By Brian Monzo
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Going into Game 2 against Washington, the Rangers certainly understand the Caps aren’t going to go away. Every teams know that this is a tough tournament to win, but the way this Rangers team is coached, they are looking at each game individually. In the Rangers’ mindset, there is no Game 3. Game 2 is the only game they know of.
What I noticed immediately (and expected) in the first game was the am0unt of open space on the ice. After watching the Rangers and Senators, Game 1 looked like the entire game was played with a four-on-four format. There was a ton of open ice. And the Rangers capitalized, cashing in a 3-1 win and taking the first game of the series.
Going into Game 2, I think things will tighten up a little bit, but as we all expected, the Rangers are finding ways to create more offense against the Capitals. Most importantly, they found ways to actually convert and score goals.
The statuses of both Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky are questionable at this point. What is certain, is that for the first time in a very long time, the Rangers have two offensive lines that they are confident can score goals any time throughout a game, in any situation.
We knew what the line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin was, but with the exception of Game 1 of the Senators series, Gaborik has been quiet. That will have to change, but that line gets attention from opponents and still controls the puck as good as any line in the NHL.
Their newly formed second line of Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider has been the main reason the Rangers are where they are at this point. Kreider has emerged as one of the Rangers’ top forwards in the playoffs. He has two goals and an assist since being given decent ice time. Callahan has been Callahan by hitting bodies, blocking shots and blah, blah, blah — everything we know he does. Stepan has been most impressive. He struggled early in the playoffs, but looks like a rejuvenated player and is noticeable on every shift.
The Capitals could come at the Rangers like the Senators did and throw the physical game at them, but at this point, I think the Rangers could match that kind of game. What the Capitals do that is very impressive is block shots, like the Rangers. It’s a gutty thing to do, but Capshead coach Dale Hunter has the players dropping down to cut off paths to the net. That would explain why both teams had less than 20 shots on goal last game.
I would expect a mirror image of Game 1 tonight at the Garden. I think the Rangers have an advantage in most categories in this series, but to me, the biggest thing the Rangers have going for them is confidence. They’ve been playing really good, not great and have still found ways to win. Just like they did all season.
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