Friday, May 18, 2012

Dubinsky loss felt

The Rangers have gotten here without one of their top six forwards. Tomorrow, they'll try to rebound from a disappointing performance in Game Two in which they were outhustled and outmuscled. The sixth Battle Of Hudson will continue without Brandon Dubinsky, who practiced today for the first time since his leg injury knocked him out of the first round. Or as the Rangers term it, "lower body." 

What probably gets lost in a forgettable season for Dubinsky is that he's still an important piece to the puzzle. Even in a year where he couldn't score into an ocean, the gritty Alaskan does other things well which help the team win. It would be arrogant to ignore the size and strength he adds to an undersized lineup. Especially against a bigger, stronger opponent whose all out attack is getting to the Blueshirts no matter what John Tortorella says. Truth is I wasn't very confident going into this match-up for two reasons.

1.The Devils style- They're no longer a team that sits back. Instead, pressing the attack while taking away the walls. Something the Flyers couldn't handle.

2.Fourteen Games- Let's face it. Our club has grinded it out all year. The wear and tear from an 82-game schedule along with going seven versus Ottawa and Washington isn't the best recipe for success. Especially against an opponent who dismissed the Flyers with ease and got extra rest. The Devils already proved that losing Game One doesn't matter.

The Rangers can't afford a repeat. The good news is our team won't quit like a battered Philly team did. They're better equipped for the Devils due to Henrik Lundqvist and a blueline anchored by Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. All three log take on big responsibilities with McDonagh and Girardi matched up against the Devils' top line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. Despite a strong response Wednesday, they've yet to score at even strength. In fact, outside of Kovalchuk's rocket for a power play goal, you didn't notice him. If only it were that simple.

The Blueshirts have their work cut out due to the Devils' balance. It wasn't the top two lines that did the damage but the supporting cast which features Calder candidate Adam Henrique, David Clarkson and Ryan Carter, who were the keys to New Jersey evening the best-of-seven Conference Final. Considering that our D must focus on continuing to limit the top line along with Patrik Elias' line that features Petr Sykora and banger Dainius Zubrus, it's a tall task. Thus far, it's the Devils who are winning the battles along the boards, finishing checks and forcing mistakes. Their style has wreaked havoc, often pinning us in for long stretches.

If the Rangers want to beat their archrival, they must turn the tables. The Devils can be forechecked. But not when they've outplayed us for four of the first six periods. We still saw what happened when they pushed back with a dominant third to pull out Game One and a strong second that had them up a goal before Marian Gaborik dogged it. It still was harsh for Tortorella to punish his top scorer due to how paper thin our offense is. With Ryan Callahan a shell of himself, it's amazing they've won nine games. It's basically been Brad Richards, Chris Kreider and Gaborik following Brian Boyle's concussion. He's not the same which further complicates things. Derek Stepan has done it in spurts but only has one goal. His line has been our best this series with Kreider creating issues for the Devils defensively.

You can't expect a 21-year old rookie fresh out of college to carry the burden. That falls on our leaders. Gaborik must be much better beginning tomorrow along with Richards and Callahan. Carl Hagelin also was quiet the other night and still hasn't scored. With Tortorella playing games with Artem Anisimov despite the big Russian being one of our most consistent players, they definitely miss Dubinsky, who always seems to rise to the occasion against the Devils. He plays with emotion and gets underneath the skin of Game Two hero Clarkson. Our coach is trying Mike Rupp with Boyle and Anisimov in Game Three. The same Rupp who hasn't registered a point and has been under utilized. It reeks of desperation.

Is there any question that the Rangers couldn't use Dubinsky, who is a presence in all three zones? When he's not scoring, Dubinsky still is solid defensively and can force turnovers and start counters that lead to scoring chances. He also is effective on the forecheck and would allow our team to control the action more. Aside from being a deterrent, he's a good player. With Brandon Prust banged up, the Devils have nobody to worry about. We're easier to play against. So while everyone pines for Mats Zuccarello who didn't practice again, it's Dubinsky's size that's more essential against the toughest opponent we've faced.

Without him, it'll be a hard series to win.

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