The comeback has begun.
Where it stops, nobody knows; very possibly next Wednesday at The Garden.
The reason is simple. Nothing seems to faze this Rangers hockey club; not even a deficit with less than two minutes to go in the third period against a hermetically sealed goalie.
But this much is certain for the Blueshirts — what happened Friday night could be the start of something big.
Really BIG. Like overcoming the 3-1 deficit and winning the series.
Okay, the Rangers are still down three games to two; that we know.
But after their stirring 2-1 overtime victory — thanks to captain Ryan McDonagh‘s goal before a deliriously happy capacity crowd at The Garden — momentum has dramatically swung in the Blueshirts’ favor.
And this unreal turn of events could only have happened because of Chris Kreider‘s shot that beat the hitherto unbeatable Braden Holtby very late in the third period.
Like a sleeping giant suddenly awakened at the last moment, the revived Blueshirts eagerly return to the District of Columbia.
Invigorated, they will play Game 6 Sunday at 7 PM. Giddy beyond belief, Alain Vigneault‘s skaters are now believers.
“It’s a good, little confidence boost,” said Derek Stepan who assisted on both Rangers goals. “But we move on to Game 6. That’s where our focus is.”
Tying the series should be an exercise in imitation. All Vigneault’s skaters have to do is copy the template that brought them the nail-biting victory at MSG. Clutch goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist and timely goal-scoring by Kreider and McDonagh. Simple.
“We’re looking to get bodies to the paint in Washington,” Kreider asserted. “But it isn’t a bad thing to spread them (the Capitals defenders) out and make them play to the outside.”
Not that winning in Verizon Center on Sunday evening will be a walk in the Washington Mall. After all, home ice has certain advantages for the Capitals. But the Blueshirts should have the answers to silence the crowd.
“We just keep grinding away,” added Stepan. “We don’t have much of a choice but to feel good about ourselves.”
Primarily, it’s the virtue of Rangers stick-to-itiveness that was apparent leading to the tying goal in the final frame. With the series on the line, the Blueshirts relentlessly pressed and pushed and pulled and pressed again until, finally, their hometown hustle was rewarded.
Trailing 1-0 in the dying seconds of the third period, Kreider tied the game with only 1:41 left before his outfit faced elimination. That bit of business accomplished, the Seventh Avenue Skaters then wrapped up their melodramatic package.
The winning goal unfolded at center ice when a weak Capitals pass was turned into a Rangers move into the enemy zone. Stepan moved the puck to Jeper Fast who skimmed the biscuit to McDonagh. The Captain fired it through traffic for the redoubtable red-lighter.
Whether the Caps can effectively re-group for Game 6 remains debatable but not to the Washington coach.
“We’re okay right now,” argued Barry Trotz. “We saw their best effort today; I don’t think they’ve seen ours yet.”
The coach may have been alluding to his captain Alex Oveckin who was muzzled by Rangers checking and never launched one of his patented bullets.
“Right now,” said Troy Brouwer, a tenacious Washington attacker, “we’re disappointed because we were a minute-and-forty-one from going to the next series. We have to re-set and go home to our fans. We’re excited for Game 6.”
Heavily in the Rangers favor is their history of coming back from a 3-1 deficit, as was accomplished last year against Pittsburgh. Also there’s the knowledge that they have outshot and outplayed Washington throughout the series and, finally, the fact that Holtby can be beaten.
While the Washington defense has been solid it has not been impregnable and the origin of Kreider’s tying goal illustrates the point. Time and again, the Blueshirts penetrated the enemy zone, passing and freewheeling with impunity and often with no results.
Finally the Law of Averages caught up with the Rangers’ effort, starting with Stepan’s orchestration of Kreider’s goal.
Then came the decisive overtime goal following a long exchange of close calls at either end of the rink. Once again Stepan was the architect, setting up McDonagh for the shot that beat Holtby.
“We were getting some good looks,” added Vigneault. “Sooner or later one of them was going to go in and it did.”
Oh, yeah, and then another one did and that’s why the Rangers have started something BIG.
Here’s precisely how the Blueshirts got back on the trail to the Cup:
- CAN’T BREAK THROUGH: About four minutes into the game, Henrik Lundqvist fought off a Joel Ward wrister on a Caps three-on-one rush. The save set up a swift Rangers counterattack, but they failed to convert.
- SEIZING MOMENTUM: When a Mike Green interference penalty put the Blueshirts on the power play, they took control. But they could not foil Holtby, but generated six dangerous shots on goal.
- THE KING STANDS STRONG: With Alex Ovechkin planted firmly in front of the crease, Lundqvist made two sprawling saves to keep the Capitals at bay.
- KILLING THE PENALTIES: The Rangers would kill off two penalties later in the period with relative ease. On the first, Lundqvist kept a Mike Green one-timer out with a strong kick save; on the second, the Blueshirts netminder stoned Curtis Glencross on the edge of the crease.
- SETTING THE TONE: With the clock running down on the first period, Jesper Fast crunched Brooks Orpik behind the Caps net to send the Garden into intermission on a high.
- RANGERS FACEOFFS SIGNIFICANT: After being dominated in the dot during Games 3 and 4, the Rangers won 15 of 25 face-offs in the first period.
- BRASSARD CAN’T CASH: With Holtby out of the net, Derick Brassard could not find the goal, putting the puck over the crossbar.
- HOLTBY AGAIN: With Martin St. Louis standing alone in the slot, the snake-bitten winger was robbed by Holtby’s glove
- NIX SAYS NISKANEN: After Kreider wedged a rebound through Holtby’s pads, the puck was bound for the back of the net until Matt Niskanen swept the puck to safety.
- GLASS THE GRINDER: Tanner Glass played a strong period, generating scoring chances and wearing the Caps down with physical play in all zones.
- RANGERS CATCH A BREAK: Although Joel Ward was pushed into Henrik Lundqvist by Derek Stepan, the Caps goal was disallowed due to a goaltender interference ruling.
- FIRING AT BRADEN: After the second period, the Rangers were still in control of the game, putting 28 shots on goal to the Caps’ 18.
- STEPAN CAN’T STEP UP: Early in the third period, Stepan had a chance to break the tie, standing alone in the slot, but put the puck wide of the net.
- CURTIS CASHES IN: After a hit from Tom Wilson took out two Rangers deep in the offensive zone, Curtis Glencross carried the puck out with no defenders in sight; Lundqvist stopped his first attempt, but the left wing poked home the rebound to give the Capitals the lead.
- KREIDER BREAKS THROUGH: With Lundqvist on his way to the bench for an extra attacker, Kreider beat Holtby’s glove to keep the Rangers season alive.
- HENRIK HOLDS ON: With the game tied, the Capitals pushed hard for a winner, but Lundqvist snuffed out a Kuznetsov chance from behind the net, reminiscent of the winning goal in Game 1.
- HOLTBY HANGS ON: The Caps’ netminder left a dangerous rebound after a point shot from Dan Girardi, but was able to scoop up the loose puck ahead of a closing McDonagh.
- RANGERS REFUSE TO SHOOT: Despite being on a three-on-two rush, the trio of Kredier, Brassard and St. Louis over passed and did not get a chance to close out the game.
- LUNDQVIST STANDS STRONG: With Matt Niskanen walking in from the point, King Henrik fought off a dangerous blast to keep the Rangers in the game.