Saturday, April 14, 2012

Game 2 Preview: Rangers look to make it two for two

It wasn't perfect by any means. However, the top seeded Rangers avoided the plague that's hit Vancouver and Pittsburgh, prevailing over the Senators 4-2 in Game One to draw first blood in the first round series.

Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brian Boyle and Brad Richards all scored and the Rangers stifled a dangerous Ottawa power play with even Boyle taking Erik Karlsson off the ice. Our PK got it done with plenty of help from Henrik Lundqvist, who following Callahan's opening goal of the series, made money stops as the Sens dominated play for roughly 20 minutes until John Tortorella used a timeout.

At that point, the Blueshirts were clinging to a one-goal lead and Ottawa had outshot them 21-8. The Senators' aggressive forecheck had puck possession and kept forcing us to ice it. In fact, they took six icings, making me roll my eyes as I watched at home with Justin. Our Dad went for the first night. It will be our turn tonight for Game Two. Moments prior, I hinted to my brother that maybe he should burn the timeout. And so, Tort did.

Afterwards, like magic our guys woke up and started taking the play to Ottawa. Eventually, it paid off as Gaborik took advantage of Jared Cowan, stealing the puck and then patiently outwaiting Craig Anderson before going five-hole for a momentum swinging second goal that got MSG going again. With no help from the powerless play, Boyle took matters into his own hands thanks to a great effort play by Artem Anisimov, who slid the puck to Brian who then rifled one off Karlson's stick and in for 3-zip with under a minute left in the second.

This was what Garden Faithful had waited for. For our team to come alive and show why they earned home ice in the conference. The Sens aren't your average eighth seed, boasting game breakers like Karlsson and Jason Spezza, who would have a nice set up for ageless captain Daniel Alfredsson, who broke the shutout. Ottawa possesses a ton of speed and pinch at every opportunity. Kyle Turris, Milan Michalek and Nick Foligno are good players and Colin Greening had a net presence in the first game, forcing Lundqvist to make a nice stop on a deflection.There's a reason they turned it around. Paul MacLean is rarely mentioned for Coach Of The Year. So, it won't come easy.

In many aspects, it's a contrast in styles with the eighth seeded Sens looking to run and gun while our team prefers to bruise and batter their way to wins. Callahan in particular set the tone with not only the goal off hard work, outmuscling Filip Kuba, which made my premonition come true. But with his relentless work ethic on display, leading by example with some thunderous hits. He led the Rangers with seven while playing the kind of spunky hockey this town has come to appreciate. On Adam Graves' birthday, it was appropriate that Captain Cally would play his butt off. He is the most popular Blueshirt since Gravy.

Even more encouraging was the play of rookie Carl Hagelin, who took Foligno off the puck to feed Richards for a slam dunk that put it out of reach early in the third. Hagelin never stops working. He's the perfect ingredient on a skilled top line that came on. They'll need a better start today. Our team needs to be more consistent. Play to win.

Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi were outstanding against the Spezza line, who could get a boost if MacLean opts for Alfredsson and switches Greening. Even when on their heels, our two top defensemen made the hustle plays, keeping most of the Sens' chances to the perimeter. You know as the series moves on, Ottawa will drive the net looking to distract Lundqvist. Particularly Chris Neil, who took a few runs in the third. Marc Staal had a strong game, making several smart defensive plays. They need him to be part of this. Mike Del Zotto was quiet and partially responsible for both goals, failing to take Alfredsson and then taking himself out of position on Erik Condra's gimme that made things interesting. Del Zotto is vital to our team's offense but also must eliminate the mistakes. Tortorella isn't comfortable playing Stu Bickel and Anton Stralman down the stretch.

Another Ranger who needs a better game is Derek Stepan. He struggled down the stretch and wasn't effective despite better efforts from linemates Anisimov (2 assists) and Callahan. D-Step is our second center with Brandon Dubinsky looking cohesive on the checking line with Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko. He's got the tools to contribute. Look for him to make a difference on the power play and find open teammates.

The fourth line of Mike Rupp, John Mitchell and Brandon Prust got pinned in for a shift, nearly giving up the tying goal. Oddly enough, Rupp then had a great chance when Anderson scrambled way out of the net to prevent a breakaway. But the big man couldn't hit the vacant net from center ice. It wasn't a great angle. Prust took an undisciplined minor in the offensive zone and Mitchell was invisible. Rupp more noticeable but for that missed shot. If Tort's gonna trust them, they have to be better. Otherwise, he shouldn't hesitate to insert Chris Kreider, who at least could give the line some offense. Knowing the coach, he'll stick with what he's got unless the situation presents itself.

Tortorella is loyal to his troops. He loves them and in turn, they have his back. All you had to do was see the response after the timeout, which got part of MSG's Play Of The Game. Tortorella is good at reading our team. He knows what buttons to push. With a chance to go up 2-0 with the series shifting to Ottawa, they shouldn't need any extra motivation. Go for the jugular.

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