Three down, one to go.
The Rangers have survived the dreaded three-goal lead.
Just barely, of course, but that doesn’t matter now. Who cares, the New York W — as in Win and Wonderful — never looked better.
As the Blueshirts return to Manhattan for the climactic Game Seven of the Metropolitan Division Final on Wednesday, their once-flicker of confidence is now a flame, lighting their Stanley Cup Thruway.
The Capitals, by contrast, have been vetoed with only one chance for redemption. Just like the Rangers. But at MSG, home ice will be an advantage in the Blueshirts favor.
Indefatigable — yet scary at times — the Rangers have been renewed in every way — from Chris Kreider‘s two-goal scoring machine to Henrik Lundqvist‘s prescient goaltending. Un-real, at crucial times.
The Rangers’ high-octane performance is generated by the superior spirit that enabled their counterattack from down 1-3 a year ago against Pittsburgh to win that memorable series in seven.
Now an encore is in the works following Sunday night’s 4-3 edging of the Capitals at the deflated Verizon Center.
Wasting no time, Kreider’s bullish speed and strength minimized Washington in the opening and closing minutes of the first period. By then the game had damaged the home club but the Caps sure made it close.
“There are still things to improve on going to Wednesday,” said Kreider. “For me it’s always nice to get a goal early. Remember this, they were team-oriented goals and I happened to be on the receiving end.”
Modestly said when the Big Guy could have made with some braggadocio; but there isn’t a Rangers fan who’ll complain about Kreider’s attitude. Right now it’s A-Number-One-Yankee-Doodle-Ipsy-Pipsy.
And that’s an understatement. The Blueshirts’ work under pressure speaks volumes for itself.
“It was a tense game,” said Lundqvist, “a great back and forth game. We found a way and now we go to Game Seven with determination and awareness.
“When they had the last power play late in the third we kept our cool. We did what we could to force a seventh game. We should be proud of our effort.”
For sure, The Garden’s foundations will be tested to the core once captain Ryan McDonagh leads his battalion on the ice Wednesday before a jubilant crowd.
We all know that nothing — as Yogi Berra prophesized — is in the bag until it’s in the bag but the feeling of destiny-to-be-fulfilled is being felt all over The Apple and in the Rangers heart of hearts.
And that goes for the super-cool coach Alain Vigneault.
“We came out strong in the first period and after we were up 4-1 it was exciting right to the end,” said AV.
“Going home we now have a chance knowing that Hank made the big saves and Kreider is now tough to handle for anybody.”
Looking to Wednesday, all signs suggest optimism for the New Yorkers as they now dominate every single important aspect of the game.
- PSYCHOLOGY: The Caps’ psyche has been shredded ever since Kreider tied Game Five at The Garden. Barry Trotz has not been able to put it together again. Nor will he on Wednesday. His captain Alex Ovechkin is an 0 as in zero. No goals again on Sunday night.
- GOALTENDING: As The Maven predicted on these pages the other day, it was only a matter of time before the Rangers would break the Braden Holtby spell. Once impregnable, Holtby is merely pregnable now. Henrik is at the very skyscraper of his game. (Doubt me? Ask Ovechkin.)
- HITTING: No matter how they try, the Caps have abjectly failed to intimidate the Rangers. If anything the Blueshirts have taken that strategy away from their foe. Sure Captain McDonagh got steamrolled by Ovi in the third period; but he simply took a breather and returned to his team.
- POWER PLAY: Washington’s PP is 00; somewhere between awful and worse. The Rangers often get more chances on their PK than the Caps do on their PP. Meanwhile, Kreider’s last second first period goal was on the New York PP.
- SPEED: It enables the Rangers to control the puck on icing foot races as well as cycling in the enemy zone. Then there’s that special brand of Kreider overdrive shared by many of his mates.
- NASH IN GEAR: Now that Rick has scored, the dam has been burst. Look out from here on out. Hey, the winning goal was scored by none other than — cue it maestro — Dan Boyle.
History is in the making, almost; no team has ever come from behind down three-games-to-one to win a series two years in a row. Well, now you never know, right?
What potholes must the Seventh Avenue Skaters avoid in Game Seven?
1. Overconfidence; 2. Overconfidence; 3. Overconfidence.
Any other questions?
I’ll be back with more on Tuesday.
The Rangers will be back with still more on Wednesday.
Inhale — deep breaths — exhale.
You know what I mean.
“We’ll try to play our best,” concluded King Henrik.
Hot off the presses: Lundqvist always has!