Let's get straight into the thoughts, as there is a lot to cover. If you are unfamiliar with my thoughts column, see here.
1. I must say, it was much more fun writing an article about the Rangers defeating the Penguins in five games than it is writing an article about how the Rangers beat the Capitals in a thrilling game five to keep their season alive. I sure hope this is not the last thoughts column of the postseason for me.
2. Let's go back to game three to start, to which I have very little to talk about. Jay Beagle scored a strange goal, and Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby were both spectacular. Flukey goals happen, and the Rangers did not find the net, so they lost. That's about it for that game.
3. Game four was a different story, as the Rangers found their way onto the scoreboard first thanks to a wonderful group effort by Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, and Derick Brassard. The pass by St. Louis was the first (and possibly only) time I thought he made a terrific play.
Still, the Rangers could not get the puck past Holtby, which came back to bite them when the Capitals tied it at 1 late in the second period. Going into the third there was confidence in the Rangers knowing that they outplayed their opponents, but quickly in the period the Capitals took the lead, and of course that was it. Again, if you can't score you probably won't win, and the Rangers just could not get the puck past Holtby.
4. As for Carl Hagelin's penalty shot late in game four, did anyone really think he was going to score? Hagelin is an excellent weapon on a breakaway because of his speed, which allows goalies very little time to set up. On penalty shots, however, Hagelin is no sniper nor is he one to deke out a goalie, so Holtby was afforded the opportunity to set up with the knowledge Hagelin was probably going backhand or a simple shot. Holtby made a nice save, but Hagelin was not the guy you want shooting in that spot.
This begs the question: is there any scenario in which you would take a power play over a penalty shot? Say Tanner Glass gets hooked on a breakaway, do you prefer he gets the penalty shot, or would you opt for the man advantage? This is not a realistic rule, but it does make for an interesting discussion.
5. Gradually throughout this series the Rangers have found themselves getting to where they want to play offensively, even if it does not look like it. Very slowly the Rangers have figured out that they need bodies in front of the net, quick shots, and a whole lot of screens to get the puck past Holtby. Capitalizing on turnovers and not letting opportunities pass is another key that the Rangers need to work on, but Brassard's game four goal was an improvement there.
The team added reason to be confident for more than just the fact that they stayed alive by tying and eventually winning game five, as they won the right way. The right way does not mean what the motto was last year, whatever that even meant, but that they scored non-flukey goals put together by their figuring out what works against the Capitals. If the Rangers can continue to do what they did in their last 15 minutes of hockey I have a lot of confidence moving forward.
6. To specify a bit, the game tying goal was on a blazing snipe off the stick of Chris Kreider, set up by a quick pass by Derek Stepan. Holtby had little to no time to set up, his own defenseman slightly in the way, and Martin St. Louis in front ready in case of a rebound. Rather than waiting and allowing the Capitals defense time to get in the lane, Kreider let the shot go immediately when it touched his stick, which was key to the shot finding its way past Holtby.
On the game winning goal, Kreider played a big part again, screening Holtby on Ryan McDonagh's shot. Derek Stepan faked the Capitals defense into getting out of position by trying to block a shot that was never coming, then slipped the puck to McDonagh for a more open chance. The combination of Capitals defensemen down after trying to block a fake shot, Chris Kreider blocking Holtby's view, and a solid shot by McDonagh resulted in a goal.
7. Now that the Rangers have scored two goals in less than fifteen minutes against Holtby, there may be even a hint of doubt in the Capitals minds about if the Rangers are about to burst out. The Rangers have been the better team through five games in terms of puck possession and getting opportunities, but the Blueshirts have failed to make anything of their opportunities thanks to Holtby and the Capitals defense. Now that the Rangers have gotten a couple past Holtby, the question is whether or not the luck has shifted, and whether or not the Rangers can score some more.
Let us not forget Braden Holtby is 0-2 in his playoff series career against the Rangers, so there is always that doubt for him as well. A huge key for the Rangers is getting an early goal or two on Holtby in the first period, which will not only instill greater confidence in themselves, but will also cause the Capitals further second-guessing and worrying. Three or four goals in 20-25 minutes of hockey after not scoring for 237 years (a correct and not exaggerated in the slightest statistic) can be a huge boost for the Rangers and a huge shock to the Capitals.
Get men in front of the net, whether it's Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, or even throwing Tanner Glass in front in hopes he can have some use in blocking Holtby's vision when the fourth line is unfortunately on the ice in the offensive zone. Make quick, simple passes and shoot quickly, or anticipate blocks and try to work around them. If the Rangers can do all that, they just may be able to score more than two goals. What a thought.
8. When contemplating the Rangers lines, I was surprised just how effective Jesper Fast has been playing with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. I cannot explain it, but I do love it, especially considering how long it took Fast to carve an important role on this roster. That being said, some offense can be added by switching Kevin Hayes and Martin St. Louis.
We all know how I feel about St. Louis (see # 9 in this article) and while he is getting more chances, he is still failing to capitalize. Putting the playmaking Hayes with Brassard and Nash can do wonders for the first line, while also removing a defensive liability in St. Louis, who would join two defensively responsible forwards on the third line in Carl Hagelin and Dominic Moore, or J.T. Miller.
9. Right after game four ended I sent this tweet:
*can* the Rangers come back? Of course. Anything can happen in sports. I just felt they would last year and do not this year. Hope I'm wrong— Barkin Brandon (@brandoncrandon) May 7, 2015
The key to me was that the Rangers always had that extra gear they could hit in the Pittsburgh series, as they had been playing terrible hockey through four games. This series the Rangers were the better team through four, and just couldn't get the puck past Holtby. Without that extra gear I did not see how the Rangers could win a trio of games against an equally talented team.
Now the Rangers are two wins away from moving on, and Henrik Lundqvist's continuously phenomenal play combined with the team's ability to adjust to the Capitals defensive style has me a bit more confident. I do not believe the series is over if the Rangers win tonight by any means, as the Capitals are just as capable of beating the Rangers at MSG as the Rangers are at Verizon Center. Rather than finding the extra gear, the Rangers have discovered a different gear, which could make a major difference going forward.
10. Let's Go Rangers!