Sunday, May 6, 2012

Caps Capitalize: Green does in Rangers to square series

Mike Green is someone who you have to watch closely. Especially when the Caps are on the power play. Sure. He hasn't been the same since all the injuries. But this is still a dangerous player who can impact a game. In Washington's 3-2 Game Four win in regulation, it was the All-Star defenseman who showed that form with a game deciding power play goal with under seven minutes left to tie the best-of-seven second round series 2-2.

It didn't go the Rangers' way last night. Not because the refs screwed us on a couple of calls. Sure. They did including Brooks Laich tripping up Ryan Callahan, who failed to clear the puck- resulting in Green's winner. A call that was missed by Brad Watson and partner Marc Joannette, who also failed to detect Alex Ovechkin slashing the stick of Brian Boyle a few minutes earlier with the game tied. The one they got rookie Carl Hagelin on was weak. However, that's the breaks. The Caps took full advantage of it to win the game and make tomorrow another pivotal Game Five at Madison Square Garden. They didn't win that one in Round One. I don't advise they tempt fate twice.

I get why some of our diehard Blueshirts are still upset. Between the blown calls and Ovechkin's dangerous hit on Dan Girardi in which they made the appropriate call of charging, I understand. But honestly, I didn't think it was bad enough to merit a suspension. The controversial Russian superstar slightly left his feet. Ovechkin's shoulder made contact with Girardi's head. I just didn't view it as suspendable. There's been far worse in these playoffs with the inconsistent Brendan Shanahan. Bottom line. The Rangers still had a power play at a time when the score was tied and didn't Capitalize. What makes anyone think another powerless play would've been any different? Even if Mike Knuble probably should've been whistled for delay of game.

Our power play is disgusting. It is embarrassing, humiliating, sickening and enough to make you puke. More often than not, they don't get anything accomplished. From losing key draws in the offensive zone to the indecisiveness, it allows opponents off easy. The Caps must've felt like it was a walk in the park. That's how sad it is. There's no fluidity and zero creativity. Good power plays are instinctive. Quick passes setting up shots before the D gets set. Not even Brad Richards has been able to solve the ineptitude that is our powerless play. Almost like it's the Brian Leetch/Sergei Zubov curse. Funny thing is Richards has factored in in a couple of big wins for actual power play goals. I'm just not counting on it.

What we should count on is for our Blueshirts to come with a much better effort. They mailed in a lopsided first, allowing the Capitals off the hook. So much for riding momentum. Washington dominated the first 20 by peppering Lundqvist with 14 shots including a half dozen on one power play! That's six shots. For those scoring at home, our team only got 20 through on Braden Holtby, who could've been on the beach checking out girls in bikinis. There was not enough gumption or urgency. The Caps were the more desperate team as Dale Hunter forecast because they didn't want to go down 3-1. Even if Hunter came off like a clown defending Ovechkin by labeling the hit "accidental," he had his guys ready. For whatever reason, ours weren't and that falls on John Tortorella.

If our fiery coach who's up for the Jack Adams can bully and blow off the media who are too afraid to ask him routine questions following a loss, then he can take the blame for the lackluster effort. Yes, the players who will go through a brick wall for him responded with a strong second, scoring twice thanks to the determination of Artem Anisimov. Arty accomplished something astonishing when he went to the front of the net and found Girardi's rebound and deposited it past Holtby to tie it. Unfortunately, he also got absolutely wrecked by a clean Nicklas Backstrom shoulder leading to the Caps' second goal. But it wasn't his fault Anton Stralman failed to take Backstrom, who had all day to bury one within 10 feet. Stralman was atrocious.

Chris Kreider also had a rough time, setting up Ovechkin's second of the series in the first when he gave away the puck right to the Washington captain, whose quick wrister fooled Lundqvist, going off his glove. Not the best goal to give up but considering the amount of rubber he saw, it was understandable. Without our Vezina frontrunner, the game would've been over. He made at least five huge saves to give his teammates a chance. If not for the one foul up on Backstrom's goal along with the powerless failures that got the fans back in it along with their team, it's a good bet we're talking about the Rangers going for the clincher instead of fighting tooth and nail like Ottawa.

When our team forechecked, the Caps couldn't handle it. They control the back boards. That's also where Anisimov scored his first of the postseason in Game One. Arty has been one of our most effective forwards. But they need more from Carl Hagelin and even Callahan, who's been fairly quiet outside of a huge Game Three in which he demonstrated why he's the leader of the club. Marian Gaborik also tallied for a second straight game thanks to hustle from Anisimov who negated an icing and then set up Gabby in front for a gimme. They spent the last few minutes of the second searching for the go-ahead that never came.

It wasn't all bad. Our team is resilient enough to fight back. But so are the Caps, who aren't playing like a No.8 seed, emulating other teams. Washington is four lines deep and boasts more skill. Hunter also plays everyone even if Tortorella finally gave Stu Bickel actual ice-time (9 shifts, 7:02). However, he still isn't utilizing the fourth line enough with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell playing well. Brandon Prust eventually replaced Kreider on the third line.

It's still their series to win with two out of three left at home. This is what they played for. Now it's time for the Rangers to make a stand.

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