NHL Playoffs 2012: 4 Important Game 5 Storylines for Senators vs. Rangers Series
The Rangers started the series with a bang in Game 1, winning 4-2. They then suffered an overtime loss in Game 2, 3-2. Game 3 was won largely by their fabulous netminder, Henrik Lundqvist, in a 1-0 shutout (but not for the Senators' lack of trying), and Game 4 was another 3-2 overtime loss to the Senators.
The series is now tied 2-2, with the Blueshirts returning home to their loyal fans at Madison Square Garden for a much-needed win in Game 5.
It has been an exciting yet tumultuous series for sure, and I want to examine some top storylines heading into the heated matchup tonight.
The Loss of Alfredsson
Senators Captain and veteran Daniel Alfredsson has not played since Game 2 of the series as a result of a concussion that he incurred by an elbow to the head from Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin.
It seems doubtful that he will play in Game 5 tonight, as he did not practice with the team on Friday, but that might be a game-time decision as nothing has been released to state otherwise.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean mentioned going into Game 4 that in lieu of Alfredsson's absence, he was going to need to rely on their other top players—Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek—to pick up some of the slack.
Michalek, incidentally, scored the first Ottawa goal in the second period with assists by Matt Carkner (who returned to the lineup after a one-game suspension) and Spezza.
The Rangers managed to hold them off from any other goals and have done a good job keeping those two at bay this series.
Alfredsson suffered a setback after practicing with the team on Monday prior to Game 3, and there hasn't been much change in his status since.
Going into Game 4 Wednesday night, the Senators had a 0-3 record in the postseason with Alfredsson out of the lineup, but they beat those odds by winning Game 4 in overtime.
It doesn't really seem that they are that much of a disadvantage without him, although I am sure his return would only boost the team's morale.
The Rangers and Lundqvist Need to Win in OT
New York Rangers No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been a lifesaver for them during the regular season and into the postseason, but he cannot bear the burden alone.
He single-handedly kept them in the game during Game 3 and I believe won it for them, because Ottawa had a whopping 39 shots on goal.
It is their inability to protect their leads that has been a contributing factor heading into OT, which they have unsuccessfully gotten out of in both loses to the Senators this series.
These are not good odds, especially considering we can expect more of the same tight style of game throughout the remainder of the series.
They need to: a) create more scoring chances, b) not sit back on their leads and c) find a way to win in overtime.
It is no secret that the Rangers and Lundqvist have struggled in overtime in the postseason with a 1-7 record dating back to the 2007 playoffs.
In fact, the only time that Lundqvist has won an overtime game in the playoffs was in Round 2 of the playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres on April 29th, 2007 at Madison Square Garden.
These stats need to change.
It is especially ironic considering the Rangers' success in overtime/shootouts during the regular season, where they were eighth in the league with 12 overall (seven OT wins and five in shootouts).
Whatever the case, if they want to win this series, they need to find ways to win in overtime, because that could be the determining factor in who moves on and who signs up for tee times.
In fact, it already has been to some extent, because if the Rangers had won in both overtimes thus far in the series, they would already have advanced to Round 2.
The Brian Boyle Factor
Literally, the biggest thing about the Rangers this series has been their 6'7" forward, Brian Boyle.
He has managed to get in the heads of both the Ottawa Senators and their fans.
Boyle scored a goal in each of the first three games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals (two of which were game-winning goals) and has been a thorn in the Senators' side in other ways as well.
He roughed up Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson in Game 1 of the series, which caused an onslaught of penalties and suspensions in Game 2 when Matt Carkner retaliated and attacked Boyle (repeatedly punching him when he was down).
Despite Boyle’s large size, he is not a fighter, but he will play hard and tough when needed.
Boyle has even referred to himself as “Shrek” in a postgame interview last season (and Shrek, as we all know, is a gentle ogre).
While he failed to score in his fourth consecutive game of the series, I think we can expect big things from him tonight in front of the home team fans.
Although being viewed as a villain is not characteristic for Boyle (nor is being booed at every opportunity by the opposing team's fans), it hasn’t seemed to bother him too much, and perhaps he has even thrived off it.
Craig Anderson Heating Up
While much of the series' focus has been on Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist, one cannot discount the improved and increasingly hot play of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
The only game that Anderson hasn’t thrived in was the Game 1 series opener.
Anderson has gotten increasingly hotter as the series has progressed and despite the 2-0 lead going into the second period on Wednesday night’s Game 4, he was unstoppable for the remainder of the game.
In Game 3, he blocked 22 shots in the Senators' 1-0 defeat, but he had an overall exceptional game despite the end result.
And while he was hot and cold for the eighth-place Senators during the regular season, he is playing well when it matters most in the postseason.
One must remember this is only the second season he has appeared in the playoffs.
During the 2009-2010 playoffs, he was 2-4 in net for the Colorado Avalanche and during the current series against the Rangers is 2-2.
Not too shabby of a record considering he is up against Vezina and Hart Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist, who is having the best season of his NHL career.
The Rangers need to shut down Anderson's hot streak and find ways to continue to storm the net, because I believe he will crumble under pressure (there just needs to be more applied).
These are the four top stories to emerge from the series so far, but there is a lot more hockey to be played and a lot more that can develop as this heated best-of-seven matchup continues.