Caps have demoralized Rangers
Washington finally is playing like the second-best team in the East
Henrik Lundqvist's glove hand has been exposed as an easy target
The Rangers wouldn't be as lifeless with John Tortorella behind the bench
Random observations in the wake of Washington's series-tying 5-3 win over New York on Sunday.
Game 7, here we come. After watching the Caps take just 20 minutes to completely demoralize the home team with their speed and desire, is there anyone out there willing to put money on the Rangers saving face on Tuesday night? Didn't think so. The team that's been outscored 9-3 in the last two contests looks exactly like the one that barely held on for a playoff spot, while Washington finally is playing like the squad that posted the second-best record in the Eastern conference.
Coming into the series, the Rangers counted on Henrik Lundqvist and their sixth-rated defense to hobble the high-scoring Caps. That worked out okay over the first four games, but the last two? Lundqvist has given up nine goals on 34 shots and his glove hand has been exposed as the easiest target for abuse since Marilyn Manson. Not that the defense has provided him with much support. Marc Staal, their best blueliner in the second half, coughed up a puck in the offensive zone that was buried for Washington's third marker by Tom Poti. Later, he was burned badly on Viktor Kozlov's goal when the big winger overpowered him to the outside before flipping a shot over (surprise!) Lundqvist's glove. That Kozlov finished the play by barreling into Lundqvist was emblematic of how the series has turned.
Nice to see Mike Green has finally shaken the flu bug that hobbled him through much of the series. He finally notched his first goal of the postseason, pouncing on a deflection off Michal Roszival's skate and beating Lundqvist with a slapper you know where, but his health was more obvious in his energy levels. He played with consistent jump, his positioning was better and he made smarter decisions with the puck. One more reason for the Blueshirts to dread Game 7.
If anyone on the Rangers deserves a sleepless night, it's Markus Naslund. It's hard to imagine what he was thinking when he picked a rebound out of mid-air and put the puck on his stick just 15 feet from a sprawling Simeon Varlamov. If he stays on his forehand, Naslund has an empty cage to shoot at and a pivotal goal that might have changed the direction of the game. Instead, he skates into the middle, goes to the backhand and chunks it into Varlamov's outstretched pad. A rookie makes that play, you chalk it up to inexperience. No such excuse for a veteran like Naslund.
Based on today's lackluster performance, it's safe to say that a neutered Sean Avery has as little to offer an NHL team, as he's the guy who almost cost the Rangers Game 4 with his cheap shot thuggery. After sitting out Friday's contest, Avery played like a man doing penance, time and again peeling away from checks that should have been finished and treating the front of the Washington net like a no-fly zone. Before he takes the ice in Game 7, the coaching staff needs to sit him down in front of some tape highlighting what he needs to do, and how far he should go to do it.
Give stand-in head coach Jim Schoenfeld a D for his work on the day. Not that the loss was his fault -- you can't, after all, blame him for those brutal turnovers or the lead weight apparently attached to Lundqvist's glove hand. Still, he has to take some responsibility for a bench that was devoid of emotion after the first period, and for failing to shake up his line combinations until it was too late to make a difference. Would suspended coach John Tortorella have fared any better? Tough to say, but it's hard to imagine the Rangers being as lifeless with him breathing fire down the backs of their sweaters.
When the Rangers sent a second rounder at the deadline to Toronto for winger Nikolai Antropov, GM Glen Sather said he was looking to add "scoring, size, grit and speed" to his lineup. It's too bad he didn't make a concurrent deal for one of those day-glo orange antenna balls. Slapping one of those on his helmet would have helped Rangers fans spot Antropov, since he's been otherwise invisible since Game 1. Outside of the shift when he was crushed into the boards by John Erskine, and his stick-smashing hissy fit on the bench, he was a complete non-entity in Game 6. Why was Antropov blanked for the fifth straight contest? Simple -- he may have the size, but he has all the grit of a goose-down pillow. And that's why he has been held to just three goals in 36 career playoff games. Hard to imagine the Rangers re-signing the impending UFA after this performance.
Not that he'll be missed, but the Caps shouldn't count on Donald Brashear being part of their Game 7 lineup. Whether it was an elbow, forearm or shoulder -- I'm still waiting to see a conclusive replay -- it's clear his second-period hit connected directly with the head of Blair Betts. It was late and it was cheap, and certainly more reprehensible than the hit to the squash of Maxime Lapierre that earned Boston's Milan Lucic a one-game visit to the press box. If this was the regular season, that might have earned Brashear five games. In the playoffs, count on two.
During his post-game press conference, Schoenfeld accused Shaone Morrisonn of biting New York center Brandon Dubinsky on the arm. "Dubinsky had to get a tetanus shot because he was bit on the arm in a scrum," he said. "I don't know what effect that will have on him, so his status remains in question. That's a double whammy for us with Betts out and now we've got Dubinsky out, so we were a little shy down the middle." Unless Morrisonn was himself bitten while shopping at the Monroeville Mall, it's a good bet Dubinsky will be available for Game 7.
Lousy day to be a fan of the Boston Bruins. It was less than 48 hours ago that a second-round tango with the Rangers seemed inevitable. Now, with momentum firmly behind the Caps, it looks as through the B's will get the Penguins or Hurricanes in the second round. Either is a winnable series, but hardly a free pass to the conference finals like the Rangers would have provided.
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