What did I say during my series preview? The Caps would be fools to try to beat the Rangers at our own game. They are far more explosive offensively than us, at least in terms of raw talent, and for them to sit back and try to out forecheck and outdefend us would be foolish. Sure, they *COULD* win a 7 game series against us like that, but, they would almost assuredly manhandle us if they opened things up against us and run and gunned us right out of the playoffs. Instead the Caps sat back, let the Rangers pound them with some hit, let the Rangers wear their D down with hits, let the Rangers manhandle their D below the hashmarks, and the Rangers came out with a 3-1 win.
Sure, the Caps hit 4 goal posts. So what? How many times against them in the playoffs did WE hit a ton of goalposts and have nothing to show for it? Those pucks gotta go in the net, not almost in the net.
Does this win make me now supremely confident about our chances? No, we still don’t match up well against this team at all in terms of the players skill sets, however, if the Caps continue to try to force this series into a low scoring affair, they will give the Rangers every opportunity to steal wins here and there, and those wins can fairly quickly add up to 4. We’ve got 1 banked, now we just gotta win 3 of the next 6. Play .500 hockey from here on out, and the Rangers advance. Win game 2, and the odds become extremely tilted in our direction.
Remember, last time the Rangers didn’t have Richards, Kreider, Hagelin or Callahan when last these teams met. Sure, they could shut down Gaborik, as every team has done so far. But the Rangers have far more offensive weapons than they did, they will be able to put in 2ish goals a game, something they weren’t able to do last time around when the Caps also tried to out defend the Rangers in a playoff series. This isn’t last years Rangers team where the Caps could play a more defensive game and still manhandle us.
Speaking of Gaborik, I want to just make my stance on him crystal clear. I think he’s actually played quite well. He had the same amount of shots on goal as Ovechkin had in far fewer minutes. He’s the #1 reason Brad Richards was able to score as the Defense completely focused on him and let Richards do whatever the hell he wanted to before he scored. It’s also the same reason Richards was able to score on the 5 on 3 against the Sens, as the Sens defense focused completely on shutting down Gabby.
Gabby is the #1 focal point of the opposing teams. Shut down Gaborik. I don’t blame them either. Without Gaborik this team is far less formidable. But, they are still a good team. We have Kreider, Richards, Hagelin, Callahan, Stepan, etc. Hopefully we will get back Boyle and Dubinsky. This team has more weapons than the last time the Caps played us. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Gaborik neutralized completely in these playoffs, scoring here or there, but for the most part held in check. If he does, it’s going to be up to the rest of the team to pick up the slack. Remember, the more you focus on shutting down 1 guy, the more that opens up time and space for everyone else. Does Richards score his goal if the Caps D basically gives him the shot rather than leaving Gabby alone? Nope. The Rangers need to out secondary-score the opposition. I said this over on the HFBoards prior to the series. The key to this series will be how the Rangers 2nd line plays, NOT how well their first line plays.
Speaking of the second line, we do have to talk a little bit about Chris Kreider. The Boston kid who stepped right into the playoffs and right into the Rangers hearts was….again, the Rangers best forward on the ice. That’s 2 games in a row for those of you keeping count. The Hagelinesque skater who is built like a tank blasted a slapper through Holtby and secured the win, throwing in an assist on Richards goal to boot. Wow. How do you top this? The Caps are going to soon learn, if you focus completely on Gaborik, this kid is going to start torching you from the 2nd line. Don’t forget about Stepan either, perfect pass to lead Kreider for the goal too.
OK, I’m done, off to bed!