The New York Rangers have officially been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Washington Capitals, and with that their 2010-11 campaign has come to an end. This afternoon's 3-1 loss at the Verizon Center was not the way the Blueshirts wanted to go out, nor was it the final game we the fans wanted to see our beloved team play this year. However, compared to previous seasons, this hockey club has a lot to be proud of, a lot to hold their heads up because of, and being eliminated by the Eastern Conference's number one seeded team should not take away from any of that.
Having your season come to an end in the playoffs is never an easy thing to swallow, as could be seen by the tears that were streaming down the face of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as he sat on the bench and awaited the final buzzer in the third period. But the Rangers gave Washington a run for their money in this series, despite only winning one out of five games, and when you look at their roster compared to the Caps', that's a pretty impressive accomplishment in my opinion. The better team won this series, and that's basically the way you have to look at it.
New York got off to a very quick start immediately after the opening face-off in this one, as the Avery-Boyle-Prust line went right to work on the forecheck and got two early chances on Michal Neuvirth. That was about all the Capitals needed to wake up in this game, because following that they turned it on and never looked back.
At 5:59 of the opening stanza, defenseman Mike Green scored on a scrambly play in front of the net to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. The Verizon Center was rocking after that goal and really never stopped until the players made their way off the ice at the end of the game. The Capitals didn't stop, either, but the Rangers kept the damage to a minimum through the first twenty minutes despite being completely dominated and outshot, 13-6.
The same old continued in the second period, with the Rangers missing chances to score on the powerplay and failing to get much going in the offensive zone. Then, at 7:04, Alexander Ovechkin found a little open space with the puck and made the Rangers pay. Upon receiving a long outlet pass, Ovie blew past a fatigued Marc Staal and beat Lundqvist with a smooth forehand to backhand move. That gave Washington a 2-0 advantage over New York, and that 2-0 advantage was what they did an excellent job defending for the remainder of the contest.
The Rangers tried hard to push back in the third and final period of their season, but the Capitals had all five of their players back in the defensive zone making sure the Blueshirts were kept to the outside on the rush. When the Rangers did finally get shots to the net, the Caps gave them no second opportunities on rebounds, and that starts with the way Neuvirth was simply absorbing every shot thrown his way.
After several failed chances to score, Alex Semin sealed the Rangers' fate with a goal coming on an odd-man rush with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. Head coach John Tortorella then pulled Lundqvist for the extra attacker, which enabled Wojtek Wolski to finally get on the board, but it was a little too late as the game, the series, and the season were already over.
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I think Lundqvist put it best in his postgame comments when he said that the Rangers were able to get the Caps to overtime twice and missed on opportunities to win both of those game, therefore the series really could have gone either way (even with one of their best players in Ryan Callahan on crutches). When you hear five games, you would think that the Capitals dominated, which for some parts they did, but the Rangers had their moments as well and the series as a whole comes down to the two overtime games (Games 1 and 4), both of which the Rangers were unable to win.
But like I've been saying, the Rangers gave us an unbelievable season no matter what the outcome was today. A lot of that is owed to the man mentioned above, Henrik Lundqvist. There is not a goaltender in the league that cares more about his performance and its affect on his team than Hank, and I think that certainly was put on display in this series. Lundqvist was absolutely incredible in all five games, and without him New York not only would have been swept in this series, but they probably would not have made the playoffs in the first place. Henrik had an outstanding season, whether he was nominated for the Vezina or not, and he should take a bow for what he has done for this franchise.
For the most part, the Rangers as a team should take a bow as well. For the first time since the lockout, I can sit here and say that I was satisfied with a season after an elimination game. Considering the expectations that were made for this team going into the season, they overachieved big time and that was because of effort, heart and determination. As fans, we should be very proud of what our boys were able to accomplish this year and should have high hopes for what is to come.
The Rangers are a young team in the middle of the development process. While I think GM Glen Sather needs to add another offensive gamebreaker in the offseason, the franchise is moving in the right direction as far as youth and homegrown talent goes. In a few years, if they stay on track, the Blueshirts will be that first seeded team taking on the eighth in the playoffs, not the other way around. We just have to be patient and accept the bumps in the road along the way. Obviously today's elimination loss was one of them.