Rangers-Senators: Preview of Game Six... Hope Springs Eternal
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
By Stan Fischler
If "Comeback Kids" is to be the Rangers middle name before Midnight on Monday, they will have to take that title away from a scrappy-happy bunch of Senators who'll turn Scotiabank Place into the Second Coming of Bedlam for Game Six of the schizophrenic first playoff round.
Down three games to two -- remember The Maven picked New York in five! -- John Tortorella's skaters can turn the anxious citizens of Rangerville into happy campers by Tuesday if the following factors fall into place:
SLIPPING SENS: Instead of propelling their favorites, the Kanata crowd might very well cause the Senators to tighten up with victory within their grasp. In a sense, the visitors -- as the Senators were at MSG -- could be the looser team because of the crazy crowd. Rangers could be the cooler club; Sens the uptight bunch.
GOALTENDING: Granted that Craig Anderson has been airtight between the Sens pipes, but Henrik Lundqvist has not been that far behind in terms of quality puck-stopping. The Law of Averages -- not goaltending averages, my friends -- points to The King returning to his crown in the crease. That means, among other things, Henny not allowing the first goal. Hey, a shutout, a la Anderson at MSG, wouldn't be a bad thing for Lundy & Co.
SECRET WEAPON: Carl Hagelin's return after a three-game suspension should not be minimized. Along with the raw rookie Chris Kreider, Hagelin provides the brand of speed that's required for the Blueshirts to keep pace with Ottawa's high-octane m.p.h. machine.
RE-AWAKENING: Rip Van Winkles they're not, but Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov -- among others -- are due for more tangible offensive production. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards both were willing workers on Saturday night but neither reached the starry realm with a goal or two. That time will come in Kanata.
POWER PLAY: As Tortorella pointed out post-game, the power plays for both clubs were "a wash." There's still time for the general staff to re-shape the NY PP so that it becomes a decisive force. Had just one of the three extra-man situations in the first period worked for the Rangers, we'd likely be talking about Ottawa being on the brink rather than the vice being versa.
STYLE CHANGE: Torts still has the option to alter his drawing board. As my trusty NHL scout, Gus Vic, notes: "The Rangers offensive attack is not a free-flow charge. Move puck, to the boards, cycle, work some more, then maybe a shot. At this point shooting from less predictable points on the ice would likely generate better second opportunities." I agree and soon we'll see what happens.
FIRE-WITH-FIRE: Chris Neil has been an effective physical force for Ottawa along with Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka. Big Rangers such as Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel can neutralize them but the trick is avoiding unnecessary penalties.
No, this series is far from over. If, as the bromide goes, "Genius Will Out," New York still should prevail because it finished first for good reason and -- on paper, at least, from goal on out -- boast the better players.
But intangibles intrude. For example, ever since Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was sidelined with a concussion, his teammates have virtually dedicated each game to their leader.
"It IS a thought we have every game," Jason Spezza told me after the last game. "We want to win for Alfie." Coach Paul MacLean reiterated that thought later during his press scrimmage.
What's more, the Senators are playing with "house money." This was supposed to be their re-building year, utilizing a number of rookies such as Colin Greening and Jim O'Brien who starred last season for Ottawa's AHL Calder Cup-winning Binghamton team. Few experts even expected the Senators to make the playoffs, let alone give the Rangers a hard time.
Leadership will be key for the Blueshirts. On Saturday night, I could see up-close -- from my Zamboni vantage point -- how hard Ryan Callahan was working in Game Five; plus he almost had the tying goal before being robbed by Anderson. Cally must rally the troops; along with Torts. He's shown that he has done it before; he can do it again.
The Maven reiterates his pre-series points: New York has the best goalie, the best captain, the best coach and the best chemistry. That all was intact going into the first round and through the opening game. Now we'll see whether it those all-important ingredients can be distilled again into a winning combo to bring the series back to Seventh Avenue.
I say they will; and soon we will see if the Blueshirts comeback comes to fruition.