Top 5 Storylines Surrounding New York Rangers' Postseason Performances
The Rangers, in danger of going down three games to none, pulled out a gritty win and have the chance to win the series.
With three games down, the storylines surrounding the New York Rangers' postseason performances are coming into focus.
What are the biggest stories surrounding the Rangers, and how will they affect the team going forward?
The Return of Marc Staal
Marc Staal returned to action after missing nearly two months with an eye injury.
He played 17 minutes in 21 shifts, and coach John Tortorella was pleased with his performance (via CBS):
Even before you step on the ice, it really helps the room. He’s so well-respected. He’s so well-liked. There are times when you can tell it’s going to take a little bit to totally get back, but he made some really big plays at key times, too.
Not only did Staal give the Rangers a boost in the locker room, but he also helped on the ice. Yes, he wasn't as sharp as he usually is, but that's to be expected. He stepped into a high-pressure situation and delivered.
Going forward, Staal is going to have to continue to play well.
Now, the Rangers have a legitimate top-four on defense. They can bring different looks at Alexander Ovechkin, whether it's with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, or Staal and Ryan McDonagh, or Girardi and McDonagh. Ovechkin won't be able to get comfortable, because he won't know which defenders are coming at him.
Perhaps even more importantly, Staal is a calming presence for a team that is hoping to come back in the series. Derek Stepan spoke to Staal's leadership abilities [via CBS]: "He wears the ‘A’ for a reason. He’s got a demeanor about him that he carries that guys just love."
Staal will continue to get used to the speed of the game, and it shouldn't be long until he's back at his former level of play. In the meantime, it's no coincidence that the Rangers won the game that Staal returned in. It was a topsy-turvy game in which the Rangers lost three leads, but they held their composure and won the game.
Having someone like Staal on the bench certainly helped, and it will be crucial going forward.
The Capitals entered the playoffs with the best power play in the league, but you wouldn't know it based on their postseason performance.
They've scored just two power-play goals in 10 opportunities. The Rangers' penalty kill has been outstanding.
Take, for example, the final two minutes of Game 3. The Caps were trailing 4-3 and had a power play. They pulled goalie Braden Holtby and had six attackers on.
But they couldn't get a good shot off. The Rangers forced the action to Mike Ribeiro, who is a good passer but not a great shooter. They forced Ribeiro to shoot, but Ribeiro panicked and kept passing it. The Rangers killed off the penalty and won the game.
The Rangers are 18-4-2 when they don't allow a power-play goal. Penalties are unavoidable. But the Rangers succeed when they can kill them off. That's going to have to continue if the Rangers are to win this series.
One potential concern, though, is the possible injury of Darroll Powe, who may have suffered a concussion:
Rangers have no update on Powe, who may have suffered another concussion.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) May 7, 2013
Powe is a terrific penalty killer, and if he is out for a prolonged period of time, then the Rangers may be in trouble. Someone like Carl Hagelin or Taylor Pyatt will probably have to play more minutes.
That said, the Rangers have done a great job of neutralizing the dangerous Capitals' power play, and if they want to win this series, they will have to continue to do so.
Quick, name the players who have scored goals for the Rangers in this postseason. Can you do it? If you answered Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards, then you are wrong.
Instead, the Rangers have gotten goals from Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard, Arron Asham and Derek Stepan.
Nash has had chances, but it's good that the goals are coming from different places. Great postseason teams have scoring depth. If the Rangers want to make a big run, then they are going to need these types of performances from their bottom-six.
Brassard had a goal and two assists, while Asham scored the biggest goal of his Ranger career. Brian Boyle was excellent in all areas in Game 3.
Henrik Lundqvist vs. Braden Holtby
Going into this series, it was widely assumed that the Rangers had a big advantage in net.
But through three games, it is Braden Holtby who has the better numbers. Hotlby has a 1.61 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Lundqvist, in contrast, has a 2.26 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.
Now, Lundqvist was big in Game 3 and came up with big save after big save, while Holtby did allow the game-winning goal. But Holtby has done a great job of controlling rebounds, and the Rangers, at least until Game 3, were punchless on offense.
It seems that playing in Madison Square Garden might have flustered Holtby, and the Rangers' offense, which was more balanced and structured in Game 3, gave him more trouble. The more the Rangers can fluster Holtby, the better.
The winner of this series will have the better goalie. So far, it's been Holtby, and that's why the Caps are winning the series.
But the Rangers are still in this series, and a win in Game 4 will give them all the momentum.
On paper, Lundqvist is a better goalie. But if Holtby continues to play solidly, then the Caps have a chance. The biggest storyline will be who wins this battle. Right now, Holtby is winning. But if the Rangers' offense builds off its last performance, then it could be Lundqvist who ends up on top.
The Rangers' struggles on the power play are well documented. They have scored just one goal in 13 opportunities, which is second-worst in the playoffs.
The Rangers did, however, show marked improvement on the power play in Game 3, scoring one goal and having the kind of puck movement that led to more chances.
Still, the Rangers cannot be scoring at such a low rate when they are getting so many chances. Power plays swing the momentum of a game. If the Rangers score a power-play goal, the momentum is in their favor. But if the Caps kill it off, then they have momentum.
The Rangers have gotten the sixth-most chances in the postseason. One goal is simply not good enough. The Caps have not yet proven that they can be disciplined, and they have taken many foolish penalties. But if the Rangers aren't going to score, then it doesn't matter.
The Rangers need to put as many pucks on net as possible. They need to crash the net and try to get some rebounds. They need to make sure Rick Nash is the focal point of the power play, not a side show. John Moore, who played had more power-play time in Game 3, has shown to be effective on the point and should stay there.
If the Rangers can take advantage of their multiple chances on the man advantage, then they will come back in this series fairly easily.
Let's be frank—the Rangers are a better team than the Caps. But by not scoring on these prime chances, they are letting the Caps stay in games and eventually win them. John Tortorella was right when he said the series is closer than it looks [via Bergen Record]:
I think (the first two games) have been a hell of a lot more even than a lot of other people think. It really doesn’t matter. We need to win a game. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the other two. We need to win a game and that is all we are thinking about.
The Rangers have already won one game. With some better power plays, they could easily win a few more.