The momentum that the Rangers so energetically produced last weekend had better be rediscovered again by Wednesday night.
All the good things that were produced by the Blueshirts in Game 2 at The Garden Saturday suddenly became obsolete now that the Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division Final two games to one.
For sure, all of coach Alain Vigneault‘s thoughts must focus on Game 4 because things are starting to get very serious; as in the threat of falling behind, 3-1, in the series.
Wednesday at Verizon Center is where his New Yorkers have to produce an equation that solves Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who defused the Blueshirts, 1-0, Monday night in D.C.
To say that the Rangers are frustrated might be the understatement of the week. They have skated hard; hit hard, outshot the Caps and yet are behind their hosts because of a strange deflection of a centering pass.
Solutions for tying the series are available in the Rangers dressing room. They next must be converted to action.
“We have to work for our opportunities,” insisted Rick Nash who played an outstandingly aggressive, but goal-less game. “For us now it’s going to be a matter of will. We’ve got to work for our luck.”
Caps fourth-liner Jay Beagle provided the bad fortune for the Seventh Avenue Skaters at 7:31 of the middle period when the game was up for grabs and the Rangers were breezing along with the breeze.
Beagle’s seemingly innocent behind the net backhander caromed off defenseman Keith Yandle‘s skate — and a tiny bit of Henrik Lundqvist‘s as well — into the net.
“It hit a couple of skates,” said a distraught defenseman Dan Girardi, “and in.”
Ironically, it was a lesser-known Cap who wounded the Rangers, not Alex Ovechkin who played a powerful game though foiled by Lundqvist. Washington’s captain viewed the winning play from a different prism than the visitors.
“We won that battle for the puck,” The Big 8 explained, “and it wound up in their net. Now we start concentrating on Wednesday’s game.”
The Rangers brain trust — and most of the players — agree that Washington’s defense has clogged the area in front of Holtby better than most opponents do.
The result is that shots that head goalward harmlessly bounce off shins and sticks.
“We’ve got to get in front more and get our chances,” said Lundqvist who made 21 saves, many of the difficult variety. “It came down to us not getting enough clean opportunities.”
As it happened, one of the best shot-blocks was executed by the Rangers Martin St. Louis in the second period.
The Big-Little Guy then orbited on a breakaway but was stopped cold by Holtby after hustling-back Brooks Orpik distracted Marty just enough to brake his deke.
“The Rangers played hard and had chances,” noted MSG Networks analyst Ron Duguay. “Right now, the problem is that the Caps clutter the front. On Wednesday, our guys have to find the open lanes.”
On the plus side, New York’s penalty-killing was flawless while the Blueshirts — for the most part — had the better of the play.
But looking ahead to Game 4, it is becoming apparent that A.V. must blueprint a more effective offense. Here’s what has to be done to knot the series at two games apiece:
- MORE NASH: This main scoring man appears to be moving into a higher gear. One of Rick’s deflections nearly beat Holtby from the edge of the blue paint. Nash also broke up several enemy attacks at the defensive end. He displayed a sense of engagement and fearlessness at both ends of the ice. He should get more ice time and that could mean double-teaming Rick in strategic situations. It’s becoming a matter of necessity.
- MORE KEVIN KLEIN: The recently-returned d-man played aggressively and well on Monday. His offensive side should be revved up as well. If the forwards aren’t scoring enough, the defense must help and Klein has the shot to do so.
- MORE KEVIN HAYES: No, he didn’t score either, but the rapidly-improving forward was dominating in many stretches and delivered some solid offense in the fading third period. He should get a lot more ice time.
- MORE CHRIS KREIDER: He looked strong taking five shots while delivering six hits. The two strong boys — Chris and Kevin — should get more energetic as the series wears on and should be exploited for their size, shots and savvy.
- MORE FACE-OFF WINS: This bugaboo of Washington dominance of the draws is getting to be a bigger and bigger strategic debit for the Blueshirts. This must be stopped on Wednesday.
- MORE POSITIVE THINKING: Despite the loss the Rangers were the faster team and created chaos around Holtby. The players must believe that the Law of Averages will favorably catch up to them in Game Four.
“Let’s face it,” said Lundqvist, “Washington has a fine team with good goaltending. But we can come back and win.”
I still believe that they will — but not in the five games as I had predicted.
Sorry about that but I underestimated the Caps fourth-liners and one of them is named Beagle.