“We talked about how the Rangers are a team that run more faceoff plays than any team in the National Hockey League,” NBC hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk said in dissecting how Derek Stepan scored his overtime winner for the New York Rangers Wednesday night in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals. “Offensive zone, neutral zone, defensive zone. And this was one of those plays.”
As always, Eddie O was spot on. It was the Rangers’ preparation to detail on a faceoff between Stepan and the Capitals’ Eric Fehr that made the winning difference in the end for the Presidents’ Trophy winners in a 2-1 victory.
The Rangers looked like a team well-rehearsed for such a key moment. The Capitals, to take nothing away from them as they played a heck of a Game 7, looked just slightly less organized for the action surrounding their defensive zone draw. It doesn’t take much to make the winning difference in a Game 7, but this was it.
That’s why the Rangers, despite being pushed to the limit, down 3-1 in the series, are and will be so tough to beat moving on. They do the fundamentals so well, which at this time of the year is everything.
Stepan might get most of the credit for the play on the faceoff, but in reality, it was a tie between him and Fehr after the puck was dropped by the linesman. Stepan and Fehr muscled each other, with the puck staying uncontrolled at their feet.
The player who really won the faceoff for the Rangers was Swedish right winger Jesper Fast, who outhustled the bigger Andre Burakovsky to the loose puck and backhanded it to teammate Keith Yandle along the half-boards. Yandle then fed the puck out to Dan Girardi at the point for a big slap shot, but it was the ongoing maneuvering of Stepan that made the goal possible.
Stepan squirmed free from Fehr, still chasing the puck after Fast got it out, and was all alone when Caps goalie Braden Holtby allowed a juicy rebound from Girardi’s shot. The Caps were scrambling around, following the puck, while the Rangers seemed already to be knowing where it was going.
Entering Game 7, the Capitals actually had a big edge on the Rangers on faceoffs in these playoffs (55.8 percent to 44.8 percent). The Rangers finished in a tie for 28th in the NHL in the regular season in winning faceoffs, at 46.7 percent.
But as the winning goal showed, you don’t always have to win the faceoff outright to get control of the puck. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has his forwards well prepared to crash the area around the dot to regain control in case the guy taking the draw doesn’t win it.
As Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh summed up his team’s play in OT to assembled reporters: “We spent some good quality time in their zone. In overtime there we had to play a few shifts in our end. Ultimately this group found a way, coming back from being down one there early on. It’s a great feeling for sure to come through here on home ice in front of the crowd.”
This was a great series to watch, and a shame one team had to lose, as longtime Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson noted:
So NYR win four games by a goal, and the Caps win 3. Definition of a realclose series, I’d say. No disgrace for Wash. They battled hard.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) May 14, 2015
Again, the Rangers kept doing the little things just a bit better than Washington in the final three games. They played with better discipline as Game 7 went along (Washington’s three straight penalties late in the first period and into the second were a killer, with one being converted into a Kevin Hayes tying goal).
The Rangers didn’t lose their heads after key defenseman Dan Boyle was taken out on a hard hit by Caps defender Brooks Orpik in the second period, a hit that NBC analyst Mike Milbury feels should be given supplemental discipline.
And before we end, let’s give proper homage to Henrik Lundqvist for another huge showing in a Game 7. It’s not like he’s never done this before. In fact, check out this amazing coincidental fact, displayed in a tweet by SidelineBuzz.com's Andrew Shapiro:
5/13/13: Henrik 35 saves, Rangers win Game 7 5/13/14: Henrik 35 saves, Rangers win Game 7 5/13/15: Henrik 35 saves, Rangers win Game 7
— Andrew Shapiro (@AndrewShapiro10) May 14, 2015
Three straight years, on the 13th of May, winning a Game 7, each time with 35 saves? Amazing. Maybe Alex Ovechkin should have checked those numbers before guaranteeing a win in Game 7, eh?
Lundqvist knows all about comebacks, and the Capitals continue to know all about blown series leads. As Sean McIndoe noted before Game 7 for Grantland:
A loss tomorrow would mark the 10th time in franchise history that the Capitals found a way to lose a series in which they held a two-game lead. That’s not easy to do; historically, teams that lead a series 3-1 go on to win 90 percent of the time, with those that lead 2-0 faring almost as well. And yet the Capitals find a way to do it every few years. That’s almost impressive.
Ovechkin was excellent in Game 7, though. He scored the Caps’ only goal, after all, and played hard. But the Rangers not only played just a bit harder when it mattered, they played a bit smarter.
It’s why they move on and the Caps, once again, go home.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995. Follow him @Adater.
Quotes supplied from New York Rangers public relations.
from Bleacher Report - Front Page http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2464175-new-york-rangers-biggest-advantages-in-playoffs-are-preparation-will-to-win