Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators wasn’t exactly ‘edge-of-your-seat’ action on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, but the Blueshirts, despite only registering 14 shots on goal, managed to escape with a 3-1 victory regardless. One could say that the effort in that game wasn’t where it should be for the Rangers, but first realize that the Capitals only had 18 shots themselves at the final buzzer, so there was only a four-shot difference between the two teams. Earlier this month I said something along the lines of, “it’s not how you win in the playoffs, but rather if you win.” Well, the Rangers won and that’s all that matters right now.
But the fact that the shots were as low and as close as they were, it suggests that the opening match of this series was incredibly close as well, which it was, until the Rangers took advantage of back-to-back defensive gaffes by the Caps to strike twice early in the third period. That game could have went either way because Washington didn’t necessarily play bad. What does this mean for the Blueshirts? They should expect to see a similar if not improved effort from their opponent and must raise their own intensity to match that of the Caps.
Washington, meanwhile, will look to get more traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist. The only goal they did score on Saturday was a result of a beautiful play between Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera on an odd-man rush, and it’s going to take plays like that to get pucks past Lundqvist unless they obstruct his view is one way or another. In this series, with the defense playing so tight, dirty goals are going to be the way to get on the board, so expect the Capitals to be a little more involved from that standpoint in Game 2.
Also, don’t be surprised to see Alex Ovechkin moved to different lines and wings over the course of the game, just as an attempt to get him some open space to shoot the puck. The Rangers did a magnificent job of defending Ovechkin on Saturday, holding him to just one shot that was rather weak and came from the outside. If coach Dale Hunter sees an opportunity to get Ovie away from Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, he will not let it go to waste.
From a Rangers standpoint, if they can keep the Capitals under twenty shots, then I have no problem with less than twenty shots from themselves. However, for some reason, I don’t think that’s going to remain a constant throughout this series, therefore the Rangers will need to bring the heat a little more in the offensive end. And to be honest, it all comes down to hitting the net.
The forecheck was great in Game 1, but when it came time to shoot, the Blueshirts tried too hard to pick spots and ended up missing the net entirely. It was not just once or twice, either – it was a recurring theme. As I said, dirty goals are the way to go in this series, but the Rangers cannot get those dirty goals if they do not get pucks on net.
As far as the lineup goes, Brian Boyle (concussion) stated that he has “no idea” as to whether or not he will be playing tonight. So I guess we can take that as a maybe, but one thing is for sure, and that is that Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) has no chance of playing in this game.
New York Rangers Lineup
JOHN TORTORELLA NAMED JACK ADAMS CANDIDATE
Also announced earlier today were the candidates for the Jack Adams award for the top coach in the National Hockey League during the 2011-12 season. Rangers coach John Tortorella was on that list, along with Paul MacLean of the Senators and Ken Hitchcock of the Blues. It's a tight race, but we've went over the reasons why Torts is more than deserving of the honor many times here on the blog.
Here's a quick comparison for you...
John Tortorella, NYR: 51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in Division, 1st in Conference
Paul MacLean, OTT: 41-31-10, 92 points, 2nd in Division, 8th in Conference
Ken Hitchcock, STL (hired in Nov.): 49-22-11, 109 points, 1st in Division, 2nd in Conference