By Brian Monzo
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Despite losing Game 1, the Rangers showed exactly why they are going to be the hardest team in the NHL to eliminate in a seven-game series.
At times, Wednesday night’s game was slow paced, but it seemed as if the Rangers were waiting for their moment to strike. After taking the lead on an early third period goal by Matt Gilroy, the Rangers settled into their game. However, when Marc Staal and Dan Girardi collided in the neutral zone, it gave the Caps a chance to tie the game, and they did.
Questionable goal? Should the ref have blown the whistle? Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. The Rangers buckled down, giving themselves a chance to win, but a bad giveaway in OT allowed to Caps to capitalize and take the early series lead.
At the end of the day, you saw what you wanted to see from the Rangers. The last two periods, the Rangers’ forecheck was where it had to be, and Henrik Lundqvist played another dominant game, stopping 31 shots, though it appeared to be 71. The Rangers blocked shots, created a handful of opportunities, and their defense pinched frequently.
Going into the second game of series, three things will need to happen for the Rangers to even things out:
1 – They put 25 pucks on net, but Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth was rarely tested to the extreme. If the Rangers forecheck is going to need to be what it was the last two periods, Neuvirth will be tested a lot more. They need to create opportunities and get bodies in front of the net.
2 – Sean Avery needs to play, and Mats Zuccarello needs to sit. Avery may not be the player he was, but he is fresh, a good skater and still can mix things up. Zuccarello, while young, has not been the offensive player everyone has hoped for. He barely played in Game 1, and hasn’t been effective late in the season. If he can remain disciplined, and that is a big if, Avery can be a game-changer. Not with his talent, but ability to throw the opposing team off.
3 – Staal needs to play harder and meaner. He is the Rangers defensive workhorse, and played over 30 minutes, but his best play of the game was when he drove to the net, and put his stick into Neuvirth’s pads and after he made the save. Playoff time is not the time to be Mr. Nice Guy. If Staal can stop Ovechkin, and add that ‘mean player’ element into his game, he can steal this series.
The Rangers are a well coached team, and whether you like John Tortorella or not, between him and Mike Sullivan, they can figure out what went wrong and correct it. They, along with the players, will watch plenty of game film and coordinate a plan to bring it in Game 2. They need to come out physical, develop an early forecheck and take the crowd out of the game.
This has potential to be a long, grinding series — which is exactly what the Rangers want, though I am not sure my blood pressure can take it.
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