With a 4-0 dominant win over the Rangers Friday night, the Washington Capitals have successfully shifted some of the pressure squarely onto the Blueshirts shoulders. The main thought on most fans minds going into Game 5 was not if the Rangers could finish off the Caps, but if the Caps would start their comeback or complete their disappointing post-season. Now, because the Rangers didn't survive the first 10 minutes, didn't keep it simple, and couldn't find that killer instinct; there is an equal amount of pressure on the Rangers to seal the deal at home along with the Caps to force a Game 7.
The Rangers came out flat and with what looked like a complete lack of effort and heart. They looked sloppy and lackadaisical, and the Capitals took advantage. I don't even think the Caps came out flying that high, but they came out sharp enough to take advantage of a sleeping Ranger team. The Blueshirts even did a better job with penalties, taking only four (including a too-many men, which is ridiculous) to the Caps five through two periods.
Now most will be saying the Rangers need to have some amnesia today and forget about Friday night. This isn't false, but at the same time you have to realize that your performance in a crucial game was nowhere near good enough, and that you have to raise the bar tenfold if you want to get it done. I really like the move by John Tortorella last night to respectfully call out the veteran players. Here's the excerpt:
"Something has to give with our top guys and I'm not trying to insult them," Tortorella said. "I think we've got some good guys in the room, but this is a game where your best players have to be your best players and now we're in Game 6. It won't happen until our best players are our best players. Not kids, not kids."
This is a smart move because it keeps the Rangers on their toes. If you completely ignore Game 5, then you are liable to have a similar performance by not addressing it. I was confident Friday night that the boys would come out better than Washington. That was not the case, but I have believed all along that the Rangers can beat the Capitals, and because of this I am even more confident that they will come out flying this afternoon.
So what will be the key to a bounce-back? Well, it will be a similar plan to Game 5, but the change will be that the Rangers have to execute it instead of flopping. Henrik Lundqvist should bounce-back, being the competitor that he is. But we can't worry about The King because he has stolen a couple of wins already, and in order to finish the series this afternoon, it will take a total and complete team effort for 60 minutes. Here's the three keys to that:
1. Survive The First 10 Minutes
Seems familiar, doesn't it? But like I said before, I cannot stress this enough for this Ranger team. If the Rangers go through to the second round, this will be my #1 key every game against the Bruins. By getting through 10 minutes either scoreless or up 1, the Rangers effectively take control of the pace of the game and it doesn't become a shootout - which the Blueshirts can not win.
2. The Return of Sean Avery
I have no idea at this moment if Avery will be playing in Game 6, but I felt that without him in Game 5, the Capitals had no one to worry about. Benching him was a bold move, but I don't think it accomplished what Tort's thought it would. Everyone knows the Rangers are a better team with one of the most hated players in the lineup. Just keep him on a short leash, as in the fact that if there is a situation where a penalty would kill the team, he stays. If Avery is back in Game 6, I think he could make a huge difference.
3. Overcome The Pressure
Every Ranger fan is undoubtedly a little more nervous about the big picture now. And like I stated before, the Capitals are now playing with less pressure on themselves because some of that has been shifted to Blueshirts to finish the job. As long as the Rangers come out skating and let the Caps know where they stand, the game should be a good one.
The fact of the matter is that it is do or die time for the Rangers. If the Rangers complete this upset, it will really turn the season around and possibly make for an interesting two more weeks. But they have to prove that this afternoon. They have to prove to us, the fans, that the team we all thought was capable of doing great things in early September 2008 can do those things when it matters. Not one Ranger fan wants to go back to Washington; so rise up and get it done.