Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chimera Silences Garden Crowd With Winner In Second OT; Capitals Take 3-1 Series Lead

For the second time in the four games of the Eastern Quarterfinal Series between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals took overtime to decide the outcome.  The bad news for the Rangers was the outcome was the same with the Capitals getting the game on Jason Chimera’s goal 12:36 into the second overtime to give Washington the 4-3 victory.  One has to wonder if that goal was one that will silence the Garden crowd for the rest of the summer as the Capitals now have a 3-1 series lead with a chance to close it in Game 5 on Saturday in Washington. 

The utter silence of the Garden crowd as the puck went in was even more shocking when compared to the raucous nature of the crowd from the beginning of the game and especially after the Rangers took the 3-0 lead in the second.  The best chant came after that goal when the Garden had erupted with a beautiful “Can You Hear Us?” chant directed at Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau.  The beauty of that chant seems so far away at this point, as does the level of noise that came with it.

The winner for the Capitals came on a breakdown between Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist as Lundqvist went to smother the puck for a whistle while Gaborik poked the loose puck away from his goaltender and to Chimera for the winner.  For many it is ironically fitting that Gaborik who has struggled so mightily to regain the form he had last season in the scoring department helped assist the Capitals in scoring the winner.  To blame Gaborik is easy at the moment, but the loss tonight is much bigger than him or any one play in the game.  

The Rangers were a perfect 29-0-0 when leading after two periods during the regular season, so blowing a three goal lead in the final period was a bigger problem than just Gaborik’s mistake in the second overtime.  If you want to truly blame something for the loss, look no further than the power play which was 0-for-7 tonight and now 1-for-18 in the series.  You cannot win in the playoffs when your power play is that anemic.
The first period was yet another scoreless first as it has been in every game of the series.  The second period saw the Rangers dominate the action while scoring three goals.  Artem Anisimov would open the scoring 5:24 into the period when he scored from behind the goal line.  Anisimov got the puck behind the net and banked it off Mark Hendricks before getting by Neuvirth.  

Marian Gaboirk extended the lead to 2-0 at 13:40 of the second.  Gaborik will get credit for the goal in the boxscore, but the goal belongs to Ruslan Fedotenko and his tremendous work from behind the net to the slot where he fired a perfect backhand pass to Gaborik for the tap-in.  The goal was Gaborik’s first of the series.
With the Garden flying from the second goal of the game, the Rangers tacked on a third seven seconds later when Brandon Dubinsky beat Neuvirth with a shot from the slot.  Once again full credit for the goal goes to Fedotenko.  Fedotenko broke in the zone off the face-off at center, shot wide, but hustled behind the net to win the puck back and fed Dubinsky for the goal.  The two goals in seven seconds was one off the team record of two goals in six seconds and two seconds off the NHL playoff record.

The Rangers outstanding second period was overshadowed by an abysmal third in which they squandered all three goals of their lead.  The Capitals came out with tremendous energy to start the third and the Rangers didn’t match it.  Alex Semin scored just 2:47 into the third on a goal in which Henrik Lundqvist attempted to cover the puck, but the whistle never blew and Semin finally stuffed it in.  There were definitely some quick whistles on the Capitals end of the ice in terms of stoppage for Neuvirth, which is fair as a comparison.  In terms of the play itself, Lundqvist never had control of the puck, so the fact there was no whistle was the right call.

Just 57 seconds after the Semin goal, Marcus Johannson brought the Capitals to within one when he was left all alone in front for the tap-in off the feed from Brooks Laich.

The worst call of the night came at 10:03 of the third when Avery was whistled for a phantom slash on Alex Ovechkin after Dubinsky was pulled down at the other end and got no call.  The Capitals did not officially convert on the call, but just four seconds after the penalty ended Washington tied the game, as Marcus Johansson deflected John Carlson's point shot by Lundqvist at 12:07.

Early in the overtime the Rangers were going to have a 2-on-0 with Dubinsky and Gaborik after a beautiful outlet pass from Ryan McDonagh, but Dubinsky was stopped by referee Paul Devorski.
Alexander Ovechkin broke in with 8:59 left in overtime only to be turned aside by the glove of Henrik Lundqvist.  Ovechkin came out at Staal on the point and when Staal’s shot attempt was blocked Ovechkin kept going leading to breakaway.

Video: Rangers Fans Serenade Boudreau With "Can You Hear Us?" Chant

On Monday, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said that the New York fans in Madison Square Garden were not loud enough.  You knew that the New York crowd was going to respond in a huge way.  After the Rangers took a 3-0 lead during the second period of Game 4 Madison Square Garden erupted in a chant asking Boudreau "Can You Hear Us?!"

Chris Drury Playing A Key Role Against Capitals

Jonathan Klein/Getty Images
Much has been written this season about the value of Chris Drury to the New York Rangers and most of it has to do with his lack of scoring for his salary.  The criticisms about his offensive production for his salary are clearly valid, but through three games of the Rangers series with the Washington Capitals Drury is showing where he can have an impact for this team. 
During the season the Rangers struggled with face-offs during the regular season but have seen Drury win 27 of his 35 (77%) trips into the circle during the series.  Making that stat more notable is the fact that no other Rangers center has won even 50-percent of their draws in the three games.  Because of the struggles of the other players on draws and Drury’s success, in Game 3, he only recorded 7:58 of ice time, but had 22 shifts in the game because he was used as a face-off specialist by coach John Tortorella.  In the game he went 15 of 19 on draws.  The numbers alone are impressive, but the impact it has on the game goes far beyond just the statistics. 
The Rangers are a team that when at their best possesses the puck and is able to grind on their opponent’s.  Puck possession starts with the face-off.  Winning draws allows the Rangers to work on their own game, but also keep the puck away from the highly skilled Capitals players.  Winning draws in the defensive zone allows for the team to breakout and stop the opposition from setting up their offense and Drury has been a crucial component of that in this series.
Beyond face-offs Drury has made his impact felt doing what he does in killing penalties and blocking shots.  Yes, there are a lot of players on the Rangers roster who do both of those things, but it still sends a message to every player in the room when the man with the “C” on his sweater, who has missed much of the year with various injuries, is diving in front of shots to help the team win.
It was also reported that before Game 1 of the series Drury pulled all of the players who had not seen playoff action aside and gave them an idea of what to expect which is what a veteran leader who has been through the wars before is supposed to do.  There is a lot of talk about giving Ryan Callahan the captaincy and he will certainly get it, but in his absence Chris Drury is showing why he was ever named the captain to begin with.  

Rangers Reaping Rewards of Avery Playing With an Edge Again

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Sean Avery is back in the New York Rangers lineup and back to playing the type of hockey he needs to so that he can be effective.  Down the stretch of the season there was a lot of discussion about not only his role this year, but his future with the Rangers organization.  Avery was a healthy scratch in five of the Rangers' final 11 games, as well as the first game of the playoffs.  Since being inserted into the lineup for Game 2 he has played like the Sean Avery of the past in that his energy level has been consistently high, he has been effective on the forecheck and caused havoc for the opposition.   He has logged 19:07 of ice time in the two games. 
There is still the lingering possibility that on any shift Avery is on the ice there is the risk he could explode and hurt the team with a bad penalty, but he has played smart disciplined hockey in the series and has helped to make his line with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust the Rangers best line. 
Avery has impressed to the point that the Rangers sent Mats Zuccarello down the AHL because he was not going to get back in the lineup.  His play has been so effective that it led coach John Tortorella to praise the winger.  Matt Ehalt of had the following quote:
"I think in the minutes he played (in Game 3), he was pretty consistent, as far as getting in on the forecheck, getting around the net, finishing his checks," Tortorella said. "Sean's biggest assets are his legs. If he starts thinking, he hurts himself. He just needs to go play and use his legs."
That quote from Tortorella is accurate, but also speaks to the way Avery has been mismanaged this year.  Avery is a player who has to play on the edge and without overthinking the game.  The problem is when the coach makes it clear that any mistake or bad penalty will lead to him sitting on the bench, then you end up with a player who does not do the things that makes them most effective.   

In the series Avery has been able to strike the balance between the energy the team needs and the discipline that Tortorella demands.  The Rangers need that balance to continue if they are going to even the series this evening as the Avery, Boyle, Prust line sets the tone for everything New York wants to do in this series.