Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Faceoffs key big win for Blueshirts

One of my favorite memories hanging out with our Jersey hockey crew had to be when we watched Coaches Corner with eccentric personality Don Cherry. The always controversial former Bruins coach who led them to a Cup has been a fixture on Hockey Night In Canada for decades. Love or hate him, he is always interesting.

I was introduced to Grapes by John, Tim and Brian @sambone73 one night in South River. From that moment on, I was hooked. Cherry has had many outrageous rants along with his zany outfits that would make Craig Sager drool. One of his absolute best came several years back on faceoffs. For all the anti-Grapes sentiment, the man does bring up good points. One which I continue to want to see from our D when pressured. Lift the puck out just as long as it's not a delay of game.

However, it's his passion about faceoffs that rings true. Puck possession is crucial during any game. If you win a majority of the draws, there's a good chance you have the puck more and are able to dictate. In Game Four, the Caps won the big ones and the game. Last night, it was the Rangers' turn. Of the 49 faceoffs, the Blueshirts controlled 28 or 57 percent. Never was that more evident than on Brad Richards' tying power play goal and Marc Staal's OT winner.

On the first goal, Richards cleanly won it with 21 seconds left. If he doesn't, there's a good chance the Caps get possession and clear without icing the puck. Our team was on a power play with Henrik Lundqvist off for a six-on-four. So, one clear could've been the difference. Instead, Richie controlled it and eventually the puck came to Mike Del Zotto, who wisely passed for Ryan Callahan in front. He had two cracks at it only to be denied by Braden Holtby. But Richards somehow stuffed the puck in to tie it with 7.6 seconds left. The NHL officially changed it from 6.6 to 7.6. What if it had been 7.7?!?!?!?!?!

For the game, Richards went 12-and-6 in the faceoff circle, winning a good chunk of the 28. However, he wasn't the only player who stepped up. While Brian Boyle was a solid 10-and-8 totaling 22 between him and Richards, it was little regarded John Mitchell who went 4-for-4.

That included the deciding faceoff win that went to Staal at the right point. With Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan in front, Staal moved to the left and then fired a shot which deflected off a sliding Cap past a screened Holtby. On the winner, many things went right starting with Mitchell, who picked a great time for his first point of the playoffs. In my last recap, I begged for our team to win draws, shoot and get traffic. They did all three, resulting in pandemonium on Fashion Avenue.

In the postseason, it's the little things that win. In this instance, the team's success on faceoffs won them Game Five- allowing the Blueshirts to take a 3-2 series lead with Game Six at Verizon Center tomorrow. They're one win away from the Conference Finals. It'll be the toughest.

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