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Rangers force Game 7 with 1-0 victory over Capitals

- May 13th, 2013

NEW YORK — In a series as tight as this one between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, it’s fitting that a seventh and deciding game is required to determine who is moving on and who is going home.

Sunday brought another one-goal game.

Derick Brassard managed the only snipe in this tilt, taking a sneaky slapper from just inside the blue line that included a screen by Rick Nash and an unfortunate redirection of the left glove of Caps’ D-man Steve Oleksy at 9:39 of the second period.

“I saw it the whole way,” said Caps G Braden Holtby, who made 28 saves and has been equal to the task in the series. “It’s just one of those things, it happens to go off him. It just happens.”

Five of the six games have been decided by one goal, the lone exception coming in the series opener, when a softie from the left-wing boards by Jason Chimera made it 3-1.

Since that time, five consecutive games have seen one team win by the slimmest of margins (1-0, 4-3, 4-3, 2-1 and 1-0, with plenty of entertainment value in each contest), including a pair that went to OT (both of which were captured by the Capitals on home ice).

“If you lose two in overtime, you’re close,” said Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves for his seventh career playoff goose-egg. “It’s just a bounce and you win it, so we know we can do it. We have to play a really hard and smart game. I feel like they always come a little harder in their home building, but we can build on this one.”

Here’s an 8-pack of items from this game that stood out to me:

1) the Rangers got their forecheck going once again, something which has been prevalent at all three games at MSG but not so in the three at Verizon Center. From where I sit, it’s essential for the Broadway Blueshirts to keep the pressure on the Caps’ D if they want to advance.

2) the Capitals were undone by discipline one more time, even if the Rangers finished 0-for-5 on the PP and failed to click on a 44-second 5-on-3. By taking three minors in the opening period, the Caps’ spent too much time killing penalties, limiting captain Alex Ovechkin (more on him later) to six shifts and 5:24 of ice time. In the three games at MSG, the Rangers had 15 power plays to just five for the Capitals. Shockingly, the Rangers were 0-for-15 with the man advantage on home ice. I realize the Capitals weren’t happy with a few calls but most if not all the minors could have been avoided and they must stay out of the box in Game 7, since the Rangers are 2-for-26 (7.7%) in the series and are due to come through at some point.

“Any time our top guys aren’t getting the opportunity 5-on-5, it’s hurting our team,” said Caps F Matt Hendricks. “I think energy guys are spending their energy on the penalty kill instead of the energy on the forecheck and maybe drawing penalties that way. So I think it definitely takes away from our game a lot when we’re in the box.”

“The first thing is, our PK is doing great,” added Holtby. “It’s holding us in this series. Tonight shouldn’t have been so lopsided. We all know that, everyone can see that. That part is frustrating, but I thought our guys did a very good job keeping their composure through it. We won’t use it as an excuse, we will be prepared for tomorrow.”

3) Several Capitals players and head coach Adam Oates expressed their displeasure after the game about an alleged slew-foot attempt by Rangers RW Derek Dorsett during the third period, which led to Mike Green reacting by cross-checking Dorsett in the face and drawing a minor penalty. I didn’t see it that way in real time and after watching the replay, I’m not buying what the Caps’ were selling. At no point does Dorsett try to kick out Green’s feet/skates from underneath him. Yes, his left leg ends up between the legs of Green after engaging for a body check but I don’t see it as a dirty play. Even if the Caps did think it was borderline, they can’t afford to get into trying to exact any sort of retribution anyway. The stakes are way too high.

4) Speaking of Dorsett, he was all over the place in this one, absolutely at his agitating best, taking 14 shifts for 12 minutes of ice time, recording three hits and drawing at least two penalties (a cross-check against Joel Ward and the x-check from Green). I asked Rangers head coach John Tortorella about the impact of Dorsett in the game and after starting to sidestep the question, he came around. “I thought everybody contributed. I’m not going to pick out one name, but I thought that line (with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt) played well and forechecked well. He is what he is. He brings energy and it’s important when you get to this time in the series.”

5) Sticking with the Columbus Blue Jackets trade theme that I wrote about earlier in this series, how about the series Brassard is having? With today’s goal, he now leads all players in the series with two goals and seven points, all coming after going without a point in the first two games. Impressive stuff. “Yeah, (Brassard) has found a lot of confidence and he’s playing well. He’s a great player, a great passer and he sees the ice very well,” said Dorsett, who was also part of the Marian Gaborik trade, along with D John Moore (who is also providing quality minutes for the Rangers). “It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s having the success that he’s having.”

6) Veteran Rangers C Brad Richards was demoted to the fourth line with Arron Asham and Chris Kreider and played fewer than 10 minutes (10 shifts, 9:34, 5:32 of which came on the power play). Richards struggled for much of the season, found his form during the stretch run but has been fighting it in this series. Here’s the thing about Richards, he’s the type of guy who can erase a bad series with one big goal, or big play. We’ll see if there is one to be made by him Monday.

7) Perhaps the most disappointing player in this series to me (outside of Richards) has been skilled C Nicklas Backstrom. He’s a wizard with the puck, but he’s just not making enough plays in my humble opinion. He needs to be a difference-maker and he’s running out of time to get that done.

8) Ovechkin has now gone four games without recording a point. I realize it’s not just about goals and assists, but for a guy who averaged a goal per game during the final 23 games of the season, this is a major lull in production. During the past two games, the Hart Trophy finalist managed to create some quality chances but hasn’t found a way to beat Lundqvist. Ovechkin had five shots on goal Sunday, three hits and two blocked shots. Tough to imagine him going five consecutive games without a point, but the pairing of Dan Giardi (whom Ovechkin took some frustration out on with a thundering check) and Ryan McDonagh, coupled with the tenacity of Rangers captain Ryan Callahan are doing a fantastic job of keeping Ovechkin in check. If they can do it for a fifth consecutive game, the Rangers’ chances of winning increase exponentially. “You know nobody is going to give up, especially in their building,” said Ovechkin, who has two points in six games. “Tomorrow is going to be a huge game for both teams and we will see what’s going to happen.”

The Rangers are holding an optional skate at Verizon Center around 11:30 a.m. but my Amtrak train only gets to D.C. at one p.m., so we’ll check in with some colleagues to see if anything interesting pops up. Was hoping to speak with Rangers F Rick Nash about preparing for his first Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs but he wasn’t available. Guess we’ll just have to see how he plays.

Tortorella was asked about whether a team coming off an emotional win might have an advantage, given the short turnaround time, with Game 7 set for Monday night at Verizon Center?

“I’m not sure it benefits anybody,” said Tortorella. “Both teams knew it going in. If I’m a player, I want to play right away. They don’t want to listen to coaches at this time of the year and look at video, they want to play the game and find out where they’re at. I think for both teams, that’s what they want.”

The Capitals aren’t going to skate on Monday prior to the game, opting for rest. One storyline to keep an eye on is the possible insertion of F Brooks Laich, who has been dealing with a groin injury for most of the season. He’s been progressing and might not be 100% but he’s going to be tempted to join the fray to see if he can help his team get the job done in Game 7.

It’s an 8 p.m. ET start and the winner moves on to face the winner of Monday’s earlier Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

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