By Sarah Kwak
The last minute of Game 6 between the Rangers and Capitals was playoff hockey in a nutshell. Tense, desperate, nerve-wracking, New York clung to its razor-thin, 1-0 lead to force a Game 7 in Washington on Monday night. In those frenetic final seconds, with the Capitals’ net empty and all their fearsome scorers on the ice, the Rangers blocked shots, made hits and did everything they could to help out Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers’ spectacular goalie stood tall and saved the day for New York yet again, shutting out the Capitals for the first time this postseason.
Some thoughts and observations from Game 6:
• Lundqvist made 27 saves Sunday afternoon, including three in the final 49 seconds, but one could argue he wasn’t even the best goalie on the ice for Game 6. Though the Capitals lost 1-0, it wasn’t because of their goalie Braden Holtby, who was Lundqvist’s equal in the other net. Holtby, who had given up eight goals at Madison Square Garden this postseason, turned in an impressive 28-save performance Sunday and robbed so many Rangers of prime opportunities, like poke-checking the puck off of Rick Nash’s stick as he charged toward the net. With the teams trading spectacular saves instead of goals, this is like the anti-Penguins-Islanders series. And Game 6 was a day to salute the goalies.
• How wonderfully has that multi-player trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for that big-time scorer worked out for the Rangers? No, not the one last summer for Nash; the deal New York G.M. Glen Sather made at this year’s trade deadline that brought Derick Brassard to Madison Square Garden. Brassard has brought life to New York’s stagnant offense — In 19 games with New York, the 25-year-old former first round pick has scored seven goals and has 18 points, equaling his total from 34 games spent with Columbus this season. He scored in the second period off a point shot that deflected off of Washington defenseman Steve Oleksy in the shot and into goalie Braden Holtby’s net. It was Brassard’s second goal and team-leading seventh point of the series.
• Game 6 marked Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin’s fifth straight game without a goal, his fourth straight game off the score sheet altogether. It’s his longest drought of the season, which will, of course, cause everyone in D.C. to freak out and wonder what’s wrong with him now. In truth, Ovechkin has never had much success against the Rangers, against Lundqvist. They are the only Eastern Conference team that Ovechkin doesn’t average at least a point per game against in his career. In 56 career games against the Rangers, he’s scored 26 goals and 50 points. Against Lundqvist, he has scored 23 goals in 49 games.
• If Ovechkin isn’t scoring, at least he was making himself useful otherwise, showing 200-foot commitment on the ice that isn’t always characteristic of the highly skilled winger. His non-existent backcheck on a Rangers game-winning goal in Game 4 was hilariously spoofed as a disconnected controller in a video game. But here, two games later, there was some evidence he isn’t the one-way player people are used to seeing. With about five minutes left in the first period, the winger blocked two shapshots from the point, laying out for one, on a single shift. This is coming from a player who blocked 18 shots all season, though who knows how many of those were done purposefully. It showed some defensive maturity, leadership and that he is out there to help his team win in all situations. I wonder if Dale Hunter is out there watching somewhere and smiling.
• Despite the win, New York’s power play continues to sputter, going 0-for-5 Sunday afternoon (including a failure to convert on a 44-second 5-on-3 in the first period). The Rangers are now 2-for-26 with the man advantage in the series. On a team that has such offensive weapons as Brad Richards, a feisty Ryan Callahan and Nash, one would assume coach John Tortorella would use these scorers on the top PP unit. But no. Instead, forwards Brassard, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello logged more PP time than Richards, Callahan or Nash. Yes, the latter trio have just one goal between them this postseason, but perhaps a well-executed power play goal could spark something in one or more of them.
• The Rangers weren’t the only ones with power play woes. The Capitals were woeful because they didn’t even get one. New York stayed out of the box for 60 minutes, proving that the best way to stifle the No. 1 power play in the league is to never let them play.