Thursday, May 10, 2012

Deja Vu: Caps force another Game 7

Let's be brutally honest. With a chance to close out this best-of-seven Conference Semi, the Rangers stunk. I could care less what the final shot totals were or how ridiculous Pierre McGuire gushed over Braden Holtby, who made routine saves without traffic. The Capitals did what they had to by taking it to the Blueshirts for a well earned 2-1 win in Game Six.

Now, it's deja vu for both teams. Yes. Let's not forget the Caps went seven against Boston too. They have already proven that home ice doesn't matter. If you think they're going to be afraid of our Game Seven history at MSG (5-0 all-time), forget it. Washington has outplayed the Rangers, beating them at their own game. If not for Joel Ward's penalty, we're probably discussing the offseason.

The Rangers have no one to blame but themselves. They weren't desperate enough, letting the Caps off the hook. Sure. The final tally says otherwise because Marian Gaborik scored with Henrik Lundqvist pulled in the final 60 seconds. His third of the series went off John Carlson with Carl Hagelin in front. But the Caps weren't about to let our team force overtime like the other day. They were hungrier and now it's onto a do-or-die seventh game again.

All that's on the line for the Blueshirts is their reputation. Win and all is forgotten including John Tortorella's mystifying line combos and overuse of an ineffective top power play unit that have hurt the team. Lose and it's the same old story. Not good enough to win when it counts. Forget Ottawa. That was the first round. I don't know about you but I'm sick of early exits. And if they blow it Saturday against a team that needed a new coach and similar system on the fly, that falls on everyone. Someone better step up.

The Capitals were superior once the puck was dropped. If the Rangers thought they had it wrapped, they obviously forgot that Game Five was over. The Caps are experienced enough to forget such a crushing defeat. All it took was an Anton Stralman penalty for their top three players to combine on a pretty power play goal. Classic passing from Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom to Alex Ovechkin for a rocket high glove. The same spot they picked to rally from a deficit three years ago. Lundqvist better fix it in two days because they've been having success.

What our goalie can't be responsible for is the lack of effort. Getting outworked, outhustled and outgrinded by a more skilled team willing to play the same way they do. The Caps block more shots. They also push our players to the perimeter and let Holtby see the puck. The only one he didn't was a similar result as Game Five hero Marc Staal's. It's the eighth seed that's gotten consistent traffic on Lundqvist. They're the ones making life difficult while our guys just aren't bringing it.

Yesterday sucked so bad I went to fill a prescription and went to the radio for the second period and a majority of the third. The Rangers are making this harder on themselves. Now, it's win or suffer a colossal defeat that could really hurt the club's future. Such losses can mess with the psyche. Look at the Canucks who never recovered from how they blew the Cup last year.

It's up to everyone to make sure it doesn't happen. And if Tortorella thinks giving Chris Kreider the kid treatment due to a poor Game Four is wise, he better take a look in the mirror before it's too late. The lines are a mess. He has hindered Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan is out of place with Brian Boyle. Brandon Prust should be on the fourth line cause he's playing hurt. It is ridiculous that Kreider is stuck with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell while Stepan is misplaced with Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko.

What in the world is Tort doing? He's overthinking trying combos that haven't been used all year. This isn't the place. Stepan, Kreider and Callahan had great chemistry against Ottawa. They were our best forechecking unit. By splitting them up like nomads, it's made life easier for Dale Hunter, who has just checked the Hagelin/Richards/Gaborik line. The cohesive trio has done their part, cycling the puck and contributing. But to win Saturday, they'll need help. It's time for the coach to go back to familiar combinations.

Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik
Kreider-Stepan-Callahan
Anisimov-Boyle-Fedotenko
Rupp-Mitchell-Prust

Artem Anisimov has been one of our better forwards this series. He can't be wasted. Keep him with Boyle and substitute Fedotenko for Prust, who is better suited for the crash line. Mitchell has also looked good, which is why Tort's used him on the second power play unit. If he doesn't trust the second PP to give our top players a rest, it could be their downfall.

Full marks to the Caps last night. But this is still the Rangers' series to win. The pressure is on.

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