All bromides, hoary sayings and clichés are lined up for the embattled Rangers as they head to their most important game of the year on Friday night at The Garden.
Take your pick of apt sayings because the next D.C.-New York challenge is about as MUST as it gets for the trying-to-stay-alive-in-the-playoffs Blueshirts.
The Capitals 2-1 victory — both goals by the virtually unknown Austrian, Andre Burakovsky — on Wednesday night at Verizon Center has left the citizens of Rangerville with the following well-known literary options.
- BACKS TO THE WALL: It’s a hoary saying, but a true line. “We’ll focus on the next game,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “Our game has been good; we’ve been getting looks.” To which the Caps Troy Brouwer, who helped set up both Caps goals, acknowledged. “The Friday night game will be one of the most difficult we’ve played in years.” That, of course, is because the Blueshirts backs are against the wall.
- READY FOR THE RANGERS ANNUAL 1-3 COMEBACK: A year ago, the Blueshirts stared elimination against Pittsburgh in the face and yet prevailed. Down three games to one, the New Yorkers valiantly rallied to win three in a row. “We know what it takes,” insisted Rick Nash, who went goal-less again despite some appetizing chances. Reminded of that Pittsburgh comeback series,Henrik Lundqvist added, “We have to believe. We have to stay positive.”
- SHOWING THEIR CHARACTER AND SKILL: “You can’t ask for a better work ethic,” Lundqvist declared. “We played a strong game.” MSG Networks analyst Ron Duguay had this forecast: “The Rangers will be angry coming out on Friday — and play a good game.”
- FINDING A WAY TO WIN: The Capitals, for the moment at least, own the formula to win games. This was evident even to the point of sizzling-hot goalie Braden Holtby stopping Carl Hagelin on a third period penalty shot. “I tried to beat him on the high glove,” Hagelin explained, “but Holtby made a good save.” Holtby also had “second goalies” in blocking-shots-defensemen Karl Alzner and Brooks Orpik. Overall, the Caps players deflected 25 New York shots. That’s a lot.
- HAVING 20-20 HINDSIGHT: The third period winning goal by Burakovsky resulted from a lost puck by captain Ryan McDonagh pinching along the left boards. The Caps tying goal in the second period by Burakovsky emanated from the failure of Marc Staaland then Chris Kreider to clear the rubber out of the New York zone. “Two mistakes cost us,” said Lundqvist. “It will happen.”
It’s happening because — among other things — the Capitals have become an inspired hockey club even when their ace Alex Ovechkin is practically invisible; as was the case in Game 4. In such instances, foot soldiers such as Brouwer deliver.
“Right now,” Brouwer pointed out, “as a team, we don’t want to be denied. We have confidence and momentum.”
Actually, the Rangers had momentum going for them when Derick Brassard put them ahead in the second period, beating Holtby under the crossbar. To do so, the Rangers center also had to out-hustle the chasing Ovechkin on the play. That lead was lost before the middle frame was over and the game was lost with stunning suddenness at the start of the third.
“The Capitals are a good team,” admitted Vigneault. “They found a way to score more goals.”
What puzzles the Blueshirts is their inability to be lamplighters when they were so good at it during the regular campaign.
“All year long we found a way to get that second goal,” lamented Lundqvist, “(but) it doesn’t matter how you lose, it’s still a loss.”
The primary issue confronting Vigneault is finding the formula to beat Holtby, whose confidence is at an all-time high.
MSG Networks analyst-former goaltender Steve Valiquette believes that Holtby and the Capitals can be beaten in Game 5.
“The Rangers still can lean on Holtby’s game,” said Valiquette. “The trick is to get him to implode.”
As for the human wall that the likes of Alzner and Orpik have constructed in front of their goaltender, Valiquette has an answer.
Steve suggests that the Washington defenders might be less inclined to get in front of rubber if the Blueshirts fired shots closer to their ears.
“Let them smell the puck,” added Steve.
Duguay sounded an optimistic note about Game 5 on the grounds that the Blueshirts did so many good things in Washington.
“The Rangers were the better team,” Duguay argued. “The result was because Washington got good bounces and the Rangers did not.
“On Friday, the Rangers have to stay the course.”
Or as an admittedly disappointed King Henrik concluded, “We just need to play a strong game, make a big play and score. We have to focus on winning one game for our fans.”
Sounds good to The Maven; now we wait and see!