It all comes down to this. After 6 gruelling, hard fought, tense, and sometimes bitter games, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers will contest a seventh and final time at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the New Jersey Devils. The loser will go home and wonder where it went wrong.
The series has been close throughout with 5 out of the 6 games decided by one goal. Two of those games have gone into overtime. In other words, expect a nail biter to decide the series.
The Rangers will have to make some adjustments after losing Game 6. With a chance to wrap up the series, the Broadway Blueshirts came out flat and uninspired. An early penalty yielded a power play goal for the Caps and the Rangers could not recover. The Rangers must start off strong in front of their wild fans at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
They also must be disciplined. Penalties have killed the Rangers in their three losses and coach John Tortorella knows it. Torts will preach discipline till he’s blue in the face. (Which isn’t saying much. Torts is always blue in the face.)
Another key is to find offence. The Rangers have struggled to score against Braden Holtby, who’s been brilliant between the pipes for the Caps. The Capitals have also been terrific at blocking shots in this series, which has frustrated the Rangers. One thing the Rangers can do is, to wait until the defender commits to the block, skate around him, then either shoot, or use the cross seam pass to a winger for the one-timer.
The Rangers need to stay patient against the trap the Capitals have utilized in this series. The Caps love to turn the neutral zone into a quagmire. The Rangers need to relax, and not get impatient when trying to penetrate the trap. Quick passes and a hard forecheck is key in beating the trap. If the Rangers are to win Game 7, they must put pressure on the Caps defence, while staying patient and disciplined.
For the Caps to win, a quick start is vital. The Caps know that the Garden will be a zoo, so it is necessary for Washington to get an early goal to quiet down the rowdy Ranger fans. An early goal also means the Caps can use the vaunted trap which, as stated earlier, as confounded the Rangers in this series.
The Caps also need to continue to display the art of shot blocking, which they have been apt to do in the playoffs. The Caps have blocked 154 shots in this series alone. They definitely have payed the price, and will need to do that for one more game in this series.
If the Rangers shots do get through, Braden Holtby will need to rise to the occasion yet again. The unheralded goalie has been performing wonderfully in the playoffs, posting a sparkling 1.95 goals against average, along with a .935 save percentage in these playoffs. There has already been a link to Holtby and the Conn Smythe Trophy but that will have to play out just a bit more. But it goes to show how good Holtby has been in these playoffs, and he will need to be even better if Washington are to advance.
Finally for the Caps, Alexander Ovechkin will have to return to superstar form. The Great Eight has had an excellent series so far, notching 3 goals and an assist, but this is a time for superstars to really show their form. If Ovechkin wants to be considered one of the best players in the world, he will need to play his best game when it matters the most. And there is no better time to do just that, than Game 7 on the road.
Don’t be surprised if this game requires overtime. The Caps have been involved in 6 overtime games in the playoffs so far. The Rangers have gone to extra time on 4 occasions. With this series being so close, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if it came down to last goal wins.