Hartnett: That’s More Like It! Rangers Find Their ‘A’ Game At Best Possible Time
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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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A relieved Alain Vigneault stood at the podium following the Rangers’ 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. It took a full team effort to propel the Blueshirts into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“The boys came to play,” he said.
After Tuesday’s letdown, the Rangers found themselves in Game 7. It’s difficult to shine a light on one individual Ranger more than any other, because everyone from top to bottom brought their ‘A’ game on Wednesday night.
“When we have everybody contributing through the lineup like we have, that’s why you win series,” alternate captain Brad Richards said.
To lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, there can be no passengers. It takes a full-on commitment from four lines, three strong defensive pairings and a hot goalie. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. And the Rangers don’t have one of those in their lineup.
“Every line went out there and was moving their feet, and creating problems for them,” Richards said.
This team rolls with four lines that play a high tempo and maintain possession. All three of their defensive pairings are capable of playing shut-down hockey. And goalie Henrik Lundqvist thrives under the most intense spotlight.
In his last nine games when facing elimination, Lundqvist is 7-2 with a 1.43 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and three shutouts.
“We all knew that at some point, they were going to have a push and he would have to make the saves that we also needed,” Vigneault said. “He was real solid. We had a couple of breakdowns in front of our net and he made some really big saves.”
Lundqvist had 26 saves in Wednesday’s Game 7 victory. He stood tall when the Rangers suffered breakdowns, but Flyers goalie Steve Mason was the busier of the two goalies as he made 31 saves. Mason outplayed Lundqvist throughout the series, but came up just short.
“It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re the better team,” Lundqvist said. “It’s about finding ways to win hockey game, and that’s what we did today. We played outstanding. We created so many chances and we played really smart. We knew they were going to push in third and they came pretty hard, but the puck management was really good.”
BIG BOUNCE-BACK GAME FOR MCDONAGH AND GIRARDI
The Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi pairing bounced back after their rare blemish in Game 6. Together, the duo blocked nine shots and delivered seven hits in Game 7.
This pairing is capable of winning battles against the best lines and keeping the league’s most dangerous talents silent. They’ll have their hands full against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in New York’s next series against Pittsburgh. Should McDonagh and Girardi put the clamps on Sid and Geno, these two workhorses will get the national recognition they deserve.
STRUGGLING POULIOT-BRASSARD-ZUCCARELLO LINE STEPS UP
The Rangers’ best line became their worst through the first six games against the Flyers. Derick Brassard was stuck in a miserable funk and linemates Beniot Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello were playing below their standards.
When Dan Carcillo jumped out of the box near the three-minute mark in the second period, Zuccarello unleashed a spinning backhand pass that Carcillo buried to pull the Rangers ahead 1-0. The goal woke up Madison Square Garden and galvanized the Rangers, who out-shot the Flyers 18-5 in the second period.
“It was a special play by a really good player,” Carcillo said. “It was huge, especially at home. You get the crowd into it. So getting the first one was important.”
Brassard went on to have his best game of the series, assisting on Pouliot’s goal that came eight minutes later with a nifty feed. Brassard won 73 percent of his face-offs, an area where the Rangers had struggled earlier in the series.
He’s the kind of player who rises under pressure. It was unusual to see Brassard struggle earlier in the series, given his 12-points-in-12-games performance in last year’s playoffs. The Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line is back on track, and that’s a tremendous positive for the Rangers going forward.
NASH ISN’T SCORING — BUT HE’S CONTRIBUTING EVERYWHERE ELSE
Rick Nash failed to score a goal all series. If you’re criticizing Nash, you’re likely ignoring his entire body of work.
In Game 6, Nash delivered five powerful hits and worked his socks off for the Blueshirts’ cause. He tested Mason with five shots on goal and blocked two shots.
“I know a lot of times there’s a lot of emphasis being put on the scoresheet,” Vigneault said. “He made so many big plays tonight. He made so many big defensive plays at the right time. Those are just as important as a goal.”
The goals will eventually come for Nash. He’s too talented to be held down for much longer. Should he break out against the Penguins, his detractors won’t have any more ammunition.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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