By Sarah Kwak
OK, so after seeing that wondrous Bruins comeback against Toronto, a game for the ages, the deciding contest between the Rangers and Capitals was — comparatively speaking — a bit of a dud. If you chose to watch the Rangers and Caps over that epic clash, well, I really hope you were getting paid to do it (like me).
Anyway, before Game 7, New York coach John Tortorella predicted that the stars of each team would be the deciding factors and would be the ones to step up and carry their teams. Well, it didn’t go exactly that way Monday night. Yes, Tortorella’s biggest star, goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was glittering once again, making 35 saves and shutting out the Capitals for the second night in a row to send his team to the second round. But Lundqvist can only do so much himself without goal support. Well, the 31-year-old Vezina finalist finally got it, but from unexpected sources. Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt and Michael Del Zotto built a comfortable lead for New York through two periods on the way to an eventual 5-0 win. Aside from Lundqvist, it was the Rangers’ role players that carried this team to the second round.
Some other observations:
• You could say the Rangers were due at the Verizon Center. In recent history, New York has struggled in the Capitals’ barn. Coming into Game 7, the Rangers had dropped 10 out of their previous 11 postseason games in D.C., a streak that had stretched back to April 2009. And in none of those games did New York ever score more than two goals. Well, they reversed course Monday night in decisive fashion, putting five pucks past Caps goalie Braden Holtby.
• As for Washington’s stars, they just could not outshine Lundqvist. Offensively, there was just little there for the Capitals. Noticeably absent from the score sheet for the last three games, Washington captain Alex Ovechkin seemed to take a different approach in Game 7. Maybe if he elevated his physical play, perhaps his scoring game would follow. Well, he took no prisoners Monday night, right from the start. Midway through the first period he undertook a wild shift, laying hit after hit after hit in a 34-second stretch. He kept his physicality up throughout, but nothing much seemed to follow. Ovechkin finished the game with 13 hits, but only one shot.
• The Rangers defensive corps, namely Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, have to get recognition for keeping Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom in check. It wasn’t so much the physical game that they brought, but also impressive stickwork throughout the series. The Rangers’ ability to poke check the puck off of sticks and disrupt any rhythm the Capitals could develop made it a frustrating game for Washington. And as a result, the Caps’ rushes didn’t look as smooth and their passes weren’t as crisp as they had been earlier in the series.
• As great as Lundqvist was in the series — and Game 7 — also give the Rangers credit for putting their bodies in front of shots. They blocked 27 shots Monday night, including five off the stick of Washington defenseman Mike Green. The effort on that side of the puck ran from the top to the bottom of the lineup. Leading New York with four blocked shots, in fact, was Rick Nash. I suppose if Asham, who had two goals all season, can score on a laser shot for his second of the series, Nash can put his body in front of the puck.
• But back to Lundqvist, who became the first goalie to log shutouts in both a Game 6 and 7 since Dominik Hasek did it in 2002 for Detroit. He made 62 straight saves with the series on the line to propel his team into the next round. His goaltending even helped New York score; that’s how good it is. When Mike Green barreled in on Lundqvist on a semi-breakaway, his save essentially sent the Rangers on a fast-break, four-man rush up ice. Chris Kreider sped through the neutral zone and made a little drop pass for Asham, who then got off a quick yet heavy slap shot at 13:19 of the first period for the Rangers’ first goal.