With the exception of the exhilarating last four minutes to Game 5, the most recent six periods have elicited one feeling from Ranger fans: frustration.
The Rangers team that seemed to be rolling through opponents throughout the regular season with ease seems to be gone.
The offense is struggling to generate scoring opportunities, the defense seems to be in a constant scramble and their special teams have been less than stellar.
Coach John Tortorella made no effort to hide his disgust with his team’s performance in Game 6.
Fans and the media are quick to attribute the team’s problems to the most convenient possible scapegoat. Everything from the line combinations to the officiating have been credited to the team’s difficulties.
However, one potential missing link is the absence of forward Brandon Dubinsky, who has missed the entire series with a lower-body injury.
Dubinsky’s injury seems to have gone unnoticed by many for some reason. Between the surge of rookie Chris Kreider and the thrilling overtime games this series, the one-time fan favorite seems to be largely forgotten.
Understandably, much of this can be traced back to Dubinsky’s unimpressive regular season. With expectations of a breakout 30-goal campaign, the forward lit the lamp only once through the team’s first 30 games and finished with a mere 10 goals. However, contrary to the stat sheets and box scores, Dubinsky has been an integral piece to the Rangers throughout the season.
In a series where the Rangers seem to be losing battles along the boards against a feisty Capitals team, the stability of a grinding forward like Dubi is crucial. In this year’s four regular season games that the Rangers faced off against the Caps, Dubinsky had four points.
Dubinsky has the ability to grind for pucks in the corners as well as any center in the league. Despite his career-low 10 goals, the Alaskan-native recorded career-highs in plus/minus and hits this season.
Also his physicality brings an element of hockey to the ice that the Blueshirts have been deficient in throughout these Eastern Conference Semifinals. His 207 regular season hits were among the league leaders.
In fact, Dubinsky was one of only three forwards in the league to boast at least a +16 rating while throwing over 200 hits(Dustin Brown and Calder Trophy finalist Gabriel Landeskog were the other two).
The reality is, the Rangers could really use a healthy Brandon Dubinsky in the lineup. His status does not look promising for Saturday night’s Game 7 at Madison Square Garden as he missed Friday’s practice once again.
If the Rangers can pull out a victory this weekend to advance and face the division-rival New Jersey Devils, they better hope Dubinsky makes a quick recovery and is back on the ice for the Eastern Conference Finals.