Sunday, April 19, 2009

R1 G2: All Hail The King!

The series between the Rangers and the Capitals was often previewed as the offense of Ovechkin and company against Henrik Lundqvist. Well, on Saturday Henrik Lundqvist decidedly won that battle as he backstopped the Blueshirts to a 1-0 win.

It is outright bizarre that Lundqvist has not been included in the conversation for NHL MVP as the Rangers clearly would not be in the playoffs, much less up 2-0, without him.

Hank didn't make many highlight-reel saves, but he made the timely ones and the defense in front of him kept the second-chance tries to a minimum. It was a good recipe for success and it allowed the Rangers to skate out of DC with a strong advantage in the best-of-seven series.

*It is amazing the standard that we hold him up to when you can say that Alex Ovechkin barely showed up for this one. He still had six shots, he still came within inches of tying the game in the third period and yet he was a disappointment for Washington fans. Not that I'm complaining ...

*But think about what the Caps may be like on Monday if OV shows up and they get the same level of goaltending? Danger Will Robinson, danger. Varlamov really was quite good and can hardly be hung for the loss. His positioning was solid, he kept his temper despite Avery lurking around his crease and he had absolutely no chance to stop Cally's goal.

*That goal was quite pretty - OV's pass goes to Timbuktu, is picked up by Dubi, shoveled forward to Naslund, Nazzy takes it deep and makes Tom Poti look even stupider than usual before perfectly putting the puck on Cally's stick for a chip into the upper reaches of the net. What a tally for Cally.

*As for Poti, that was one of the best things he has ever done for the Rangers. For once his ridiculous incompetence paid off for the Blueshirts. And watching him go back and forth with Avery is just quality theater.

*The current Ranger Poti, Wade Redden was actually quite solid - to the point where I won't even boo him right off the bat on Monday, if you can believe that. He hustled and was physical, which is all we ever asked for. Sure, he still wastes minute after minute of power play time and often puts his teammates in bad spots with ill-positioned passes but Redden played defense. Not $6.5 million defense, but defense. Small steps.

*The rest of the defensive corps - aside from Staal's gaffe that set up OV's crossbar hit - was just as spectacular as the goaltender the stood before. Washington was unable to get to most rebounds and Hank saw almost all of the shots from distance.

*NBC's coverage was crap, and the commentary was terrible. Two of the more egregious cases were Eddie O saying the Caps need to shoot low on Hank and Panger saying if he was Tortorella, he would congratulate the Rangers on good line changes. And as much as Doc is revered, he did call a shot “a whirling steamer.” Umm ... ??

*Now a different meaning of that same phrase could apply to the Ranger power play. The Blueshirts went 0-5 with the man advantage and struggled to get open shots or even shots through traffic. It is not so much a testament to the Caps penalty killers rather than the lack of creativity on the part of the Rangers.

*Nik Zherdev saw three minutes of time on the special team and just 10:15 total. If he doesn't step up and play, he hopefully will have signed his ticket out of town. The other Nik - Borat - has been much better. He used his size well, got some good shots off and stood up for his teammates - he was the first one in on John Erskin when the defenseman cheap-shotted Sean at the end of the opening period.

*One of the funnier quips I have heard about the bandwagon Cap fans is that they are told to Rock The Red so they know which team to root for. Well, when the Washington offense went quiet, so did the fans. The Garden has gone deathly silent in the past but not during a playoff game (to the best of my recollection). The fans could have helped pick up their struggling team and they did not.

*If the game was in the Garden, there would have been quite the cheer for Freddie Sjostrom. He goes out writhing in pain and is back in the ice the next shift. He hasn't fully matured into the two-way threat that he has hinted at but is definitely a big part of the team.

*I spent much of the game over at Japer's Rink in the open game thread and the Caps fans (and many pension plan puppets - Leaf fans) complained about the Rangers diving left and right. There were a few tumbles that looked extreme but I don't think there was much embellishment on either team's parts. And for what it's worth, the officiating wasn't terrible. It wasn't good by any means, but it wasn't terrible. The stripes allowed the teams to dictate the tempo, which was a nice change from Game 1.

*Stat of the game: Rangers blocked 29 shots to the Caps 13.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Markus Naslund - one assist.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 35 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Varlamov - Watching the game, you would never know that it was just his sixth NHL game. He solidified the goaltending position and showed why the Caps had confidence in him with cool, collected play.
2-Cally - Not only did he score the gorgeous, lone goal, but he is the damned Energizer Bunny of the Blueshirts. He is hustling shift in and shift out, on both sides of the ice.
1-Hank - He saw the shots; he stopped the shots; the Rangers won.

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