Thursday, April 23, 2009

R1, G4: Three Down, One To Go!

"That's why we showed up for 40 games, for nights like these. Best game of the year." - Mr. X From The Blue Seats

I don't think I could have said it better. Wednesday night's 2-1 win over the Caps was the best game of the season. It was utterly astounding, utterly frustrating and utterly rewarding. To be honest, I still haven't been able to relax (maybe that was because I had to crash some sleep and run to work, but still). The last period was so on the edge of your seat insane that it will take at least until Friday to finally unwind - just in time to get all wrapped up again in a possible season ender. But first, there was this one and What. A. Game.

Let's get right into it:

*It doesn't happen often that one of the best moments of the game was a time out called outside of the final minutes but John Tortorella's decision to use his break on an icing call after a penalty kill helped decide the game. All of the momentum was with the Caps and the quick breather was enough to give the Blueshirts on the ice a chance to battle back.

*Then again, all of the credit due for that play was completely washed away by his call to put Sean Avery on the ice with four minutes left. There was absolutely no reason for it. Yes, Avery was one of the most energetic skaters and he maintained his composure for two periods. Yes, he is a loose cannon with a ginormous target on his back. Now, according some MSG guys, he did indeed lose control of his stick and deserve the high sticking. But it shouldn't matter as he shouldn't have been on the ice in the first place.

*The officiating left much to be desired. And this is coming from someone basking the glow of a stunning victory. There were dubious calls and a good number of noncalls - including a a penalty shot that wasn't called. Paul Devorski should be ashamed of himself for such a poor effort. One of the few 'names' left officiating, he did a terrible job and actually made me miss Kerry Fraser. Seriously. Ugh, I feel dirty.

*The Blueshirt blueline basically had pairings 1A and 1B. Staal and Girardi kept up their top notch work while Redden and Rozsival managed not to screw anything up. Ok, ok, ok. Rozy played his best defensive game in over a season, perhaps his best as a Ranger. I was impressed. As for Redden, whatever. He wasn't bad. That is about as nice as I will get. And I yelled at him less than I yelled Tom Poti, so that is a plus (even if it wasn't by much).

*And it hurts to say this but damn, Alex Ovechkin truly is a hockey god. You knew he would score sooner or later in this series and he did in fine fashion with a stellar shot into the upper corner - who woulda thought, if the goaltender plays half the game on his knees, then a shot under the bar will go in ... Now the shot that hit the post may be the shot heard 'round the world. The sound of the puck hitting iron rang louder then the bell of Big Ben. That was incredible, how it didn't shatter the puck or bend the iron is beyond me.

*Anyone know what happened to the pane of glass behind the net in the third period? From 329 we couldn't tell if it was cracked from an errant shot or dislodged with a hit ...

*A hit that certainly didn't come from Nik Zherdev. Z saw seven minutes of ice time - none of which was in the third period. Unlike Colton Orr, who actually made the most of his limited action, Z was invisible. As I said last game, all he is doing now is ensuring exit from the NHL. He may very well turn into an Alexei Morozov-like star but he simply doesn't have the heart to play the North American game.

*Talking heart - Bettsy, Sjo, Cally and Dubi. All four were incredible, as they have been most of the season. While we expect it of the first three, Dubi is finally putting the pieces back together that made him so dominant back in October. He won 15 of 17 faceoffs, played on both special teams and collected an assist.

*These guys, along with Staalsie and Girardi, did a stellar job shutting down Nick Backstrom. One game after he was so dominant, he was virtually invisible. Ovie and Semin were still threats but Backstrom couldn't do anything. Neither could Mike Green, but that mohawked dork has fallen flat on his face thus far in the series - I love this picture - he is looking the wrong way!

*I'm sure there is more but I'm still basking in the glow of victory. If there is anything else, don't you worry, I'm not shy.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Drury - one goal.
2-Alexander Ovechkin - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 38 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dru - Among the other fans I spoke to, several said that Markus Naslund deserved a heap of credit but I won't give it to him just because he decided to show up and play for the first time this season. Dru - the guy I said should be scratched if he was so hurt - played well in limited action. He didn't get his usual 18, 19 minutes (just 13 and change) but he got in the action, put his body in the line of fire and went to the net. So this is how he earned that clutch reputation, huh?
2-Ovie - What can be said that hasn't been already? Ovechkin is the modern Gordie Howe with a fun streak. It was just nice to see him sad rather than jumping around like a fool.
1-Hank - Unless something outrageous and unforgivable happens, Hank will be a Vezina finalist again this season. And if the Rangers advance then he will add a Conn Smythe to it. There is no one more valuable to their team then he is. Look at the team in front of him ...


Graying Mantis said...

We obviously watched the same game -- quite the experiece. This one is of time capsule quality.

Here's my question/thought I want to share with you (I did not mention it in my post this morning) -- is something physically wrong with Zherdev?

In Game 3, he went off the ice in pain and hunched over. He has not been shooting the puck at all, his passes/dump-ins to the offensive zone are incredibly weak. It makes me wonder if something is wrong with his wrist and his purpose on the ice is to be a decoy.

The alternative is worse -- his play has truly fallen apart. I'm sure you heard the boos last night when he was on the ice. Defensemen got yelled at but there were no boos for other Ranger players. Just makes me wonder.

Sammael said...

Something about this whole situation I find uncomfortable and I need to vent...

Last year's team was phenominal in my eyes, same with the year before... Both years they ran into a burning hot team that just outskated and stole games from them (Pens were too young, Buffalo was hot) but this year's team has been disappointing overall. Great start, awful middle.

If this team somehow makes it farther than the last two becuase of riding on Hank's shoulders, I will be totally disenchanted with my gauge of team talent. Something about seeing Zherdev become more successful as a Ranger than Jagr or Shanahan gets under my skin... And I liked Zherdev for the 1st 1/3 or so of the season!!!

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Anyone else think A.O. looks like a f#$%ing general screaming at his team on the bench? Jesus, let him be the coach!!! Especially when the current one makes decisions like benching Nylander... I'll be thankful for that decision, but I would never have made it.

Ben said...

man, that was a hell of a hockey game!

i thought my caps were going to at least tie it when OV scored at the beginning of the 3rd, but Hank was utterly amazing AGAIN. the dude has been ridiculous all series and without him, this series may be 3-1 in favor of DC.

Avery acted like a moron last night, but it didn't cost the team. if he doesn't stop soon though, it will eventually bite him in the ass. you're right though, he should not have even been near the ice at that point in the game. he's got a huge target on his back, and anything close to a penalty is going to be called.

much props to drury for coming through like he usually does....even if it was a terrible play by Varlamov.

i keep arguing with a ranger fan friend of mine who thinks zherdev is getting shafted...but you are right with this one too. he's been nothing short of terrible this series and i can't see him back with the rangers next year.

usually i would say this series is over...but every game except the Caps win has been by 1 goal. a couple bounces here and there and this series is much different. hank will still be on top of his game, but we just need to put 2-3 behind him and i think we can win. it's easier said than done though...

Ben said...

Sammael - Nylander does not fit on this team, with this system. he hasn't fit with any linemates all year. he played with Semin, OV, Fehr, Fleischmann, Kozlov, you name em, he's played with em.


when nylander is in the lineup, he's become a defensive liability and seems to not care. for somebody making $5.5 mil, he needs to deliver. he hasn't.

Michael Bérubé said...

Yep, that was an amazing experience. I was perched on the edge of the couch for 2-1/2 hours -- wish I could've been in MSG for it. About Torts' timeout: it was even better than that. The PK unit had been trapped in our own zone for the full 2m as the Caps ran us ragged and we could only ice the puck -- there was no way that line could have kept going after the faceoff. A very smart call.

And yes, Avery shouldn't have been on the ice. But let's not let him off the hook -- he played the last couple shifts with stick flying at head level, and took two colossally stupid penalties. Granted, Torts should've kept him sitting after the first one. But still. I blame Avery first.

On Ovechkin: hey, I've been a Ranger fan since 1969 (we had season tix in section 333 for a few glory years) and it doesn't hurt to admit he's a hockey god. That was indeed a stellar shot -- a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle, no less. How many guys can score on an unscreened wrist shot from 35 feet out against your standard NHL goalie, let alone Lundqvist (who turned in one of the best playoff performances I've seen in years)? Only gods can do that. I'm just surprised we held him off for 3-2/3 games.

Two quick questions -- d'you suppose the Rangers practiced faceoffs on Tuesday? Because we did a very nice job tying up their centers and actually winning a few outright, as oppposed to G3 when I think we lost every single one. Bitter irony that OV's goal came off a faceoff we won in the Caps' zone, but hell, that's hockey. A slippery game.

And what do you think of Derek Morris? I'm totally underwhelmed.

Oh, btw, I've been reading you since November, when I thought you were way too harsh on the team. OK, so you turned out to be right over the long term. So I kept reading. Long-time reader, second-time commenter.

Tomorrow night should be fun. But I think we're in for one more at the Garden, myself.

Scotty Hockey said...

Mantis - Yes there is something physically wrong with Zherdev - he has no heart.

I agree with Ben - Nylander has looked lost out there. He is every bit as listless and mediocre as Jagr was the first few months of last season. Apparently they really needed each other ...

Michael - I love being proved right ... =op But as for your questions, I don't necessarily think they practiced faceoffs. Being at home let them put their sticks down second and that is a HUGE help. As for Morris, despite how they tried to sell him to us, you could see he was on the downside when he played for Phoenix earlier in the year. He is far, far removed from his days as an impact player.