‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Some of the names and faces have changed, but this current Rangers group is playing hockey worthy of comparison to last year’s team that came closest to reaching the Stanley Cup Final since that magical year of 1994.
After falling into a 2-0 hole, the Rangers have proven their resiliency by evening their first-round series with the Capitals at two games apiece. They’ve done it by playing gritty hockey typical of a John Tortorella-coached team.
Seeing massive underdogs in the Islanders draw even with the usually mighty Pittsburgh Penguins — and the San Jose Sharks sweeping the Vancouver Canucks in what was supposed to be a tight series — has proven anything can happen in these playoffs.
The Penguins have been exposed. Huge question marks surround Pittsburgh’s goaltending situation. Even if Tomas Vokoun shakes off the rust and brings his best game, he could be undone by the slow-footed Swiss-cheese defense in front of him.
WHY NOT THE RANGERS?
Let’s face it, the Rangers have a lot of positives going for them right now. They’re playing shutdown ‘D’ on Washington’s biggest offensive weapons, boast a number of emerging play makers of their own and have seized the momentum in this series without major contributions from Rick Nash or Henrik Lundqvist playing at the peak of his powers.
GIRARDI NEUTRALIZING OVECHKIN, DOING IT ALL
Dan Girardi leads all playoff defenseman with 19 blocked shots. During Game 4, Girardi blocked five shots and his pairing with Ryan McDonagh completely neutralized Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin.
“These last couple games, especially – we’ve had a lot better neutral zone structure. It’s minimized his, you know, everybody’s speed,” McDonagh said.
Girardi and McDonagh put the clamps on the explosive Ovechkin all night. They were on the ice for 44 of 46 Ovechkin shifts and only allowed him one shot on goal. The stout blue-line duo held Ovechkin and playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom to just two total shots.
As a whole, the Rangers blocked 34 shots in Game 4. Captain Ryan Callahan had a team-high seven blocks in the Blueshirts’ 4-3 victory.
Meanwhile, Girardi was the player who breathed life into the Rangers’ power play. Derick Brassard worked a bit of magic and unleashed a nifty pass to an open Girardi at the top of the left circle. Girardi hammered a one-timer past Braden Holtby stick side low.
While Girardi scores only four or five times in a typical season, Derek Stepan believes the heart-and-soul defenseman has a knack for getting the important goals.