Wow. I can write a few hundred words and try to paint a beautiful picture about the series that was, but 'wow' just about sums it all up. There is a good chance the Rangers will not play in a more evenly matched series for years, if not longer. From start to finish, wow. Just wow. Onto the thoughts.
1. I am a believer in not calling Henrik Lundqvist "king" in NHL games until he gets a ring. It's a silly little thing, really, but you have to win a cup to get the crown. That being said, if anyone deserves the moniker without a crown it's Henrik Lundqvist. What a game, what a series, what a postseason.
2. What a game that was, and what a performance by Braden Holtby as well. For Capitals fans reading this, look forward to years of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Holtby, and Evgeni Kuznetsov. I thought Kuznetsov was the second best Capitals forward in the series. The Capitals did not deserve to lose the series, but someone has to lose just like someone has to win. The Rangers got the big goal when it counted, and they move on. I would not even call it a collapse for the Capitals, as they did not play bad hockey or get majorly outplayed in the last three. Every game could have gone either way, and the last three just happened to go to the Rangers.
3. The best Ranger non-Lundqvist division in game 7 was Dominic Moore, at least by the eye test. Moore was all over the place both offensively and defensively, and that did not go unnoticed by the fans or media. Moore frustrated the Capitals all night, held onto the puck, facilitated, and nearly scored multiple times, all while playing stellar defense all night. For a guy signed on to a small deal to play on the third line at best, Moore sure has made a huge difference.
I have said it before and I will say it again: you do not win in the NHL without four capable lines. A key to the Rangers winning the series was their ability to play all four lines, while the Capitals had Tom Wilson glued to the bench at times in the series. Even Tanner Glass had a good series for the Rangers, as did James Sheppard despite one moronic penalty in the first period. The Rangers PK did an excellent job once again, again largely due to depth players.
4. There was only one player in game 7 that jumped out to me as not having a good game, and that was Martin St. Louis. I hope St. Louis finds some extra gear due to his playing against his former team, but I would be surprised if that is the case. This is not Brad Richards 2013 and 2014 playoffs, this is much worse. I cannot help but fear St. Louis is a major offensive and defensive liability moving forward that can actively hurt the Rangers rather than help them.
Just watch St. Louis here try to defend after his own turnover. It is pretty difficult to watch.
GIF Kuznetsov chance with St. Louis defending pic.twitter.com/9AwVD1OE1S— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) May 14, 2015
5. Anyway on a more positive note, Alain Vigneault did a much better job with matchups in game six, and also even benched St. Louis for J.T. Miller for a period of time. Vigneault will need to coach a practically perfect series for the Rangers to beat the Lightning, and that includes benching St. Louis if necessary, even with the extra storylines and pride involved.
6. How about Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh? Watching Hockey Central on the NHL Network Thursday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to hear both analysts say their stars of the game was Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh was beat a couple of times, but was a force to be reckoned with in game 6, then came out in game 7 and essentially shut down the Capitals top line outside of one Ovechkin goal that was a negative group effort for the Rangers.
Meanwhile, Girardi looked terrific after a tough start to the series, looking like a greater threat on offense and contributing defensively rather than being an anchor for McDonagh. If the Rangers want to beat the Lightning this pairing will have to be on their A game against the fantastic Lightning forwards.
7. Kevin Hayes' tying goal on a beautiful feed from J.T. Miller is exactly what the Rangers power play is capable of if the right players are on the ice. I would love to see less St. Louis and Girardi and more of the kids, who are just naive enough to make those plays that the veterans would be hesitant to make. Sometimes risks are needed and Hayes leaving his comfort zone to sneak into an empty area in front of the net helped the Rangers capitalize on poor coverage by the Capitals.
8. What a post-season this has been. Tough to figure out how satisfying this run will be if it ends in the conference finals, but for all the stress this team has put us through it has been worth every second, right? Would be nice to have a win by more than one goal, but as long as the Rangers keep winning you will not be hearing any complaining from me.
A game tying goal and overtime winner in game 5, followed by a furious Capitals comeback in game 6 halted, and finished with a game 7 overtime victory at home. Just can't make this stuff up.
9. Time to be a major bummer. I have said all season the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in hockey, and I am sticking with that. Their possession numbers have gone down in the postseason and Ben Bishop is no world beater, so there are some reasons to be positive, but the Lightning have the best group of forwards in the NHL, a world-class top pair of defensemen in Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, and four other fantastic defensemen. Combine that with one of the best coaches in the game in Jon Cooper and a highly capable goalie in Ben Bishop, and I am not sure anyone can beat the Lightning.
The Rangers have surprised me before and will surprise me again, and I hope this series they pleasantly surprise me. I do think the Rangers are the second best team in hockey, but I cannot get past how complete and flawless the Lightning roster is. The Rangers have a nearly flawless roster, but with Tanner Glass always a threat to combust, Martin St. Louis playing his worst hockey, and James Sheppard being an uncertainty, I sway towards the Lightning.
I will go Lightning in 6, but and this is a major but, if Henrik Lundqvist plays as good as he did against the Capitals and no worse the Rangers will win the series. That would be one of the greatest stretches in goaltending history so I will not personally count on it, but I sure hope it happens.
10. Let's Go Rangers!