<![CDATA[NBC New York - New York Rangers]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcnewyork.com/feature/new-york-rangers http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/4NY_Horizontal.jpg NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.com en-us Mon, 28 Jul 2014 02:51:20 -0400 Mon, 28 Jul 2014 02:51:20 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Rick Nash: "Definitely Where I Want To Be"]]> Thu, 26 Jul 2012 12:46:31 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rick+nash.jpg The Rangers officially introduced their newest prize on Wednesday, high-scoring winger Rick Nash, whom the team acquired on Monday in a trade with Columbus.]]> <![CDATA[Saying Goodbye to the Rangers Season]]> Tue, 29 May 2012 17:01:09 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/145299670.jpg

The end was both extended and over in the blink of an eye, something that never quites make sense outside of the NHL playoffs.

Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals kept going and going, with the Rangers and Devils tied at two until overtime finally arrived. It would take extra time to extend or extinguish the Rangers season, but it was over just as we settled in for the extra session.

Adam Henrique's goal sent the Devils on to face the Kings and it left the Rangers painfully close yet painfully far from their ultimate goal of the season. So it is when you win the Eastern Conference in the regular season, brawl your way to the conference finals and then wind up being outplayed for much of the series by a team that seemed to peak at the right time.

The bitterness of the ending doesn't take away the sweetness of everything that came before. The Rangers were among the class of hockey for the first time in ages, they had better results than their talent dictated and, best of all, it looks like there are even better days ahead.

We've talked a lot about 1994 in these parts in recent weeks, but it hasn't been mentioned much that this Rangers loss feels an awful lot like the one the Devils suffered back then. A young team, coming to grips with what they are capable of doing, loses a heartbreak series to a team that was better by just enough to squeeze out the win.

They came back the next year and won the whole thing. It's early to say what kind of chance the Rangers have to do that, but the pieces are in place.

The Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto quartet on defense should only be better with a full season from Staal, Chris Kreider hasn't even played a regular season game yet and Henrik Lundqvist should be the same guy he was this season. That's not enough to win on its own, of course, so here are three things we've learned about the Rangers this season that can help them go further next year.

1. You Were Both Right About Rick Nash - With the trade deadline coming up, there was a heated debate about whether or not the Rangers should trade for Columbus forward Rick Nash. The proponents pointed out that the Rangers needed someone to put the puck in the net, and the detractors derided the idea of fussing with the core of such a good team.

Both sides were correct. The Rangers desperately need a scorer of Nash's pedigree to go with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards up front, but not at the expense of the deep roster that helped the Rangers get where they want to go.

Getting that scorer is job one for the Rangers this offseason. That leads us right to our next point.

2. Put the Power Back Into the Power Play - Another scorer would help here, but so would more consistent work on faceoffs and a more sound strategy for moving the puck in the offensive end. The Rangers should be in the market for a power play guru, whether it is Brian Leetch or not, so that they cease giving away those opportunities.

3. Embrace Change - While the Rangers appear to be on the cusp, things don't usually work out quite so easily. They can't just show up and expect to be better so that means there will be some players leaving who will be missed.

That's part of life and, at this point, you've got to trust Glen Sather and John Tortorella's ability to make the right decisions on that front. They've put the team on the doorstep, but it will take a little bit extra to get them in the house.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Don't Need Any Guarantees]]> Fri, 25 May 2012 16:31:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/145139959.jpg

You don't have to look too far to find someone talking about 1994 right now.

Thank the schedulers in the NHL for this walk down memory lane. They are the ones who put Game Six and Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals on the same days that the Devils and Rangers played a pair of classics.

Most of the Times' sports section on Friday is devoted to remembrances of May 25, 1994 and the paper has also been doing an entertaining series of interviews with participants on both sides of that epic series. The Daily News posted a story from the day before Game Six when a member of the Rangers made a proclamation that has resonated through the ages.

"We're going to go in and win Game Six."

Nine short words from Mark Messier that have become as big a part of Rangers lore as "Potvin Sucks!", retired sweaters and bad ice at Madison Square Garden. There were no such guarantees from any Rangers on Thursday, although John Tortorella did guarantee Henrik Lundqvist and Brad Richards would play well.

Richards has some experience in this kind of spot. The Lightning trailed the Flames 3-2 heading into Game Six of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals and Richards came up with two goals and an assist on the double overtime winner by Martin St. Louis.

There wasn't any guarantee from Richards before that game and that's the hidden secret to all of the celebration of Messier's gutsy proclamation. The guarantee was the easy part, but the hard part was the hat trick (plus an assist) that he came up with on the Meadowlands ice 18 years ago Friday night.

Whether it is Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan or someone else, the Rangers need a performance like that to bring them back across the river on Sunday night for Game Seven. It wouldn't hurt if Lundqvist channeled Mike Richter, the forgotten hero of that night, but winning this game is going to take a little heroism from one of the guys up front.

The lesson of 1994 isn't that you need to call your shot. It's that you need to play like you did.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dark Clouds and Silver Linings for the Rangers]]> Thu, 24 May 2012 16:47:40 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/145144599.jpg

It is rare that you see a loss in sports that is as encouraging as it is discouraging, but that's just what happened to the Rangers against the Devils on Wednesday night.

Encouragement came from the way the Rangers controlled play for the lion's share of the evening, pretty much from the third Devils goal until things started getting all helter skelter in the third period before Ryan Carter's game-winning score. The Rangers did all of the things they haven't done this series in terms of puck possession, aggressive play around the net and, especially important after Game Four, staying disciplined even as things didn't go their way.

They also got three goals from their forwards, a welcome change after four games of watching that group play about as ineffectually as humanly possible. Ryan Callahan had the kind of game that makes him the captain of this team and how different the outcome might have been if his second period shot off the post hit at a slightly different angle.

Speaking of how different things could have been, what if Marian Gaborik didn't airmail a wide open net before the Devils' second goal? Gaborik wound up scoring, ending a long drought for the Rangers' leading sniper, and had his strongest game of the period as well.

Taken together, all of that gives the Rangers plenty of reason to believe they can outlast the Devils over the next six (or more) periods of hockey. But the silver lining to this loss has more than a touch of grey.

The Rangers were the better team for most of the night, got a soft goal against Martin Brodeur and had a rowdy Garden urging them on every second. But they still lost the game.

Much or all of that has to do with the fact that they stumbled out of the gate, but there was also the fact that Henrik Lundqvist was a bit more human than he has been over the course of the season. He's not the goat of the game, he's not the only person to blame on the Devils goals and Brodeur probably played worse, but any hint that the Rangers can't count on the King to bail them out is a bad thing.

What's the lesson from all of this for Game Six?

The secret to the Rangers' success on Wednesday night can be found in the way the Rangers played when they fell behind 3-0. They opened things up much more than they have at other points in the season and the offense came along for the ride.

That's not the way John Tortorella wants the Rangers to play, as evidenced by the way they went back into a shell after tying the game at three. That helped set up New Jersey's winner because a tentative Ranger team is exactly what the Devils want to see when they set up their strong forecheck.

Letting things fly in Game Six probably won't be the Rangers' course of action, but it might not hurt to come out of the locker room feeling like they are down by a couple of goals instead of actually spotting them to the Devils. That said, the last time the Rangers played the Devils in Jersey in an Eastern Conference Game Six they were able to come back from 2-0 down for the win.

Any chance Mark Messier wants to lace 'em up one more time?

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Devils Score Last and Take Wild Game 5]]> Thu, 24 May 2012 06:54:09 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/145139912.jpg

At first it looked like the story of Game 5 would be about how the Devils have been the better team in this series.

Then it looked like it would be another tale of the Rangers' resiliency when the chips were down. Ultimately both of those would have some truth, but the only story that matters at the end is that the Devils need one more win to eliminate the Rangers.

Ryan Carter stuffed home a Stephen Gionta feed late in the third period to salvage what might have been an epic Devils collapse and turn it into a 5-3 victory. That means Game Six will be a do or die affair for the Rangers, who looked pretty dead when the game started.

The Devils scored three times before the Rangers even seemed to realize the game was underway, raising serious questions about how worn down the team might be at this point in the season. And then they scored three straight goals to make such questions seem silly.

It was one of the stranger first periods of the entire playoffs. Despite the fact that they allowed three goals on the first five shots, the Rangers actually played their best opening period of the series.

The problem was that they didn't start playing it until the Devils were already up 3-0 and that Henrik Lundqvist was one of the slow starters this time around. Two of the goals were plays that Lundqvist should have made, although Gionta's opening tally also came with a supersized helping of poor Rangers defense that left him all alone for a rebound that Lundqvist can't allow.

Once they spotted the Devils the lead, though, the Rangers started to bring their game. They took more shots, drove harder to the net and Brandon Prust finally scored with just over four minutes to go to spark the crowd back to life.

Through it all, it was hard not to notice that Brodeur looked fairly uncomfortable handling the puck and holding onto rebounds. In short, there was a lot of reason to believe the Rangers had a shot to come back and take the game if you ignored the 3-1 score.

It got even easier to believe 32 seconds into the second period when Artem Anisimov threw a puck off Ryan Callahan's leg in the crease for a tying goal. The Garden was rocking now and Callahan would keep them that way the rest of the period.

He would hit the inside of a post, causing the goal light to go on before the refs signaled no goal, and hit everything in sight as the Rangers again dominated play over a Devils team that looked awfully shellshocked considering they were still winning the game. A couple of dumb Ranger penalties helped sap momentum, but Callahan created one juicy scoring chance on one penalty kill to keep the Rangers in control.

Remember what we said about a shaky Brodeur? It came up again 17 seconds into the third period when he tried to play a puck behind the net but wound up handing it right to Marian Gaborik.

Gaborik, held without a goal in the first four games of the series, banked off Brodeur and Derek Stepan helped push it in for a tying goal that loosed as wild a noise from the Garden as you'll ever hear. The cheering eventually morphed into a loud, sustained "Marty Marty" chant punctuated with everyone in the building pointing their giveaway towels right at Brodeur.

From there, things went pretty nutty as the game took on a frantic quality that was more about excitement than execution. The Rangers still carried the play, but the Devils got a few chances as they tried to scramble their way back to life after such a long stretch on their heels.

Still, their best chance came off the stick of Brad Richards. Yes, you read that right, Brad Richards from the Rangers.

While trying to put the puck around the back boards, Richards instead fired it right at Lundqvist and the Rangers goalie had to make a quick save. It was very nearly one of the worst moments in Rangers history, one that might have caused John Tortorella to go on a killing spree, but the fates had other plans for the evening.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, the fates weren't planning on a win for the home team. Gionta won a battle for a puck, Carter beat a sluggish Hagelin and, after an empty net goal by Zach Parise, the Devils are a game away from playing for the Cup.

That should sound familiar to Rangers fans. They've been here before and a certain guarantee paved the way to redemption.

Who's gonna step up this time?

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Faith, Prayer and Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals]]> Wed, 23 May 2012 13:47:48 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/145021984.jpg

For a guy who was nearly universally maligned as a horrible human being earlier this series because of a succinct press conference, John Tortorella flashed a pretty decent sense of humor on Tuesday when he was asked about what he'll do to start getting the team some goals.

"Pray," Tortorella said. "I don't know what else to tell you. We're going to have to keep on trying to play, pray, and, hopefully, something good happens tomorrow."

Tied at two games in the Eastern Conference Finals seems like as good a time as any to turn to prayer, especially if your forwards have given the team a grand total of six goals to this point in the series. Prayer's also not a bad place to turn when the mountains of empirical evidence pile up against you.

That's pretty much where the Rangers and Tortorella find themselves at this point. The Devils have clearly been the better team for the majority of the series and the depth of their talent has increasingly meant the Rangers are relying on a Henrik Lundqvist or bust strategy.

It's not an awful strategy. It's been good enough to win them two games so far and it worked well enough for them through the regular season.

But there's still that troubling little fact that the Rangers have been thoroughly outplayed by the Devils even with the team putting their faith in Lundqvist. Without something changing, it is hard to see how the results are going to be markedly different in the final two or three games.

And it's hard to see something changing unless you rely on your faith in this Rangers team. It isn't quite the same thing as prayer since the faith is based in what we've seen from the team over the first 100 games of this season.

It's faith in them figuring out a way to win even though they aren't the most talented team on the ice, faith in them showing up with their best performance when they need to bounce back and faith in each other. Should they win, it will be a victory for that faith.

A loss? Well, that'll be good for the prayer business.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Devils' Cream Is Rising to the Top]]> Tue, 22 May 2012 15:06:30 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144993553.jpg

When the dust settled on the 4-1 Devils win in Monday night's Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals, it seemed all anyone could talk about was the Peter DeBoer-John Tortorella argument across the benches and the Rangers' attempt to dirty things up that directly preceded it.

That makes sense. It came on the heels of sniping over the weekend between the coaches about the style of play and it added a little more hate to a series that had been living on memories of 1994 in that department.

On top of that, there wasn't all that much to break down about the game. The Devils came out with more energy, took a two-goal lead and then made it stand up as the Rangers fell into undisciplined play that left them without much of a chance to win.

That's the story of Monday night, but the story of why the series is tied at two has a little bit more meat on its bones. And it starts at the top.

With the exception of Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi (and Chris Kreider, if you're willing to put him in this company at this point in his brief career), this series has not been a good one for the best Rangers players. Marian Gaborik hasn't scored a point through the first four games of the series and Brad Richards has just one assist.

They were both invisible on Monday night while Zach Parise was scoring two goals and assisting on a third to help the Devils draw even in the series. Ilya Kovalchuk had an assist to go with his goal in Game Two and his constant presence on the puck in the attacking zone has made life difficult for the Rangers.

It doesn't stop there. Carl Hagelin has been a zero for the Rangers, Derek Stepan's penalty in the third period on Monday was one of the first visible moments of the series for him and Brian Boyle clearly isn't right after his concussion against Ottawa in the first round.

The Devils, meanwhile, have gotten strong performances from rookie Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac to give them more depth at forward. They've also enjoyed strong play from defenseman Bryce Salvador, an unexpected bonus that only underlines how much better the Devils have been up and down the lineup.

New Jersey has dictated the pace of this series for almost every minute and it is hard to come up with an explanation that doesn't come back to how much better the Devils' best players have been in the series. The Rangers aren't going to be able to swing things back their way unless it is the stars who carry the team the way that they did in key moments of the previous two series.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Devils Crush Rangers, Even Series]]> Tue, 22 May 2012 14:58:36 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144983955.jpg

The bad blood started boiling over the weekend, and it bubbled over in the third period on Monday night.

John Tortorella and Peter DeBoer were yelling at each other from their respective benches after Rangers forward Mike Rupp threw a cheap shot at Martin Brodeur. It looked like we might get an all-ice brawl, but the coaches used words to fight the battle and the game resumed a short time later.

The Rangers probably would have preferred the brawl. They were on their way to a 4-1 loss in a game that the Devils dominated throughout, and that means the series is all tied up heading into Game Five.

Watching Tortorella and DeBoer go at each other was high entertainment, but the play that set off their argument was an illustration of just how wrong things went for the Rangers on Monday night. They have been a disciplined team all season -- they win because they are so disciplined -- but they played about as undisciplined a game as you could imagine.

Rupp's play was just stupid, and it came a couple of minutes after Derek Stepan's high stick led to a power play that Zach Parise used to put the Devils ahead 3-0. Parise scored on a rebound after the Rangers penalty kill simply didn't do what it was supposed to do -- either a sign of fatigue, miscommunication or just laziness.

The second Devils goal came with Ryan McDonagh in the penalty box after he was goaded into a fight by Adam Henrique in the first period. It was a good trade for the Devils to get McDonagh off the ice and the kind of play that the Rangers shouldn't be making at this point in the season.

Carl Hagelin took a couple of penalties after the Rupp nonsense, keeping the Rangers on the penalty kill when they should have been making a last push for the win. They got the goal after a great rush by Michael Del Zotto led to a strong shot by Ruslan Fedotenko, which led you to wonder what the Rangers might have been able to do if they weren't killing off penalties all night.

You also have to wonder if Del Zotto should have been anchored to the bench for most of the game after a few giveaways early in the game. Del Zotto's grandmother died Monday, something that might have thrown him so off his game that Tortorella made an adjustment.

That late goal made things a little interesting, as did a Hagelin attempt that Brodeur was able to slap away just in time, but Parise wound up with an empty netter, and the game went to a Devils team that deserved it.

They outworked the Rangers early, something that's been a problem throughout the playoffs and particularly acute in games after victories, and Brodeur made the lead stand up. He was the goalie of the hour on Monday night, besting Henrik Lundqvist, who made one big error -- the rebound to Parise -- and otherwise kept the Rangers close enough to feel like they were in the game.

What should worry them is that they've been outplayed for most of this series with two strong periods and Lundqvist winning them games. At some point they'll need to come up with a more complete performance or there may just be more acting out of frustration to come.

The rough stuff from the third period will likely linger into Game Five, which will be at the Garden on Wednesday night. The Rangers will have to prove once more that they can shake off a bad effort with one that gets them a victory.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bad Blood Comes to the Eastern Conference Finals]]> Mon, 21 May 2012 13:55:38 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144948609.jpg

The Rangers-Devils rivalry has always been a bit of an odd one.

Even without a good Islanders team in ages, there's an enmity between them and the Rangers that goes far beyond anything we've seen from the Rangers and Devils over the years. The Devils used to measure themselves with the Rangers and beating them was something to build around, a sentiment that has never really been returned from the other side of the Hudson.

You might argue that 1994 was a heated series, because it was, but it was much more about the Rangers finally avoiding the trap door and ending the 54-year Cup drought than it was about beating the Devils. They were just the team in the way and since they become a power at just the moment when the Rangers fell apart, the rivalry never developed the kind of coarseness that exists with the Islanders. 

We might just change that before the Eastern Conference Finals come to a close. John Tortorella used Sunday's day off to call the Devils a bunch of cheating, thieving so-and-so's who had the league in their hip pocket.

Tortorella took issue with Devils coach Peter DeBoer calling Brandon Prust's elbow against Anton Volchenkov head-hunting, an assessment that the league agreed with by suspending Prust for Monday night after ignoring similar hits in this series and throughout the postseason. Tortorella pointed out some unpenalized play by the Devils and also intimated that the Devils took lessons from European soccer on flopping.

"Pruster’s played probably about 300-plus games without any hearings or anything going on. He’s probably one of the most honest players. Maybe if our players stay down on the ice, we’ll get some [calls]. We tell our players don’t stay down on the ice. ‘Get up.’ ... I look at Dainius Zubrus with an elbow to Stralman. I look at [Zach] Parise, launching himself at [Michael] Del Zotto. The picking on the power play, set plays, picking on the power plays. If we want to start discussing officials with the media, I have a long list here. That’s a set play by New Jersey, picking so we can’t get to [Ilya] Kovalchuk to block a shot."

DeBoer replied that Tortorella's assertions were comical. There's a pretty good chance that DeBoer won't find anything Tortorella said all that comical if his team gets hit with an interference penalty on Monday night.

Coaches have made a habit of complaining publicly for calls for as long as there have been coaches and referees. Those entreaties have often been rewarded with a call here or there from an official whose focus has been altered by the off-ice chatter so it was worth the shot for Tortorella to engage in a bit of self-professed gamesmanship. 

It's funny that Tortorella has figured out a way to make headlines twice in this series with totally different performances for the media, but they both have been designed with something a little more in mind. Tortorella made himself the story after Game Two and he's come up with a way of potentially helping his team in Game Four simply by opening his mouth.

He's also made it a lot likelier that Game Four is going to feature more hitting than we've seen to this point. Although Prust's loss is a negative in that type of game, the style would still seem to benefit the Rangers.

It would make the game come down to effort and goaltending, two things the Rangers have had in ample supply this season.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[We've Seen This Rangers Movie Before]]> Sat, 19 May 2012 19:33:32 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144790703.jpg

The Rangers might not blow you away offensively or play a particularly exhilirating style of hockey, but they might be the most consistent team you'll ever see. 

By winning Game Three over the Devils, the Rangers have started a playoff series with a 2-1 lead for the third straight time. They have also followed the same pattern of winning the opener, losing Game Two and, with Saturday's 3-0 win, halting their opponent's momentum in Game Three.

And, in all three cases, Game Three has been a game the Rangers easily could have lost. There was the tight 1-0 game in Ottawa, the triple overtime win in Washington and Saturday's victory by the grace of Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers were outplayed for two periods and gave up an unusually high 36 shots that Lundqvist turned aside. Lundqvist is the biggest reason why the Rangers have avoided losing streaks all year because it's hard to get too much past him on two straight nights. 

If you're paying attention, it's also three straight series in which Lundqvist has saved his team's bacon in Game Three. He's allowed one goal in 234:41 of play in third games this spring, a remarkable fact that doesn't quite say enough about how important Lundqvist is to the team.

One thing that could throw the Rangers off their well-established rhythm is the loss of Brandon 

Prust for Monday night. Prust hit Anton 

Volchenkov with an elbow to the head that went unpenalized (though it should have been) and there's a chance the league office could take action.

Volchenkov wasn't hurt, which has sometimes been the standard for suspension but the league office doesn't share John Tortorella's passion for consistency. The Rangers haven't been thrown by other missing players in the playoffs, although Prust's penalty killing role is an important one when you play with such a limited margin for error.

That penalty killing ran second to Lundqvist as reasons for the Rangers win in Game Three. Those were the rare moments in the first two periods when the Rangers didn't seem to be stuck in neutral.

That leads us to Game Four, a game in which the Rangers have an 0-2 record this postseason. The reasons for those losses were in evidence against the Devils on Saturday.

Sluggish stretches when the opposition dominates play and a general lack of scoring punch makes for games that the Rangers can lose as easily as they win. The effort level doesn't fluctuate much from night to night, but the negative results from allowing teams opportunities can come back to bite the Rangers. 

There are differences this time, though. The Rangers power play, so often a myth this year, has scored on four of 10 opportunities and Chris Kreider keeps on growing into a key role.

Kreider has become such an integral part of what makes the Rangers do well that it is hard to remember that he hasn't been on the team all season. He's scored in all three games and the last two have been on deflections that occured because he's going to the net.

That hasn't happened often enough with Rangers forwards, so the Devils will need to redouble their efforts against Kreider on Monday. They also need to figure out a way to stop the Rangers power play, something that seemed impossible to imagine when the series got underway.

Solving Lundqvist would be big for them as well, although focusing on the first two things is a lot more likely to pay off for them.   

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[John Tortorella Keeps Tempting Fate]]> Fri, 18 May 2012 14:15:48 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143569183.jpg

The biggest story to come out of the Devils' 3-2 win in Game Two had nothing to do with Martin Brodeur's goaltending, New Jersey's forechecking or anything else on the ice.

It had to do with John Tortorella's post-game press conference when the truculent Rangers coach used a series of one-word answers to reveal nothing about his thoughts and leave reporters covering the team to whine about how little help they get from Tortorella. Their displeasure is why this became a story, because there isn't a soul alive who actually thinks there's any correlation between the play of the team and the coach's demeanor in a press conference.

Chris Carlin of SNY suggested that Tortorella just answer questions with silly cliches, which gets to the heart of why this whole thing is so ridiculous. Who wants to hear another coach or player spout stupidity just so a columnist can spin it into some empty parable about the game? 

Tortorella's pressers are amusing and they don't make anybody's job any harder because you can simply comment on what happened in the game. Had the media worried less about getting someone to say that the Rangers will keep on grinding because the Devils are a great opponent, they might have even noticed that Tortorella made a far more questionable decision on Wednesday night.

When Marian Gaborik's poor attempt to clear the puck and ineffectual attempt to block a shot combined to become the Devils' game-tying goal late in the second period, Tortorella wasn't a happy man. You didn't need him to tell you that because he showed you how he felt by leaving Gaborik on the bench for most of the third period.

This has happened before this season and it has happened before with Gaborik, but there's a pretty big difference between a midseason game with the Sharks and the Eastern Conference Finals. Keeping Gaborik on the bench took away one of the few scoring threats that the Rangers have at their disposal and it left the Rangers trying to win a gunfight with a knife.

The Rangers had a chance to go up 2-0 in the series and they made less of it because Tortorella chose to deal with Gaborik in that manner. We won't argue too much with the style of a guy with a Cup who took these Rangers great places this year, but that wasn't a point that could have been made in the locker room in between periods?

Tortorella tempted fate (and lost) to make a point to Gaborik about his play, and you can be sure the message was received. A betting man shouldn't think twice about putting his money on a stronger performance from Gaborik Saturday afternoon in Game Three.

But we're less sure about the Rangers because we're less sure that a team that has missed as many chances to make life easier for themselves is capable of ultimately beating the fates they keep tempting. Tortorella made his point, but at what price to the Rangers' chances of moving forward this season?

It's a more interesting question to ponder than Tortorella's press conference, but apparently less satisfying because it winds up somewhere other than just calling the Rangers coach a jerk. 

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Delta Offers Rangers Fans Free Flight to NJ ]]> Thu, 17 May 2012 07:46:28 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/RangersFanFlight.jpg

Rangers fans planning to attend Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils Saturday may be able to score a free plane ride to New Jersey.

Delta Air Lines is offering a free charter flight for select Rangers fans Saturday, departing from LaGuardia for Newark at 10 a.m. The flight would take about 17 minutes total, an airline spokeswoman said.

Ground transportation will then take the fans from Newark Liberty Airport to the Prudential Center for the game, and back to LaGuardia after the game.

The promotional flight will include Rangers alumni and gifts and prizes for fans.

Fans who want to board the flight must already have tickets to Game 3 and be able to present valid FAA-required identification, the spokeswoman said.

Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Fans must fill out a form at rangers.nhl.com by noon Thursday to RSVP. Winners will be contacted if they are chosen.

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Photo Credit: Delta]]>
<![CDATA[Devils Beat Rangers 3-2 to Tie Series]]> Thu, 17 May 2012 06:24:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144636542.jpg

Settle in, this might take awhile.

That was the message the Devils sent on Wednesday night, shaking off their shutout loss in Game One to take a 3-2 victory over the Rangers. The win tied the Eastern Conference Finals at one game apiece as the action shifts to the other side of the Hudson on Saturday night.

It was a tie game entering the third period, but the Devils changed that when David Clarkson deflected a shot from the point past Henrik Lundqvist for the go-ahead score. Martin Brodeur made the saves he needed to make against a Rangers team short on intensity.

The Rangers were lucky to get out of the period down just 1-0. Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a wide-open snipe during a power play, but the Devils were the better team throughout the period, and the Rangers looked more than a little slow over the first 20 minutes. 

That sluggishness, added to the Devils forecheck, led to a slew of chances. Lundqvist and the post took care of most, but there was nothing either one could do on Kovalchuk's shot.

Malaise hung over the Rangers for two periods in Game One, but they snapped out of it more quickly this time. Marc Staal scored when a shot from the outside deflected off a Devils shot blocker, caromed off the boards and off of Brodeur to tie the score.

Given Brodeur's newly discovered distaste for the blocked shot, it is pretty rich that he gave up a goal when one of his own players got in the way of a shot. The Rangers then scored again when Chris Kreider deflected an Anton Stralman shot past Brodeur.

Kreider had another strong game and contributed something more than reason for John Tortorella to scream to the defensive effort. You could make a strong argument that he was the best Rangers forward on Wednesday night, a pretty remarkable turn of events given that Kreider played his first NHL game a month ago.

The Kreider goal came in the middle of a strong Rangers surge, but Brodeur stood up to the pressure. Momentum shifted after a few minutes, and the Devils rode a surge of their own to Ryan Carter's tying goal with less than two minutes to go in the period.

Both Rangers goals came on the power play, a fairly remarkable achievement for a team that usually takes those two minutes to audition for the next edition of Follies on Ice. The problem this time was in the five-on-five skating.

In the third, the flat Rangers returned from the locker room and it really felt like they were struggling to hang on instead of trying to win the game. They killed a penalty and kept the Devils from getting any insurance, but they never found their legs enough to mount an attack.

Once Clarkson scored, that became a major problem. Tortorella definitely saw things he didn't like over the course of the night -- cameras caught him chewing the team out in the first period and then with Marian Gaborik, who barely played down the stretch even though the Rangers desperately needed offense.

Tortorella's tricks didn't work this time. And so, for the third straight series, the Rangers have followed up an impressive opening salvo with a less lively Game Two. 

Even when they were flying high in the regular season, the Rangers didn't do easy. No reason that they were going to start now.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Martin Brodeur's Curious Suggestion]]> Wed, 16 May 2012 16:22:27 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143569204.jpg

Everyone that has watched the Rangers this season has probably found themselves asking the same question at some point. 

How much does it hurt to throw yourself in front of a shot like that?

The Garden's best shot blocker might be Tyson Chandler, but the next 10 are all members of the Rangers. All year they have committed themselves to risking life and limb to stop shots from getting through to Henrik Lundqvist.

They blocked 26 shots in the 3-0 Game One win, five more than the Devils got on net. It isn't surprising, then, to learn that the Devils are desperate to figure out a way to get their shots through for the rest of the series.

Goalie Martin Brodeur shared some thoughts on the topic that the Post thought were spicy enough to put on the back cover of Wednesday's edition.

"They’re hot at blocking shots," Brodeur said. "We might be able to hurt a few guys [by] hitting one-timers in the foot and their head or something."

While the Post is playing this up as a possible new Devils strategy, it actually sounds like Brodeur is just exasperated after watching shot after shot die thanks to a Ranger player throwing their body in front of it. Other Devils sound just as exasperated while also playing down the notion that they are going to start aiming for anyone's head.

It isn't a particularly good strategy anyway. Every player on the Rangers knows the risks involved with blocking a shot and the chances aren't good that they will stop blocking shots if one of their teammates winds up with a broken nose.

So the Devils would be left with a choice of trying to intentionally miss shots into Dan Girardi's face or just being professional and finding a way to score against a good defense. If their goal really is to hurt Girardi, Ryan McDonagh or Marc Staal, there are far easier ways to do it.

Mostly, it's just funny to hear Brodeur complaining about a defensive system that smothers offenses and kills creative hockey. His name appears on the Stanley Cup three times because of just such a system, one that didn't seem to bother him at all when he was playing behind it instead of trying to beat it.

If the Devils are thinking that much about getting shots blocked, they've done half the Rangers' work for them. The Senators and Caps already showed that scoring goals isn't impossible in these games, now it is the Devils' turn to put in the work.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Three Goals in Third Lift Rangers Past Devils]]> Tue, 15 May 2012 11:30:07 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144495078.jpg

If ever there was a game that begged for the HBO camera crews to return, it was Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals.

After two periods of sleepy hockey filled with unforgivable turnovers, the Rangers exploded to life in the third period. If the HBO cameras were there, we'd be able to know just what John Tortorella said to put some life into his team.

It had to be a speech for the ages, because the Rangers played the final 20 minutes like a completely different team. They flew past the Devils as if Tortorella's words were actually propelling them forward.

Or maybe it was just that he decided to give Chris Kreider more ice time. It took just 53 seconds of play in the third for Dan Girardi to score the first goal of the game, set up by Kreider beating his man to the puck and then using his strength to hold the puck long enough for Girardi to fly into the offensive zone for a slap shot past Martin Brodeur.

A little more than 11 minutes later, Kreider doubled the Rangers' lead when he buried a pretty feed from Artem Anisimov. Henrik Lundqvist took care of the rest, stopping 21 Devils shots overall for his second shutout of the playoffs.

Anisimov put the puck into an empty net for an emphatic 3-0 series opening win for the Rangers. They carried the play for much of the night and their fits of sloppiness were responsible for just about every quality Devils chance. 

Kreider has a little thing for Games One. He had a goal and an assist in Game One against the Capitals as well and his playoff coming out party has been huge for a Ranger team short on forwards.

Kreider also took a penalty shortly after his goal which elicited the kind of grin from Tortorella that doesn't call to mind amusement so much as imminent explosion.

The first two periods weren't much to watch. There were some moments of inspired play, but they paled in comparison to the battles of attrition in the middle third of the ice and the parade of blocked shots that has become the calling card of this Rangers season.

The two best Devils chances of the first period came on breakaways by Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk that Ryan McDonagh helped erase by getting back quickly on defense. The hardest chances that Lundqvist saw in the second period were three straight point-blank stops against Zach Parise while the Rangers were actually on a power play.

Girardi's goal opened the game up, though. The Devils were forced to come out a bit and the Rangers then got more room to counterattack, leading to some long stretches of enjoyable hockey.

The score stayed 1-0, though, because Lundqvist and Brodeur both came up with highlight reel stops. Lundqvist robbed Kovalchuk 90 seconds after Girardi's goal and Brodeur made a sprawling gem of a save on Staal a few minutes later.

Brodeur couldn't stop Kreider, though, and the Rangers drew first blood in this historically rich Battle of the Hudson, thanks to the offensive work of a player who had never faced the Devils before. There are worse ways to kick off an Eastern Conference finals.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers-Devils: Battle of the Hudson Rages Again]]> Mon, 14 May 2012 19:55:12 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/140101358.jpg

It's hard not to think about history when you think about the Rangers and the Devils.

Mark Messier's "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" guarantee of a Devils sweep of the Jaromir Jagr-less Rangers. Martin Brodeur's refusing to shake Sean Avery's hand after the pest spent a series burrowing his way into the darkest depths of Brodeur's soul. Oh, and the whole Devils winning three Stanley Cups while the Rangers wandered in the post-1994 desert.

There's no shortage of history between these two teams. But history doesn't matter all that much right now.

It'll be good for the fans, but it's not like these are the same old Rangers and Devils. The Rangers have built from within to create a roster heavier on grit than on flashy names, and the Devils have eschewed the stultifying schemes of the past to build around a talented group of forwards.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Adam Henrique and others have made the Devils into a mobile, attacking team instead of the traditional trapping machine that bedeviled so many around hockey. And it is the Rangers who have ripped a page -- the one with Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermeyer, Brian Rafalski and Ken Danyeko -- by building around a crew of defensemen who can shut down opponents every night.

This series figures to provide the Rangers with more open ice than the one they saw in the first two series combined --but it also figures to provide Henrik Lundqvist with the most trouble. The Devils will find a team less equipped to light up their vulnerable defense and better equipped to stop their potent offense.

It's not an exaggeration to say that we've never seen a Rangers-Devils series quite like this. The only constant is Broduer, who has played in every playoff series between these two teams after seeing action as a backup in 1992.

That's a remarkable link to the past, but it is one that doesn't have much bearing on the present. More recent meetings between the teams, namely the blood-soaked fight fest at the Garden, should be more relevant.

While they might not look like those old Rangers-Devils games, this series promises action that's on the same level. The teams are too closely matched to think otherwise.

And the best part of the whole thing? If there is a Game Seven, it will be played on the same day that Stephane Matteau made grown men weep.

Maybe history will count for something overall.



Photo Credit: Josh Alper]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Oust Capitals in Game 7]]> Sun, 13 May 2012 15:45:21 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144257910.jpg

Seven is heaven for the Rangers once again.

The Rangers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after a 2-1 victory over the Capitals in Game Seven at Madison Square Garden. It's the first trip to that round since 1997.

If the Rangers have a dream strategy, it is to grab an early lead and then hand the game over to Henrik Lundqvist for safekeeping. Thanks to a guy building a pretty impressive playoff resume for himself, they got to implement it on Saturday night.

Brad Richards was set up on a brilliant play by Carl Hagelin, who used his speed to create a chance, and beat Braden Holtby just 92 seconds into the game to put the Rangers ahead 1-0. The jolt of energy to the team was enormous and, once again, Richards was the man on the spot.

It's unfair to compare him to Mark Messier as this point, but the one thing Richards has done in a similar way to number 11 is that he has lived up to advance billing as a leader who comes up big in the biggest moments. He did it throughout the regular season and he's been the best forward in blue during the playoffs.

Richards, Hagelin and Marian Gaborik played major minutes in the first period, a period that favored the Rangers throughout. But that wouldn't make the ride any easier.  

The only thing tenser than a tie game in Game Seven may well be watching your team protect a one-goal lead for more than 48 minutes. After Richards' goal, there was constant fear that the bubble would burst and the exuberant celebration of such an early goal would make you feel like you had cast a jinx on the team. 

That never felt more real than during a two-minute span just past the halfway point of the second period when the Capitals held the puck in the Rangers' zone. They passed the puck around the outside, exhausted Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto and nearly scored a couple of times.

Lundqvist was there to stop those pucks and several other strong Washington chances in the second 20 minutes, but he couldn't do anything to alleviate the anxiety that everyone felt every time the Caps took the puck up the ice. The second period, which felt like it had only two or three whistles to interrupt the relentless action, was one spent on pins, needles and freshly sharpened steak knives. 

So when Del Zotto scored with 9:55 left to play in the game (assisted by Gaborik and Hagelin, whose play remained strong all night), there was a collective exhalation of all that fear. The Rangers could now drop back into an even deeper defensive shell and Lundqvist would take care of the rest to guarantee them a date with the Devils.

That relief lasted 37 seconds. Roman Hamrlik scored through a screen and the tension was now even greater since the Caps proved they could find the net.

And then they kicked things up a notch. Ruslan Fedotenko went to the penalty box for knocking a puck directly over the glass, leaving the Rangers shorthanded for the first time all night.

Seconds into the penalty kill, Brian Boyle drove the puck to the net where it slid under Braden Holtby for an apparent goal. Except the referee blew the play dead because he lost sight of the puck and it wasn't overturned on review.

All you needed now was Billy Joel's "Pressure" as the soundrack. The Rangers got a power play that they couldn't convert, furious scrambles occured for every loose puck and Ryan Callahan threw himself on a puck to freeze it like it was a grenade that Callahan wouldn't let harm his platoon.

The minutes clicked away in what felt like slow motion, but the buzzer finally sounded and the tension was released once and for all. The 2-1 win makes two straight Game Seven wins and it means that the rested Devils wait for Monday's resumption of the Battle of the Hudson.

Okay, so maybe the tension isn't totally gone. Enjoy this one for a moment, though, because it's been a long time since the Rangers made it this far.

And, as you'll hear more than once this week, this matchup has worked out well for Rangers teams in the past.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Shoot for 7th Heaven Once Again]]> Sat, 12 May 2012 10:30:20 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rangers+game+7+preview.jpg

There comes a time in a playoff series where there really isn't anything left to say.

Game Seven is that time. You can expend all the energy in the world talking about the Rangers and Capitals ahead of their Saturday night spectacle and it won't amount to anything more than filler.

We know what both of these teams are at this point in time. We know that the games are going to be filled with blocked shots, defensive shells and goaltenders who can take care of anything that trickles through.

We know that the Rangers have to make sure Alexander Ovechkin doesn't beat them the way he did on Wednesday night and we know that the Capitals defensemen remain awfully skittish when the Rangers forecheck shows its teeth. We know that the Rangers power play is more problematic than you'd like and we know that the Caps appear to be incapable of putting teams away by more than a one-goal margin.

And we know that the Rangers have to find a way to generate more offense when the game is at even strength. There's not much that either team can do to change any of the other realities of life in this series, but the Rangers can try to do something about the final one.

At practice on Friday, the Rangers moved Chris Kreider, now a salty veteran of 11 NHL games, back to a line with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan. The All-American line should give the Rangers more balance behind Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Artem Anisimov while also injecting a little bit more speed than the team could manage with Kreider playing limited minutes on the fourth line.

You get the feeling that this is desperation in the mind of John Tortorella, even if it seems eminently sensible to just about every one else. Without this move, though, the Rangers were dooming themselves to play the same kind of charmless slog that we've seen six times already.

That means you're at risk of being on the wrong side of bounces, something that has decided most of those six games. With Kreider, the Rangers can take a shot at creating some bounces of their own even if playing someone so callow also opens up more risk than Tortorella might prefer.

The reward is huge, though, so the risk is justified.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[For Rangers, Playoffs Defy Easy Explanations]]> Thu, 10 May 2012 16:39:54 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144111256.jpg

Since the start of the Rangers' playoff run, there have been some widely held beliefs about what they were about to face.

The Senators were supposed to be a tough opponent because of their speed, but ultimately vulnerable because the Rangers were just a tougher and more physical team. That turned out to be completely false and, if anything, the Senators were the more physical team over the seven-game Rangers win.

The Caps were supposed to be an easier opponent than the Senators, something that you can tell was just as false, based on the fact that there will be a Game Seven on Saturday night. And the Rangers were supposed to have an edge in Game Six because of the deflating way that the Capitals lost Game Five despite leading after 59 minutes and 52 seconds of the game.

That last bit of conventional wisdom died 1 minute and 28 seconds into Wednesday's game when Alexander Ovechkin, who was every bit the monster he used to be, scored a power-play goal. The Capitals weren't demoralized in the least, they just played their game and wound up winning exactly the kind of closely played game that we've seen all series.

John Tortorella spent some time after the game castigating his team's effort, but that seemed more like sending a message for Game Seven than it did an accurate response to how they played in Game Six. The Rangers were victimized by Ryan Callahan falling down on Ovechkin's goal and a fortunate bounce on Jason Chimera's second period goal, but they otherwise played pretty much the same way they have played all season. 

Unfortunately that means their power play was fairly pathetic, most notably on a 5-on-3 in the second period that looked like the Rangers were skating in big bowls of soup. The effort might not have been overwhelming, but it was good enough to get the team a win if they had been able to take advantage of opportunities.

Had it been a case of the Rangers simply being blown off the ice, there'd be reason to panic about Saturday. They weren't, though, and the one thing that we've learned over the course of the regular season and playoffs is that the Rangers don't let losses carry over from one night to the next.

It's the things we know -- the Rangers' power play issues, their resiliency and Henrik Lundqvist's ability -- that are worth consideration right now. The things we think have been proven incorrect time and again, so it's a good time to stop thinking and just experience whatever's coming next.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Brad Richards Has Been Who We Thought He Was]]> Wed, 09 May 2012 12:57:30 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/144030991.jpg

When Brad Richards signed with the Rangers this offseason, he came with two things that people couldn't stop talking about.

The first was a salary that he seemed unlikely to earn in later years of his deal, causing some people to wonder if the Rangers were repeating their mistakes with Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and others.

The second thing was his reputation for playing his best when his team needed it the most. If he lived up to that, the salary wouldn't be much of a concern because there was a pretty good chance the Rangers would have moments of celebration worth every penny.

So far, so good. Richards' goal to send Game Five to overtime was just the latest big moment he's provided in his first season with the team.

There was the goal to win the Winter Classic, one of nine game-winners Richards had during the regular season, and there was the role he played in scoring each of the first two goals of the critical Game Six win over the Senators. Richards also assisted on Marian Gaborik's triple overtime winner in Game Four of this series and he has consistently been a thorn in the opposition's side during the postseason.

It's always tempting to write off things like clutchness as being an intrinsic part of a player.

Richards' Game Five goal came in a furious scramble with everyone on both sides frantically diving and swinging sticks before the puck trickled home off a post.

That's hardly the stuff of design, but it's hard to ignore when the same person keeps coming through in those kinds of moments.

Whether it is skill, luck or a little of both, Richards is always where the Rangers need him to be and that's exactly what they wanted when they signed him.

Richards isn't the biggest reason why these Rangers were so successful in the regular season.

He's somewhere behind Henrik Lundqvist and the defensive identity provided by the likes of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal.

The playoffs are different, though, and Richards' importance has skyrocketed. But that's exactly who we thought he was in the first place.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Stun Capitals in Game 5 OT Thriller]]> Tue, 08 May 2012 06:42:47 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/14400580711.jpg

It was shaping up to be another night in the deja vu-filled life that is the Rangers' existence these days, but it wound up turning into a 3-2 overtime win and another chapter in the book of excitement that has also been the Rangers' existence these days.

Marc Staal scored the winning goal 1:35 into the extra period after Brad Richards tied it with just 6.6 seconds to play in regulation.

The Rangers had played hard, but so had the Capitals, and a couple of bad bounces led to a 2-1 Washington lead as the minutes flitted away in the third period. The Rangers had been more aggressive with 17 first-period shots, but their scoring touch remained as illusory as a competent power play.

It looked like the Rangers were doomed to lose Game Five at home for the second straight series and face a pair of do-or-die games to decide their playoff fate. They were seconds away from just such a fate when the script suddenly changed.

Capitals forward Joel Ward was whistled for a double minor for high-sticking Carl Hagelin with 21 seconds left, leaving the Rangers with a 6-on-4 advantage for one last scramble. Ryan Callahan banged the puck into Braden Holtby twice before Richards swooped in for a goal that tied the game with 6.6 seconds to play.

Richards has scored so many big goals for the Rangers this season, but this was undoubtedly the biggest. He rescued a team that had been lost for the first 59-plus minutes of overtime and put them on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Garden went wild and the Rangers would start overtime on a power play as a result of the call on Ward. They would end it the same way.

John Mitchell won a faceoff, the puck kicked back to Staal and it was over a heartbeat later when Staal beat Holtby for the game-winner. It was a second power-play goal for the Rangers in 1:41 and a major shift for a unit that has been such an Achilles heel all season.

It was a big one again tonight, but timing is everything. The two goals came exactly when the Rangers needed them and now it's the Capitals who will have to play with an extra level of desperation on Wednesday night.

The Rangers will have to weather that desperation, but they'll do it knowing that they have the upper hand. That's a nice change of pace from the familiar story of these playoffs, almost as nice as the rapid change in fortunes that occured on the Garden ice on Monday night.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Face Familiar Ground in Game 5 ]]> Mon, 07 May 2012 11:54:19 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143913164.jpg

At least the Rangers can't claim inexperience when they take the ice on Monday night.

The series with the Capitals is playing out almost exactly the same way that their series with Ottawa played out in the first round. Scoring is low, defense is paramount and every game comes down to a couple of breaks one way or the other.

On Saturday, the break was like the one that the Rangers felt in Game Two. Carl Hagelin was called for a penalty in the third period, just as Brad Richards was at the Garden last week, and the Capitals capitalized with a game-winning goal on the power play.

It was a questionable call in light of the fact that Alex Ovechkin got just two minutes for launching himself at Dan Girardi's head. At least Hagelin wasn't suspended this time, as he was against the Senators while Chris Neil was allowed to run roughshod on the ice without any discipline coming from the league office.

There's nothing the Rangers are going to be able to do about the officiating, outside of avoiding the urge to take out some revenge on Ovechkin. We're also not sure how much they are going to be able to do about the way the games are played, either.

At this point in the season -- hours before a second Game Five of a series tied at two -- it is impossible to expect to see anything from the Rangers other than what we've seen over the first 93 games. The Rangers are going to sell out defensively, let Henrik Lundqvist do his thing and struggle to find a way to turn those first things into goals. 

Chris Kreider's situation illustrates just how fine a line the Rangers have to walk right now. Kreider's poor defensive play was a root cause of both Caps goals on Saturday afternoon, which led John Tortorella to bench him for most of the rest of the game.

That's nothing new from Tortorella, who will bench anyone not taking care in his own end, but the team definitely missed Kreider's presence on the offensive side of the ice. There simply aren't enough other weapons up front for the team to lose Kreider's skill while still generating enough quality scoring chances on Braden Holtby.

There's talk about putting more pucks on net, something that sounds quite familiar from the series against the Senators, but the Rangers aren't going to become the Wayne Gretzky Oilers overnight. The team has an identity that they wear proudly and it simply isn't one of a team that is going to have a lot of easy nights on the ice.

We're 11 games into this playoff run and the script is pretty clear. It's not going to be pretty and it's not going to be fun, but it's certainly going to be exciting. 

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Take an Extra Day Before Returning to Action]]> Fri, 04 May 2012 14:10:06 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143702719.jpg

When the schedule for the Rangers-Capitals series was first released, there were some groans about an extra day off between Games 3 and 4.

You aren't going to be hearing any groans now that the day is here and the Rangers are able to take it easy instead of getting back onto the ice. Something about playing for 114:41 in Wednesday night's epic three overtime win that makes it easy to justify hitting the snooze button a couple of extra times.

Ryan McDonagh has the most reason to thank the scheduling office. McDonagh played 53 minutes on Wednesday, almost all of them against Washington's best forwards, and took a big, clean hit from Matt Hendricks in the first overtime session.

He also blocked several shots, threw checks at Caps skaters and did a little bit of everything else the Rangers needed to win the game. That made it exactly like every other Rangers game of the season, outside of the fact that it was almost twice as long with a lot more at stake than two points in the standings.

After playing a game like that, it is worth wondering whether fatigue is going to be a problem for the Rangers on Saturday. While there are surely some tired bodies out there, it is notable that the Rangers looked like the far fresher team in the minutes leading up to Marian Gaborik's game-winner.

That's not exactly what you'd expect thanks to the Caps balancing their ice time while John  Tortorella rides some of his lines far more than others. But it certainly seemed like the Rangers had a bottomless well of energy to draw from on Wednesday night while the Capitals were running on empty.

It doesn't fit from that perspective, but it certainly fits from the perspective of the Rangers team that we watched all season. McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan and others were tireless in their efforts to get the team victories back in January so it makes all the sense in the world that they would find the reserves they needed to get a win in the postseason.

Historically, teams that win games like the one the Rangers won on Saturday tend to win the series. It's just one game, but it feels like much more.

The Capitals threw everything in the world at the Rangers on Wednesday and they couldn't break through Henrik Lundqvist's shell. That's exhausting mentally on top of physically and that exhaustion is much less likely to go away during the gap between games as you keep thinking about the way Game 3 ended.

Much work remains for the Rangers, but their ability to survive on Wednesday should serve them very well as they make their way through the rest of this series.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Triple Their Pleasure in Triple OT]]> Thu, 03 May 2012 06:43:42 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143697393.jpg

Marian Gaborik needed a goal.

It took almost six full periods, but he got it. Gaborik scored 14:41 into the third overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 win and a 2-1 series lead.

The score might have wound up making you think this was the same kind of tight, pound of flesh for every inch of ice game that we saw in New York. Quite the opposite, actually, during regulation.

There were long stretches without whistles as the teams went up and down the ice with plenty of room and scoring chances waiting for them on the other end. There were also moments when both teams established control and went for the net, but the end-to-end stuff was a big difference from the other nights.

It was a thrilling change, provided you find roller coasters and other things that make you feel like you have absolutely no control over your own body. Equally thrilling was the the way that both Henrik Ludqvist and Braden Holtby made the stops to keep that fast-moving style afoot.

The first two goals of the game were hard to pin on the goaltenders. Ryan Callahan shoveled one past Holtby after a Michael Del Zotto shot pinged off of two different players and then John Carlson tied it after Marc Staal's pokecheck backfired to give Carlson an easy chance on net.

Otherwise, the scoring chances through the first 60 minutes were either snuffed by the goalies or sent just wide of the net by players with good looks at the net. Marian Gaborik got another assist on Callahan's goal and he drew a penalty, but his own shots never found what they were looking for as his scoring slump stretched out another day. 

The defense picked up in the third period as well, culminating in back-to-back penalty kills by the Caps and Rangers with less than six minutes to play in the game. There was one final flurry and then it was time for overtime.

Overtime isn't the happiest place for the Rangers to find themselves. They've lost twice in the extra session already in these playoffs and Lundqvist had lost his last seven overtime playoff games heading into Wednesday night.

The Rangers had two members of their defense shaken up in the first five minutes of the extra period, which resembled the rest of the game. Dan Girardi needed stitches and Ryan McDonagh got rung up on a clean hit by Matt Hendricks that wound up leading to a primo scoring opportunity that Troy Brouwer couldn't convert from the doorstep. 

Both defensemen returned after barely missing a shift, which pretty much sums up everything about what they've done for the team all season, and the parade of close calls continue. Brad Richards whiffed on a golden chance, Alex Ovechkin hit a post after beating Lundqvist and the first overtime ran its course without a winner.

That's when things started getting really tense. Hockey in double overtime isn't even fun because of how little you can enjoy the action while clenching parts of your body you didn't even realize you could clench.

Mike Rupp had a great chance to win it blocked by Brian Boyle's rear end, the Rangers survived a rush after Lundqvist lost his goal stick and Callahan kept blocking shots as if he got a couple hundred thousand dollars every time it happened. That led to yet another overtime.

The Rangers had the first great chance, but they couldn't find a way to get a goal on the power play after Rupp drew a high-sticking call. They would have most of the rest of them as well against a clearly exhausted Capitals team, but a combination of Holtby and bad luck kept the game lurching forward into the night.

And then, after almost 115 minutes of hockey, Gaborik finally ended the overtime losing streak and his goalless streak. He hit a post on his previous shift and then parked himself on the footstep of the net for a perfect feed from Richards.

In hindsight, the game felt like it was going to go the Rangers' way for a while before the goal because they were controlling the puck for long stretches, but it didn't really feel that way at the time. Everything is too fraught in a game like this to ever feel comfortable.

Until it's over, at least. Now the Rangers can feel quite comfortable after surviving a battle like this.

And they can enjoy two days until the next one.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Issuing an APB for Marian Gaborik's Goalscoring]]> Wed, 02 May 2012 15:07:36 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143611864.jpg

There were plenty of times this season when it seemed like the Rangers had no hope of scoring unless Marian Gaborik was putting the puck on net.

Gaborik's 42 goals were essential to the Rangers' success this season, especially since he had to battle back from injuries, a poor 2010-2011 season and John Tortorella's occasional displeasure with his overall game to put up those numbers. There were plenty of other things that contributed to the gains over the previous year for the Rangers, but Gaborik's return to form was one of the biggest.

So it's been a bit of an unpleasant surprise to see Gaborik lose his scoring touch at the exact moment when the Rangers need it the most. He hasn't scored a goal since Game One of the Ottawa series and the Rangers have scored just 15 goals in those eight games.

The issue of Gaborik's lack of production feels even more exaggerated by the way Tortorella is doling out ice time. He left Artem Anisimov, Mike Rupp and John Mitchell on the bench for the final 30 minutes of the game so that he could ride his other nine forwards more heavily.

That's Tortorella's choice, of course, but it didn't seem to make much sense in the context of this series. Anisimov had a goal in Game One and that line generated a few decent scoring chances before they were anchored to the bench.

It makes even less sense when you take into account how much hockey the Rangers hope to play this season. Grinding down your top players is only going to make them less effective, a pretty scary scenario given how little they've gotten from their forwards to this point in the playoffs.

With two assists in the last two games, Gaborik hasn't been totally invisible. He hasn't been a liability defensively, either, but those things are only slight glosses to put on the fact that he isn't putting the puck in the net.

The way the Capitals are playing right now is going to make games extremely tight if the Rangers don't exploit their talent advantage. Gaborik putting the puck in the net is the best way to exploit that advantage and Game Three would be an awfully good time for him to start doing it.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Rangers Get a Taste of Their Own Medicine]]> Tue, 01 May 2012 07:24:29 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Rangers-Capitals-Ryan-McDonagh-Joel-Ward.jpg

The Rangers have made their bones this season winning games that could have gone either way.

They've done it by being disciplined on defense, by giving extra effort all over the ice and by getting the puck to bounce their way more often than not. That's the formula they rode past the Senators in the first round and it is also the formula that led to a 3-2 defeat in Game Two against the Capitals.

Unlike the Senators series, this wasn't a case of the Rangers losing because they were outworked by a team playing with more urgency. There was plenty of urgency from the Rangers and they blocked shots, played hard and controlled the pace of the game for long portions of the game.

As we said Monday, though, the Capitals are playing the exact same style these days and they matched the Rangers' defensive commitment even when it looked like the game was in the hands of the Rangers. They cut down the passing lanes that the Rangers used to beat them in Game One and got a much better performance from goalie Braden Holtby than in the opener.

And they also got the bounces. Michael Del Zotto, who played a very strong game that included the shot Ryan Callahan deflected into the net to tie the game at two in the third period, hit two posts in the closing minutes of the game.

The Capitals hit posts in Game One, which helped the Rangers escape with a 3-1 win, and the Rangers hit the posts this time around. We'll get to the other big reason why the Rangers wound up losing the game in a moment, but there are going to be nights when you lose on a puck off the crossbar when you play games that can go either way.

Of course, the Rangers made things extra difficult on themselves by taking a pair of penalties back-to-back midway through the period. Brian Boyle and Brad Richards both made lazy plays and got called for holds as a result with the Capitals finally making the Rangers pay during the Richards penalty.

Alexander Ovechkin, who played just 13 minutes, got the puck off a draw and beat Henrik Lundqvist with a shot through a screen. Ovechkin can still shoot, despite the Capitals' desire to keep him on the bench, and the Rangers gave him a chance to beat them by taking bad penalties in a tie game.

When the Rangers lost Game Two of the Ottawa series, we wondered if they could find the right level of urgency to lift their game. This loss is different, because the Rangers didn't play poorly on Monday night.

They played their game, but the Capitals played the same game. That meant it came down to a bounce here and a whistle there in a game that didn't care that the Rangers were the better team.

The bounces will be different next time and this doesn't feel like a series that's going to be decided by too much else.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Win Game 7 to Advance to Semi-Finals]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:33:55 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143445959.jpg

It was a Game Seven, so you probably knew it was going to come down to one goal and some close calls in the final minute.

It was also the 2011-2012 Rangers, a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference because they won a lot of games just like that over the course of the year. They are still alive in their quest for a Stanley Cup because they won one more, this time 2-1 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. 

Second-period goals by Mark Staal and Dan Girardi stood up, thanks to a scrambling, endless effort by the Rangers through the rest of the game. It doesn't take long to figure out the Rangers' way of doing things: Staal's goal was set up by a great hustle play by Chris Kreider, who was playing the fifth game of his NFL career.

Most of the scrambling came on defense. The Rangers had to take care of a lot of business in their own end to hold on to a lead for half the game.

One of the biggest moments in the game came at the end of the first period when the Senators kept an exhausted Rangers defense pinned in its zone for several minutes. The Rangers didn't crack before they were saved by the horn, and it was a moment that showed that the fight was at a requisite level for Game Seven.

It was really the only question left for the Rangers to answer after a series that saw them get a bit too passive a bit too often compared to the way they approached the game during the regular season. Game Seven saw the return of the Rangers who would do absolutely anything in order to win a game.

That would be the case again for long stretches of the third period as shift after shift took place in the Rangers' end, but, again the defense held under pressure. Shots were blocked, passes were tipped away and, when all else failed, there was Henrik Lundqvist to save the day.

Lundqvist has to be very good for the Rangers to have a chance to keep advancing in this tournament, and that's exactly what he was on Thursday night. It was as big a night as there's been in Lundqvist's Rangers career, and he played as well as he ever has to take his team forward to the second round.

When they get there, they'll be facing the Capitals. It's a team that looks much different than it did when the Rangers saw them near the end of the regular season.

That Capitals team had underachieved all year and lost their top goaltenders to injury just as the year was coming to an end. Braden Holtby was an unknown quantity in net and the team needed to go to the wire just to get into the playoffs.

Now, though, they have fought through the defending champs from Boston thanks to a balanced effort up and down the lineup. Holtby was very strong against the Bruins and has to be riding a huge wave of confidence coming into this series.

In other words, the Rangers' climb is just getting started. With two wins to hold off a crushing first round disappointment, it is starting with a head of steam that could take it some very interesting places.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Playing Rangers Style Pays Off in Game Seven]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:50:49 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143444430.jpg

It was a Game Seven, so you probably didn't need to guess that it was going to come down to a one goal and some close calls in the final minute.

It was also the 2011-2012 Rangers, a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference because they won a lot of games just like that over the course of the year. They are still alive in their quest for a Stanley Cup because they won one more of them 2-1 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. 

Second period goals by Mark Staal and Dan Girardi stood up thanks to a scrambling, endless effort by the Rangers across the rest of the game. In a sign that it doesn't take long to figure out the Rangers way of doing things, Staal's goal was set up by a great hustle play by Chris Kreider, who was playing the fifth game of his NFL career.

Most of the scrambling came on defense. The Rangers had to take care of a lot of business in their own end to hold onto a lead for half the game.

One of the biggest moments in the game came at the end of the first period when the Senators kept an exhausted Rangers defense pinned in its zone for several minutes. The Rangers didn't crack before getting saved by the horn and it was a moment that showed that the fight was at a requisite level for Game Seven.

It was really the only question left for the Rangers to answer after a series that saw them get a bit too passive a bit too often compared to the way they approached the game during the regular season. Game Seven saw the return of the Rangers who would do absolutely anything in order to win a game.

That would be the case again for long stretches of the third period as shift after shift took place in the Rangers' end, but, again the defense held under pressure. Shots were blocked, passes were tipped away and, when all else failed, there was Henrik Lundqvist to save the day.

Lundqvist has to be very good for the Rangers to have a chance to keep advancing in this tournament and that's exactly what he was on Thursday night. It was as big a night as there's been in Lundqvist's Rangers career and he played as well as he ever has to take his team forward to the second round.

When they get there, they'll be facing the Capitals. It's a team that looks much different than it did when the Rangers saw them near the end of the regular season.

That Capitals team had underachieved all year and lost their top goaltenders to injury just as the year was coming to an end. Braden Holtby was an unknown quantity in net and the team needed to go to the wire just to get into the playoffs.

Now, though, they have fought through the defending champs from Boston thanks to a balanced effort up and down the lineup. Holtby was very strong against the Bruins and has to be riding a huge wave of confidence coming into this series.

In other words, the Rangers' climb is just getting started. With two wins to hold off a crushing first round disappointment, it is starting with a head of steam that could take it some very interesting places.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Know the Stakes Going into Game 7]]> Thu, 26 Apr 2012 16:38:58 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Rangers_Senators_Hockey.6f1fbc115cc1471ca094749209d921f2.jpg

The last time the Rangers played a Game Seven at Madison Square Garden, the night ended with one of the most joyful noises ever heard in a sports arena.

That was 1994, of course, and the opponent that night was the Canucks. Fifty-four years of disappointments, heartbreaks and tears were wiped away in 60 minutes, and anyone who saw that will never forget it.

Getting back to the top of the mountaintop this year is going to take another Game Seven win. The Rangers and Senators skate on Thursday night with no more margin for error in their seasons.

The stakes are clear: You win or you stop playing.

While the downside of a loss is tremendous, there's something pretty refreshing about the mindset of a Game Seven. There's nothing to keep in reserve and no reason to save the bullets in your gun because there isn't a tomorrow unless you play the most urgent game of your life.

Given the way the Rangers responded to the same terms in Game Six, there's not much reason to worry about their ability to come up with the intensity that the moment requires. The bigger issue is figuring out which player is going to step up and make the plays that the Rangers need to win the game.

Marian Gaborik has been almost invisible in this series, but the team could really use the kind of performance he gave them all season. When Gaborik is in front of the net and the Rangers have the puck, the chances of something good happening go up exponentially.

Brad Richards was brought to New York to win games just like this and he made good on that expectation by being perhaps the best player on the ice during the crucial second period of Game Six. He's risen to the moment all season -- Richards was one of the team leaders in game-winning goals -- and it feels like he's got a little bit more left in that tank.

Ryan Callahan was the other leader in game winners and captains are the kinds of players that you look to for Game Seven heroics. These three have been the most important forwards on the team all season and it is almost impossible to think the Rangers will win if one of them doesn't step up in a major way.

And, then, of course, there's Henrik Lundqvist. He's been everything the Rangers have needed him to be all season and he'll need to be at the same level again on Thursday night.

He's the safest bet of the four, but it won't be enough to just put everything on Lundqvist's shoulders. The Rangers need their stars to play like it to keep the hope of another epic Garden Party alive.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Conspiracies, Injuries and Waiting for Game Seven]]> Wed, 25 Apr 2012 13:30:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Rangers_Senators_Hockey.02632ec3918f4c438d150e0fc977174e.jpg

The Rangers seem to be under the impression that the powers that be in the NHL are rooting for them to lose.

Henrik Lundqvist, who was nominated for the Vezina Trophy on Wednesday, suggested as much after referees upheld the final goal in Game Six when it looked for all the world like Chris Neil kicked the puck into the net.

Neil is at the center of some other controversy thanks to his totally unpenalized pulverizing of Brian Boyle in Game Five and his post-Game Six threat to aim for Michael Del Zotto's head as soon as possible.

Throw in the league's decision not to discipline Milan Michalek for kicking Dan Girardi during that final goal scrum and you've got plenty of ammunition for the notion that the league is favoring the Senators.

That's a fine thing to think about during the dead hours between games or when you want to build up some bile during the game, but it's all pretty much just window-dressing. The final result of this series isn't going to have anything to do with the league's disciplinary decisions.

It is going to come down to the Rangers summoning up the kind of effort they put forth on Monday night in Ottawa and it is going to come down to Lundqvist playing at the very top of his ability. It'll be about John Tortorella pushing the right lineup buttons -- more Chris Kreider, please -- and it will be about Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards leading the team because Game Sevens can't be won if you don't keep your wits about you.

Callahan missed practice on Wednesday because he blocked a shot with his hand late in Monday's game but there's not much chance he's going to miss the game. Boyle's status is much less clear, however, as he didn't practice and the team offered no updates.

Injuries won't decide things any more than conspiracy theories, however. With or without Boyle, the Rangers have enough to win Game Seven and their ability to rise to the moment will be what matters more than anything else.

Can they do it? You've got a little more than 24 hours to chew on that question.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[The Rangers Send It Back to the Garden]]> Mon, 23 Apr 2012 22:12:41 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Rangers_Senators_Hockey.2bb909589cfd42d5a18f03405176a010.jpg

When the Rangers signed Brad Richards last summer, one of the many reasons given was the way Richards helped the Lightning during their run to a Stanley Cup title.

Richards won the Conn Smythe for his work under John Tortorella during that playoff run, and his leadership was cited as an important addition to a young Rangers team. There were several points during the regular season where we saw Richards excel under pressure, but the team never needed him more than they needed him in Monday night's Game Six.

Richards delivered and the Rangers lived to fight another day after a 3-2 victory in Ottawa. Game Seven will be at a raucous Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

With the Rangers down 1-0 almost halfway through the second period of another game that was being controlled by the Senators, Richards decided he had enough and took matters into his own hands. On the power play, Richards held the puck for long stretches while waving his hand to get his teammates into the proper position.

Derek Stepan complied, perching himself on the doorstep of the Senators' net and poking home a feed from Richards for the Rangers' first goal since the first period of Game Four. It was the first time in ages that the Rangers forced Craig Anderson to move side-to-side while also crowding the net, and the move paid off with a crucial goal.

That goal shifted the balance that we'd been seeing for the majority of three games with the Rangers gaining confidence and the Senators getting sloppy. That would help create Richards' second highlight of the evening.

An excellent Rangers penalty kill led to a penalty on Ottawa, which was followed up by a highly questionable goalie interference call to create a 5-on-3 for the Rangers that Richards punctuated with a shot past Anderson for a 2-1 Rangers lead. All the air was out of Ottawa's lungs, something that led to the backbreaker.

The Senators botched their defensive coverage of a Marc Staal dump-in, and Stepan was able to control the puck coming off the back boards. Chris Kreider, the rookie who debuted in Game Three of the series, cut into the zone and deposited a perfect feed into the net for his first NHL goal.

Kreider played a very strong game -- strong enough that it is hard to see him leaving the lineup even after Brian Boyle returns to action, and Stepan's game was by far his best of the six playoff games. He had a goal and two assists on the night that was nearly as good as the one Richards put together. 

There will never be anything like Mark Messier's Game Six in the Meadowlands 18 years ago, but Richards' was about as close as we've seen since that magical night. It was a big-time performance by a guy brought to town just for that reason.

Henrik Lundqvist made some spectacular saves to help the lead stand up. A strange replay call allowed a Senators goal kicked in by Chris Neil to stand in the final minute of the game, but the Rangers made a couple more plays in their own end and skated off as winners.

That means Game Seven, and it means that the old barn on Seventh Avenue is going to be the hottest place in New York City on Thursday night. We haven't seen one like this in a good long time, so strap yourselves in and enjoy one of sport's greatest spectacles.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Need to Remember What Got Them Here]]> Fri, 20 Apr 2012 14:04:20 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143087977.jpg

It's not time to panic about the Rangers.

That doesn't come unless they lose on Saturday night and head back to Ottawa with their season on the line. Right now, they've got home ice advantage in a race to two wins and they still haven't trailed during the run of play in the series.

Playoff hockey is always a beast and the fact that the Rangers are going to play at least six games against the Senators is nothing that should shake your belief in the team. Neither is the fact that Henrik Lundqvist has now lost seven straight overtime games.

It's a weird stat, to be sure, and not particularly reassuring should Game Five be tied at the end of 60 minutes, but it also doesn't tell you everything about how those seven games have ended. Lundqvist missed some he should have saved, but Marian Gaborik was the culprit on one goal last season and the team's inability to score in regulation has been a major contributing factor in almost all of the others.

So what should be shaking your belief? Exactly the same thing that shook it after the first Rangers loss of the series.

The Rangers are getting pushed around and losing individual battles far more often than they did over the course of the regular season. The losses aren't coming because the Senators' skilled players like Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris are overwhelming the Rangers on defense, they are coming because players like Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka continually beat the Rangers to pucks and refuse to give it up. 

They are coming because the Senators are getting the puck on net and putting bodies there to make life difficult for Lundqvist. The Rangers aren't doing that, with everyone but Brian Boyle relying too much on outside shooting instead of doing the dirty work necessary to rattle Craig Anderson.

Ryan Callahan did it all season, but he hasn't been doing it in this series. Neither has Gaborik and the Rangers are going to find it very hard to win if those two guys aren't right around the net fishing for scores.

The team that dominated at even strength all season has scored just two goals with five-a-side since the opening game, as clear a sign as any that they are being thrown off their game by a Senators team that's doing a better job of controlling the puck and taking it away than the Rangers. That still only adds up to a tie series, another reason not to panic, and this Rangers team has never been better than coming off a loss.

If that goes away on Saturday night, though, you can go right ahead and panic.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Overtime is Losing Time for Rangers Again]]> Wed, 18 Apr 2012 22:51:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/143087299.jpg

The Rangers haven't been behind for one minute of their four games against the Senators.

That's good, but not nearly as good as it sounds, because they now head back to New York with the series tied at two games apiece. Kyle Turris's goal in overtime gave the Sens their second 3-2 overtime win of the series and ended a game that couldn't have started any better for the Rangers.

They scored twice in the first 6:10 of the game with both goals coming on the normally dormant power play after the Senators took a couple of bad penalties to kick off the game. Anton Stralman potted the first one off a rebound and Ryan Callahan followed a Marian Gaborik shot for the second goal in what looked like it was going to be the night the lights went out in the series.

In a strange way, those two goals might have actually backfired for the Rangers because it forced the Senators into desperation mode early in the game. The home team began to carry the play more and more through the end of the first period into the second as the clock ticked away on their season.

The second period was all Ottawa, and Lundqvist eventually cracked. He was beaten once on an odd man rush just after the Senators killed a Rangers power play, and then again when a shot by Sergei Gonchar trickled through his legs after an initial stop.

Ottawa's surge subsided a bit in the third period, but the Rangers didn't quite step up enough to carry the game when the Senators pulled back on the reins. Craig Anderson made some tough saves, but the Rangers never seemed to be in control of the game after Callahan's goal.

Lundqvist needed to make a couple of special stops in the third just to get the game into overtime, and it felt like just a matter of time before Ottawa's relentlessness paid off in the winning goal. It didn't take long as a Rangers turnover sprung a break the other way that Turris paid off with a shot that went through Stralman's legs on its way past Lundqvist.

So now the Rangers come home for a pivotal Game Five in the strange position of being in front or tied for every minute of play in the series and having absolutely nothing to show for it. We saw them elevate their game in Game Three after giving up the lead and the game in New York last Saturday, and we've seen them do it countless times this season, but you have to wonder how many times they can get off the mat with an overwhelming performance.

Things have gotten tense, boys and girls. Playoff hockey is not for the faint of heart.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Go For Complete Control in Game Four]]> Wed, 18 Apr 2012 17:17:23 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/chris-kreider-rangers-senators-game-four.jpg

Elevation was the name of the game on Monday night.

The Rangers got pushed around in Game Two of their series with the Senators. It was a shocking development because up until that point, they rarely took any physical guff from the opposition. The Rangers needed to find another gear to retake the advantage in the series.

They found it. And it wasn't just Henrik Lundqvist standing on his head for 60 minutes, although that helped.

It was Stu Bickel blocking a shot in front of an open net and Anton Stralman making two marvelous defensive plays to kill scoring chances in the third period. You expect that from Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, but not from a third defensive pair that hasn't always had John Tortorella's respect.

It was also Ruslan Fedotenko rediscovering the edge to his game after a mostly passive final month of the season. And it was especially Brian Boyle looking like the star that many have thought lurked inside his massive frame since he was a first-round pick back in 2003.

On the one hand, we shouldn't have been surprised by the victory. The Rangers have followed up losses with superior efforts all season long, and they won Monday night's game by doing the same.

But these are the playoffs, and teams don't always offer up those kinds of responses when the chips are down. Just look at the Penguins and Canucks as two examples of teams that have pretty much folded up their tents after taking a shot in the mouth.

We know that the Rangers can elevate their game. Now the question is whether they can maintain the level again against a Senators team that is sure to be desperate on Wednesday night.

Matt Carkner, who touched off the brawl that got Brandon Dubinsky kicked out of Game Two, will be back in the lineup and the Senators may try to get under everybody's skin after losing some of their nastiness in Game Three. The Rangers have to be just as tough as they were in that 1-0 win without allowing themselves to be goaded into doing anything stupid if provoked.

It's a fine line, but it is one the Rangers are capable of walking. If they do it -- and it would help if they can do it without allowing quite as many quality scoring chances this time around -- they'll be in complete control when they return to the Garden on Saturday night.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Take Thriller in Ottawa]]> Mon, 16 Apr 2012 22:16:22 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/henrik-lundqvist-rangers-senators-game-three.jpg

No one is surprised by the fact that Henrik Lundqvist carried the Rangers on his back to a 1-0 win against the Senators in Game Three of their series Monday night.

Lundqvist was perfect on a night when his team needed him to be perfect, which is something that we might just take for granted given how many times we've seen it happen in the past.

But this Brian Boyle explosion is something that nobody saw coming. Boyle, booed all night by an Ottawa crowd that liked the way their team assaulted him throughout Game Two at the Garden, scored the only goal of the game with 12:25 to play.

That makes three goals in three nights for the oversized center who has picked exactly the right moment to get hot. He also blocked shots, set up teammates with big passes and drew a huge penalty late in the third to wipe out an Ottawa power play that threatened their slim advantage.

The goal, as they often do in 1-0 playoff games, came out of nowhere. After almost 50 minutes of pounding away, Dan Girardi fired a puck off the back boards and it took a big bounce right onto the doorstep of the goal, where Boyle put it away.

Playoff hockey has inspired all kinds of semi-epic poetry over the years. It can turn in an instant, tying your stomach up in knots as you hold your breath during every shot and every rush down the ice. Games exactly like this one have led to such poetry.

There were moments when the Senators and Rangers rushed up and down the ice for minutes at a time without a stoppage, with every missed shot leading to a try at the other end and then back again. And then there were long periods where every inch of ice was taken by force, but only as long as it took for another player to arrive on the scene and take it back for his side.

There was magical defensive play by Anton Stralman in the Rangers end, and blocked shot after blocked shot on both sides of the ice. The Senators dominated play for long stretches, much longer than the Rangers ever dominated, but every chance was snuffed out before their lively crowd could celebrate.

Both goalies stood tall throughout it all. Craig Anderson stopped two Rangers breakaways to keep the score 1-0 and nearly equaled what Lundqvist did for the entire 60 minutes.

Playoff hockey isn't horseshoes, though, and close isn't good enough for anything other than a loss. Anderson got beaten once, while Lundqvist stopped all 39 pucks that came his way and many of them were of the spectacular variety.

That's the Lundqvist we saw for so much of the season, the one who could steal any game for his team simply by making sure no puck made its way into the net. There was a bit of slippage down the stretch, forcing you to wonder if the King was still truly in charge of the ice.

Monday night answered that question with a resounding yes. The Rangers are back in front in a series that can't possibly get any tenser or more exciting than what we saw in Game Three.

Unless, of course, it does.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Getting Different Test Than They Expected]]> Mon, 16 Apr 2012 13:41:24 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/brad-richards-eric-karlsson-rangers-senators.jpg

The Senators didn't just get mad on Saturday night, they got even.

Ottawa turned the first round series with the Rangers on its head after a 4-2 loss in Game One by playing a far more physical, aggressive and nasty game than anyone expected to see from them. The script of the series was supposed to be that the Rangers would carry things on that front while the Senators tried to use the athleticism of Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza to upset the Rangers.

They went a different way on Saturday, though, and wound up with a 3-2 overtime win for their troubles. The Senators were the ones who started the game with enforcers on the ice and they were the ones who touched off a melee a short time later when Matt Carkner jumped Brian Boyle and began whaling away at his head.

Brandon Dubinsky jumped in and got thrown out along with Carkner, a strange decision seeing as how the referees called Dubinsky the third man into a fight that didn't result in a fighting major for Boyle. Boyle then fought with Chris Neil a bit later and generally spent the evening as a marked man thanks to a hit on Karlsson in Game One.

He held up quite well, scoring the goal that put the Rangers up 2-1 in the third, and should be the example for what the rest of the Rangers have to do to put themselves back on top of this series. He played through the Senators' rough stuff, didn't let it throw him off his game and continued to ride the hot streak that bubbled up near the end of the season.

It will take more than that, though. The Rangers need to find a way to dictate the pace of the game, something that is admittedly difficult if the Senators come out to play in a style that mirrors the one the Rangers used to get to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The best way to do that will be to steer clear of as much extracurricular nonsense as possible and playing smart and tough between the whistles. Stand up when challenged, to be sure, but don't go out of your way to make trouble because that's only going to open a door to what the Senators want to do on their home ice.

Don't do what Carl Hagelin did, in other words. The rookie is going to be out for the next three games after concussing Daniel Alfredsson with an elbow, a penalty that drew a five-minute Ottawa power play on Saturday.

Hagelin's punishment is ridiculous in a league that suspended Carkner one game for touching off a brawl and didn't suspend Nashville's Shea Weber at all for slamming the head of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg into the boards twice as if it were the turnbuckle of a WWE ring. Hagelin deserved a suspension for Game Three, it was a cheap hit to the head through and through, but he got over-punished and the Rangers will miss him.

They'll miss him less if Dubinsky returns with some semblance of his game intact and if Derek Stepan can rebound from a terrible Game Two. They'll miss him not at all if they can take advantage of the Senators' overzealous hitting and capitalize on power play chances after going just 1-for-8 on Saturday.

It might not be the fight that the Rangers were expecting, but it is the fight they got. Now their only mission is to figure out a way to win it so that they can move on to the next one.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Kick Off Playoffs With a Bang]]> Fri, 13 Apr 2012 07:22:05 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rangers+game+one.jpg

When a team scores in the first period, leads the entire rest of the game and ends up winning 4-2, it seems odd that the biggest moment of the contest was their coach's decision to take a timeout halfway through the second period.

But in the Rangers' resounding Game One win, it was.

After a strong first period highlighted by a Ryan Callahan goal, the Rangers started dragging a bit early in the second. John Tortorella didn't like what he was seeing from his team in a game that could flip in an instant.

But Tortorella didn't lace into his team during the stoppage. He chose a more measured way of expressing his dissatisfaction with the level of play they were showing. Tortorella pushed the right buttons.

After the timeout, it looked like the Garden ice was slanted toward the Ottawa goal as the Rangers poured the pressure on Craig Anderson's net after much of the first half of the period was spent around Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers were up to their usual tricks, winning battles for pucks and keeping the Senators from getting comfortable in the offensive zone while starting, and that eventually broke the game open. 

Marian Gaborik scored a pretty goal with just under three minutes to go in the second, and then Brian Boyle put one home a couple of minutes later to put the Rangers up 3-0. The Garden was rocking, the Senators looked shell-shocked and a Brad Richards goal off a perfect feed from Carl Hagelin turned things into a party early in the third period.

Lundqvist's work in keeping the Senators off the scoreboard until that momentum-changing timeout shouldn't be forgotten. He made several good saves while the rest of the team tried to find their legs, and a couple of goals late in the third only changed the way the game looked on the scoreboard.

Getting the win in the first game is huge, obviously, but that mid-game reminder from Tortorella that the Rangers had to focus on playing their game was very big as well. The biggest obstacle the Rangers are going to have in this series is themselves -- something proven by how easily this game went in their direction as long as they were playing their game.

If they can do that again on Saturday night, they'll be off to Ottawa with a commanding lead in the series.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Five Biggest Reasons to Believe in the Rangers]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 14:34:51 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/henrik-lundqvist-2012-nhl-playoffs-rangers.jpg

Thursday night is a big one for the Rangers.

It's the first time since 1996 that the Rangers will be opening a playoff series on home ice, which would be a pretty big day at the Garden even if they weren't also the Eastern Conference regular season champions for the first time since 1994. The building should be rocking and it should remain rocking just as long as the Rangers keep giving the fans a reason for exuberance.

On Wednesday, we discussed some ways that the Senators could put an end to all the fun and games. Their speed is a real concern, especially since it carried them to three wins over our boys in the regular season and it is the one place the Rangers defense is really vulnerable.

But that speed will only be a problem if the Rangers allow it to be a problem. Dictating the pace and style of game is going to be crucial for their chances of advancement, just as it has been all season, and that's one thing to feel good about as the team's playoff odyssey gets underway.

If the Rangers weren't capable of standing up and figuring out a way through adverse moments, they wouldn't have won the Eastern Conference. Teams with less backbone would have allowed the Penguins to force their way into the top spot down the stretch, but the Rangers controlled their stumble well enough to remain in the drivers seat.

The biggest reason why they were able to do that is the biggest reason to believe the Rangers are going to be moving on from their date with the Senators. We've included four other ones as well to give you something to think about -- especially since you can't follow any players on Twitter anymore -- before the puck finally drops in Game One.

John Tortorella: It took a while for the team to fully mold itself into the kind of unit that Tortorella has wanted since he came to New York, but they've done it and the results have been remarkable. This team throws itself into every moment of every game and refuses to be outworked by the opposition, two things that translate directly into the kind of consistently strong performances that teams have to have to make a long playoff run.

Ryan Callahan: Consider this an extension of the above as Callahan is the player who best exemplifies the style that Tortorella wants his team to play and his ability to do it as team captain has trickled down the entre roster. His relentlessness sets the right tone and it will be a hard one for the Senators to match.

The Marian Gaborik/Brad Richards Partnership: It wasn't instant chemistry between these two, but their romantic comedyish slow realization that they were born to play with one another certainly appeared to find paydirt before the end of the season. It's not enough for the Rangers to just outwork everybody, they need to score as well, and the Gaborik/Richards pairing is one that has become increasingly difficult to stop.

The Dan Girardi/Ryan McDonagh Partnership: Gaborik and Richards provide the sizzle, and these two defensemen provide the responsible back end play that makes the sizzle pay off in victories. Blocking shots and finishing checks -- the specialties of this pair -- against the opposition's top lines eventually leads to demoralized snipers who aren't willing to pay the price to get a chance at goal.

Henrik Lundqvist: No, we didn't forget about the Sports Illustrated cover boy who is looking to cement himself in the upper strata of the NHL's goaltenders with a playoff run to remember. He's been a little more human over the last two months (still a little less human than most keepers) but he hasn't been overworked and should be ready to make every play the Rangers need him to make.

It's hard to predict exactly when a goalie will go on the kind of hot streak that ends with a Cup in his hands, but Lundqvist feels as well positioned for one as any goalie we've ever seen. He carried the Rangers for long stretches of the regular season, rose to the occasion at the Winter Classic and maintained the highest level of play of his career for the entire season. 

He can't win it alone, obviously, but you can see the help he's got up above. Put it together with Lundqvist and you've got a recipe that looks awfully tasty. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Second Season Begins for the Rangers]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:12:05 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ryan-mcdonagh-rangers-playoffs.jpg The Stanley Cup playoffs kick off Wednesday, with the Rangers set to drop the puck Thursday night at MSG against the Senators. After capturing home ice throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Blueshirts are eager to get things going.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[John Tortorella Is Not a Fan of the Penguins]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:12:05 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/derek-stepan-injury-penguins-rangers.jpg

The Rangers played exactly the kind of game you'd expect them to play after clinching the Eastern Conference crown on Tuesday night.

Intensity wasn't particularly high, Martin Biron wasn't able to do the Henrik Lundqvist thing in the net and the Penguins skated off to a fairly easy 5-2 win as a result.

The Rangers aren't going to win games this season if they can't match the effort level of their opponents and their effort, understandably, wasn't quite up to par on Thursday.

Had that been all that happened in Pittsburgh, we'd be scrambling a bit for ways to fill out this here post. Worry not, we won't be sharing Ryan Callahan's favorite recipe because John Tortorella came out firing in his postgame meeting with the press.

Late in the third period, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik kneed Derek Stepan and Stepan stayed down for a long time before leaving for the rest of the night. It wasn't the dirtiest hit in the history of the game, but it was enough to set Tortorella off on a healthy rant against the Penguins' habit of whining about everything that happens to them while also playing a rather filthy brand of hockey themselves that includes Orpik's "cheap and dirty" hit on Stepan.

"I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there, so I'm anxious to see what happens with the league with this," Tortorella said. "There’s no respect among players. None. It’s sickening. They’re one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this all the time and look what happens. They’ll whine about something else, won’t they, starting with their two [expletive] stars?"

The two stars are, of course, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who touched off a pier-six brawl against Philly over the weekend because he didn't like getting checked in a totally legal manner.

The Penguins have a reputation for pretty hockey because of those two players, but they can get nasty -- which isn't a bad thing -- and, thanks to thugs like Matt Cooke, they can cross the line.

It probably won't change anything in the league office when it comes to punishment for Orpik, but it might just change something over the course of a long playoff series in a couple of weeks.

Tortorella's smart enough to know that he's doing the hockey equivalent of influencing the jury pool when he goes off like that and people like Mike Milbury are going to run with it on the air every night.

The regular season ends Saturday night against the Caps, who are still battling the Panthers and Senators for the right to battle the Rangers in the first round. The Rangers have a magic number of one for the best record in the NHL, which would be a pretty swell way to wrap up this regular season and start the most anticipated playoff run in a very long time. 

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Playoffs Offer Shot at Redemption for Two Rangers]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:12:05 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/brandon-dubinsky.jpg

So much has gone right for the Rangers this season that there isn't much time spent on the things that have gone wrong.

Unless you're a masochist, it's a pretty sensible way to go about business. Celebrating the rise of Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan or the sustained excellence of Marian Gaborik is a lot more fun than constantly thinking about the players who have failed to live up to expectations.

With some time to kill before the Rangers and Senators get on the ice, though, it gives us a chance to look at a couple of Rangers players who didn't have the seasons they wanted to have this year. The reasons why Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal weren't leading lights are different, but the shot they have to change the narrative is the same.

Dubinsky's year has been a total head scratcher, even if you make an allowance for the uncomfortable run-up to the trade deadline when he was being publicly dangled in a rumored deal for Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets.

Dubinsky scored 20 or more goals in each of the last two years and posted five straight seasons of 40 or more points before cratering this year with 10 goals and 34 points.

Beyond that, he found himself in John Tortorella's doghouse from time to time because of haphazard work in his own end and a habit of taking silly penalties that put the Rangers at a disadvantage. Perhaps the scoring trouble led to the issues on the other end, something that's happened before, but Dubinsky was never that kind of player in the past.

There were some signs of life down the stretch from Dubinsky, a good sign when you add in his historically strong play in the postseason. He has 15 points in 22 career playoff games, numbers that would add a lot to the Rangers' attack if he's able to replicate them during this run.

Staal's dropoff in production is a lot easier to understand. He didn't play until the Winter Classic because of lingering concussion symptoms and it was clear that he was trying to find his legs over much of the rest of the season.

The Rangers need him to have those legs so that they can play their style of hockey against the Senators, an explosive team that needs to be handled with the sturdiest of defensive efforts. If Staal can provide it, the Rangers are going to be very tough to score against because they'll have plenty of bodies to throw in Ottawa's direction.

No one will remember Dubinsky's disappointing first 82 games if he returns to form over the next few weeks. Staal's story will go from being a somewhat lost season to being a heroic comeback to lead his team the way he did before his concussion.

Playoff hockey offers lots of chances to be heroes. The Rangers don't necessarily need these guys to play that role, but it would make life much easier if they did.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Rangers Are Just Waiting for Their Opponent]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:12:04 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rangers-capitals-first-round.jpg

There's not much reason to watch the final two games of the Rangers' regular season.

The only compelling plotline is whether or not anyone from the Rangers gets hurt and, honestly, would you really want to see that happen? If that should occur, it's far better just to hear about it secondhand so that you can remain ignorant of how bad it might have looked or how dejected the rest of the team got when the player left the game.

Watching other games still has some value, though. The fight for the eighth playoff spot will come right down to the wire and it wouldn't be a bad idea to do a little scouting ahead of the first round matchup.

Thursday night brings a game between the Panthers and Capitals that could eliminate the Panthers from the mix of possible playoff opponents. They lead the Caps by four points in the race for the Southeast Division title, so anything other than a regulation win for Washington will give the Panthers the division.

Root for the Capitals. The Panthers are only in position to win the division because the NHL rewards overtime losers with a point. 

The Panthers have 18 overtime/shootout losses this year, the most of any playoff team by a wide margin. Beyond that, they've been outscored by 25 goals over the course of the season and they've scored the sixth-fewest goals in the entire league.

That's not the likely outcome. There's also not much chance that they'll wind up facing the Senators, who also need just one point or one Caps loss to lock down seventh place. 

That leaves the Capitals and Sabres. Both teams have also been outscored by the opposition this season, but they offer some reasons to fear them.

After several years near or at the top of the Eastern Conference, everyone has been waiting for the Capitals to find their game this season and it just hasn't happened. There's too much talent (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin) and experience (two playoff losses to Caps in last three years) not to worry about a seven-game series with Washington.

Buffalo has Ryan Miller and there's no surer way to let a playoff series slip away than facing a hot goaltender. On top of that, the Sabres have been surging of late with six wins in their last eight games making them a team that might be peaking at the right moment. 

The Rangers beat the Sabres three of four times this season, with one win apiece coming via overtime and shootout. They've beaten the Caps in two of three games with the season finale on Sunday still to come.

If that game forces the Rangers to decide whether or not to put up 100 percent fight, we'd probably opt for letting the Capitals make their way to the postseason. Their goaltending isn't nearly as good as Buffalo's and, frankly, scorers like Ovechkin aren't all that scary to a Rangers team constructed the way this one has been built. 

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Know Your Enemy: The Senators]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:12:04 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/erik-karlsson-rangers-senators.jpg

There might not be any team in the NHL that saw the Rangers at their worst more often than the Senators this season.

They beat the Rangers in three of their four meetings and all three of those games featured the Rangers as out of sorts as they were all year. The first matchup, at the Garden in October, is memorable because the Rangers blew a 4-1 lead in the second half of the third period before losing in a shootout.

With that loss, the Rangers fell to 3-3-3 on the season and they'd never be in such dire straits again the rest of the way. At least, not against teams other than the Senators.

They lost 3-0 to them at the Garden in January and then 4-1 in Ottawa in March, a game that was part of the three-game losing streak that wound up making the Atlantic Division race a little too close for comfort down the stretch. The key in all of the losses was the speed of the Senators.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa's talented young defenseman, rushes the puck up the ice as well as anyone in the league and controls things in the offensive zone once he gets there. As solid as the Rangers defense has been this season, they can struggle with teams that rely on speed to generate their offense.

That speed comes in most useful when the Rangers make a mistake and provide an opportunity to the opposition, something that led to most of the goals in those losses. Jason Spezza is particularly good at turning from defense to offense and finishing by putting the puck past the goaltender, but the Senators have speed up and down the lineup that should make the Rangers think twice about pinching or trying a risky pass.

All that speed led the Senators to the fourth-most goals in the Eastern Conference. Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris are two other forwards the Rangers need to keep on lockdown, although the fact that the Senators play Spezza, Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson on one line does help since the Rangers control the matchups when they're on home ice.

The flip side of the Senators' scoring touch is that they wound up scoring just nine more goals than they allowed over the course of the season. The Rangers might not be a particularly potent scoring team, but they are going to have their chances to beat Craig Anderson.

Anderson may well turn out to be the defining player of the series. He hasn't been great this season, but he stonewalled the Rangers twice and has played much better on the road than at home which makes him look a lot more dangerous than the statline might suggest.

His erratic play makes it hard to know if the good Anderson is going to show up or if the bad one will be between the pipes. He's got the potential to be the team's biggest weakness, but he can also be good enough to keep his team in games just long enough to pounce on a Rangers miscue. 

The Rangers' road to the Cup starts with Ottawa. It's not going to be easy traveling.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Two Rangers Losses Aren't Worth Worrying About]]> Mon, 09 Apr 2012 13:33:04 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ryan-mcdonagh-rangers-playoffs.jpg

After 80 games that took the Rangers from a mediocre start in Europe all the way to the best record in the Eastern Conference, they played poorly in two games with little consequence and lost them both by lopsided margins.

For some Rangers fans, that's a major sin and a sign that the walls are about to come crashing in around the team. It doesn't matter that the Rangers are still in the pole position as the playoffs get underway, it's unspeakable that the team would come up with less than their best effort with the Presidents Trophy for the best record in the entire league still in sight.

Saturday evening's loss to the Capitals means that the Canucks have earned that honor, one that the years have shown to be fairly meaningless to a team's chances of raising the only trophy that actually matters. It's an easy thing to fret about in April when the playoffs haven't started, but worrying about who you might meet in the Stanley Cup Finals feels fairly insignificant compared to actually getting there.

The same is true of concerns about giving the Capitals the seventh spot while the Senators slid into the eighth spot for a playoff date with the Rangers. Yes, the Rangers lost three of four to Ottawa this season but you're going to have to beat good teams to get to the Cup so the order you face them shouldn't matter.

Those first 80 games are going to have a lot more to do with the Rangers' ultimate success or failure on that journey which should be reassuring to those who have decided that the sky is falling because of the losses to the Penguins and Capitals. Not that they were really watching those games anyway.

If they were paying attention, they would have seen the Rangers rolling with all four lines and all six defensemen throughout the entire games instead of focusing on the key players and strong performers the way they have in every game with the season in the balance. They played players like Artem Anisimov on penalty kills and clearly held back from their usual full-throttle effort to avoid any injuries.

That's where the focus should be, should you choose to focus on those last two games at all. Focus on Derek Stepan looking fine after the scary knee-to-knee hit in Pittsburgh and Henrik Lundqvist showing no signs of trouble with the arm that bothered him in Philadelphia, because any injuries to those players would be far more damning than losing games by any score in the final week of the season. 

Everyone should know who these Rangers are at this point in the season. They aren't without flaws, to be sure, but they also aren't the team that viewed these last two games as a way to keep their legs fresh without risking anything more than the minimum to win an honorific that ceases to matter the moment the puck is dropped in the first game of the playoffs.

Thinking otherwise is basically thinking that the job John Tortorella did this year and the way the team responded to Tortorella was nothing more than a fraud. With so much evidence to the contrary, you need more than two games to support that kind of vision of what went on this season.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rangers Rediscover Their Fight Against Devils]]> Thu, 29 Mar 2012 11:39:23 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rangers-devils-fights.jpg

John Tortorella was awfully upset about the Devils' decision to start Monday night's game with three fighters on the ice.

He yelled at Devils coach Peter DeBoer for his blood-lust, leading to DeBoer's pointed and amusing questions about Tort's short-term memory since the Rangers coach did the exact same thing during a recent game in Jersey, but he should have patted him on the back.

Starting the game with a melee seemed to agree with the Rangers and propelled them to a 4-2 win that quelled some doubts about the teams' trajectory.

Tortorella moved Stu Bickel up from defense to take the faceoff between Brandon Prust and Mike Rupp, leading to a three-way brawl the second the puck hit the ice. Silly as such synchronized fights that have nothing at all to do with the game may be, they worked out for the Rangers.

Bickel bloodied Ryan Carter, the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy and the rest of the Rangers skaters seemed to gain some extra pep in their step after the fireworks at the open. That pep paid off a minute later when Brandon Dubinsky put a blast past Martin Brodeur for a 1-0 lead.

Dubinsky's season has been the subject of much consternation for the Rangers this year, leading to long spells on the bench and rampant trade rumors before the deadline. He's shown some signs in recent games of getting himself together and he had a very strong night on Monday to help the Rangers get a win.

Mats Zuccarello hasn't been on minds for the entire season, but he's starting to bore his way into people's heads since arriving on the scene nine days ago. He scored for the second straight game and continued to show the kind of endless motor that has been a hallmark of the Rangers when they are at their best this season.

It's hard to resist the idea of keeping Zuccarello around even when Artem Anisimov is healthy enough to return to the lineup. As we've seen in the last stretch of games, the Rangers don't have much chance to win games if they aren't outworking the other side and Zuccarello appears to have a bit more gas in his tank than some of the other guys at this point in the year.

Everyone looked like they were running full on Monday night, which likely had a lot to do with the way the game began. The Rangers needed something to snap them out of their doldrums and they got it from the Devils coach and from their own tough guys.

Not something you'd like to see every night, but the destination certainly made the getting there seem just fine.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>