding by Holtby.
Defensemen Anton Stralman strolled down the right side and fired what should have been a simple save, but was misjudged by Washington’s stopper.
The time was 10:44 with assists to Derek Stepan and Staal. Teams split penalties, and although the Rangers power play was significantly more effective, Holtby held the fort.
Based on one period of play, the Rangers seemed on the verge of busting open the game in the middle period.
“We stuck with it,” said Callahan. “There were a lot of shots on Holtby and we just stayed with it. We were at him the whole game, we didn’t really let up on him,”
As it happened, Torts’ troops owned the acreage in the middle frame but the visitors owned the only goal.
Once again the Rangers were shot-heavy – 26-10 after two – but that was not enough to maintain the scoring edge.
Washington’s tying tally came as the Rangers attempted to clear their zone. Forward Brian Boyle fanned on a clearing opportunity, only to see it land on Brooks Laich’s stick.
In an attempt to disrupt Washington’s attack, Artem Anisimov dove towards Laich, but missed and the Washington forward beat Lundqvist’s glove at 8:15.
Less than five minutes later, the Rangers obtained another power play opportunity. The Blueshirts were victimized by a surplus of cross-ice passes and a shortage of difficult shots to test Holtby.
Opening the third period, the issue was whether or not the Rangers could maintain the offensive and capture the decisive momentum that would ultimately launch them to victory.
But it was Washington which took the lead on a power play. After extensive in-zone possession, John Carlson’s initial blast broke the stick of Callahan.
Unable to clear the zone, Callahan kicked the puck back to the point, where Carlson once again received it and rifled the puck past Lundqvist at 4:20.
Repeated attempts by the Rangers to score failed until the fading seconds after Ward was nailed with his four-minute high sticking penalty.
“I don’t think anyone feels lower than him right now,” said Washington’s Troy Brouwer. “He was the one who put us in the second round.”