If we didn’t know any better, you’d swear the Rangers are trying to give their fans anxiety attacks. In finding a way to survive another elimination game, the Blueshirts held off the Caps 4-3 to take Game 6 at wild Verizon Center.
There’ll be a Game 7. It’ll be played Wednesday at MSG in what should be a raucous environment. The Rangers ensured it by clinging onto a one-goal lead for dear life after the Caps mounted a furious rally that cut a 4-1 third period lead down to a single goal with 8:37 still left in regulation.
In what amounted to a rope a dope strategy, they sat back too much and allowed the Caps to bring the kitchen sink. Thankfully, Henrik Lundqvist didn’t budge even after permitting goals off the sticks of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward. Under siege throughout, he stopped 42 of 45 shots. Astonishingly, the Caps attempted 96 shots. Fifty-one of which never made it to Lundqvist. As a team, the Rangers turned back the clock to the Tort days blocking an astounding 34 shots while forcing another 17 Caps misses. Despite out-attempting the Rangers 96-55, Washington never was tied.
A big performance from Chris Kreider allowed his team to seize early control. He scored twice in the first period helping the Rangers build a two-goal lead. Both goals were incredible given the circumstances. The first came following a strong opening shift from the Caps’ third line of Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer and Andre Burakovsky. A smart Jesper Fast clear off the boards allowed a flying Kreider to break in on Braden Holtby. With Matt Niskanen on him, he had enough strength to stay with it scoring a highlight reel goal 40 seconds in. In between Kreider’s next goal which came with one second remaining in the first period, the Caps and Rangers put on a show.
Finally, there was lots of offense. Uncharacteristically, the teams combined for 37 shots in a very entertaining period. There wasn’t much defense played. It was all about the goalies. At one end, the Rangers applied heavy pressure. Using a forecheck that started from behind the Caps net, they generated a ton of opportunities. Holtby made some huge pads stops on J.T. Miller and Dominic Moore to keep his team only down one. At the opposite end, Lundqvist saw more action than he’s seen throughout. The Caps came in swarms. Particularly their second line of Kuznetsov, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, who coach Barry Trotz took off the top line moving Marcus Johansson up with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Those moves worked making the Caps more dangerous. They just weren’t able to beat Lundqvist early.
A bad penalty from Troy Brouwer with 3.6 seconds left proved costly. He roughed Carl Hagelin knocking his helmet off. As bad as the Rangers power play has been, they somehow made the most out of those 3.6 seconds. Off a well executed faceoff win from Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard got a tricky low shot that Holtby couldn’t control leaking right to Kreider who buried the rebound with 0.3 seconds left. Video review confirmed that his shot went in beating the buzzer for his third goal in two games. That put the Rangers up 2-0 after one.
Any thoughts of an easy game were erased right away at the start of the second. On a great shift by the Caps’ new second line, Lundqvist fought off a Ward shot but it caromed right to Chimera who beat Kevin Klein to the rebound scoring just 28 seconds in to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Following the goal, Hagelin got nabbed for roughing up Brouwer who sold it by putting his head up. But the Rangers penalty kill didn’t buckle. Even with Ovechkin getting one of those patented wrist shots which Lundqvist stopped. The Caps did a better job activating their defensemen. In particular, John Carlson who actually led them with seven shots. They also set up Mike Green but he was limited to just one in four attempts. Niskanen registered two shots out of eight attempted.
As hard as it is for Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to match-up against Ovechkin, it was the Caps’ second unit which gave the Rangers fits. Ward’s big body made them tougher to check for the second pair of Marc Staal and Klein. Combining his grit with Chimera’s speed and Kuznetsov’s skill made them a tough assignment. They were the Caps’ most effective line. Not coincidentally, they combined for all three Washington goals.
The Rangers weren’t able to generate much in the second. It was mostly Caps who pressed the action with a relentless forecheck. They held a 18-4 edge in shots but still found themselves behind thanks to Lundqvist. There’s been games where he’s allowed less but quite honestly this was his best game of the postseason. The amount of traffic he dealt with and the quality of shots was insane. There was this one save he made on Brouwer that was unreal. I don’t know how he stopped it. That’s what Hank does when his team needs him most.
Entering the third, I sent out a tweet that basically said that Rick Nash needed to score a goal for them to win. Either him or Martin St. Louis. Sure enough, they combined for a huge goal 54 seconds in when Nash took a St. Louis centering pass in front and patiently out-waited Holtby tucking home a forehand for his first goal of the series (2nd overall). Brassard got the secondary helper getting the play started.
The goal gave them a huge lift. Up two, they played with confidence. Able to keep the Caps to the outside, the Rangers had the better of the play. Eventually, another strong shift down low resulted in a goal from Dan Boyle. On just a tremendous shift by the fourth line including Tanner Glass who covered for a pinching Marc Staal who kept the play alive, J.T. Miller worked the puck to James Sheppard who made a perfect backhand saucer pass for a Boyle one-timer top shelf increasing the lead to 4-1 with 15:36 left.
Everything seemed fine. Kreider had a chance for the hat trick but Holtby gloved it. Suddenly, the Caps played more desperately. They sent in all five skaters and began an all out assault. Their forecheck forced Ranger mistakes. Finally, a Stepan giveaway led directly to Kuznetsov coming out and firing one past Lundqvist at 7:40 from Karl Alzner and Ward.
Back in it, they didn’t stop. It was only a matter of time before Ward got inside position on Klein getting to loose puck and putting it past Lundqvist less than three minutes later to suddenly cut it to 4-3 at the 10:33 mark. At that point, coach Alain Vigneault had seen enough using a rare timeout to stop the Caps’ momentum. While it didn’t prevent them from coming awfully close to tying it, it allowed his team to regroup.
The final 9:27 felt like an eternity. There were moments where I looked at my brother and told him there’s no way they could survive unless they generated a couple of shifts in the Caps zone. It was crazy. Washington seemed like they had an extra man the whole time. As Doc Emrick would describe, the total chaos didn’t stop Lundqvist from denying Ovechkin and Carlson. It didn’t prevent our D from blocking shots. They had to. It was desperation mode. At one critical juncture, a big Ovechkin hit on McDonagh sent him to the locker room. I thought he wasn’t returning fearing it was his left shoulder. But the captain returned just in time.
You knew there was gonna be at least one more hair raising moment. That occurred when the refs mistakenly sent Sheppard off for delay of game with 2:40 left. To the naked eye live, it was obvious that his clearing attempt touched the glass before going out of play. However, the call was erroneously made by one of the linesmen. So, the Caps had a great opportunity on the power play.
Unable to beat Lundqvist with a 5-on-4 in the early portion, Trotz went for it pulling Holtby for an extra man to give his team a two-man advantage. But the Rangers penalty killers did a good job allowing Lundqvist to see the shots including a Carlson attempt with no one in front. As much pressure as they got, they couldn’t beat our goalie when it counted. He wouldn’t allow it.
There’s one more game left in what’s been a epic second round series. Every game has been decided by one goal. That’s the Rangers’ specialty. They’ve now managed to play all 11 games this postseason with one goal the difference. Dating back to last year’s Stanley Cup Final versus the Kings, they have set a playoff record with 13 consecutive one goal games. If that’s what’s required for them to advance, fine. I hope they have one more big game in them. It will be the hardest to win against a very tough opponent.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Chimera–Kuznetsov–Ward, WSH (combined for 7 points, 15 SOG, +9-any doubt they’re back together for Game 7)
2nd Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (2 goals incl. a PPG with 1 second left in 1st-3 goals in last 2-the bigger the game, the better he gets)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (42 saves incl. 34/35 thru 2-money performance from the King)