It's no secret that the Rangers want to be a physical team in the postseason. It's no secret that Sean Avery was inserted into the lineup to rattle the opposition and get under their skin. And all those little bumps and chips given to Washington Capitals' goalie Michal Neuvirth probably aren't as incidental as they sometimes seem.
It's nothing new for the Rangers, nor is it a style that's particularly unique to them. However it's a fine line between distracting your foe with physicality and spending two minutes in the sin bin while giving the opposition a man advantage.
The Rangers walked that line with the perfect grace of a Cirque Du Soleil show Sunday afternoon. They got their bumps in on Neuvirth, to the point where Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau noted in the postgame press conference, "I think after every time after there was a scrum or something in front of the net, they were hitting our goalie," Boudreau said. "It just got to a point, you know. They kept warning them not to do it, not to do it, and they kept doing it and nothing was done so they kept doing it. Pretty simple."
Not only was nothing done, but the Rangers finished with four fewer penalties than the Capitals in Game 3. That edge gave the Blueshirt PP unit plenty of time to work (though, often to no avail) and also kept the Caps from utilizing their depth of skill players as they had in Game 1 and 2.
The penalty disparity could have provided the refs with ample reason to send off only Brian Boyle when the hulking center tangled with the Caps' John Carlson after the whistle with 3:15 remaining in the game. As it was, the coincidental minors gave the Caps' star skaters more room with which to work late in the game.
"I'll be honest, they have a few more weapons than we do in those situations," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said Wednesday, noting he was worried when both players were sent to the box late. "I think we've been better this year four on four, but they can put out two or three groups out there where they have more [skilled] people."
"I probably shouldn't have done that," Boyle said after the game. "You just want to play whistle to whistle but it's the playoffs. I'm kinda new to this and it's pretty high intensity. It worked out for us though."
This time it did. But you can bet the officials in Game 4 will be extra vigilant for any Ranger infractions. It's seldom that a team enjoys seven power plays while their foe just sees three. Right or wrong, the penalty ledger is often balanced, particularly in the playoffs.
Wednesday the Rangers will need to find that yin-yang-like balance between agitating and drawing a penalty. If they can continue to walk that line, it will likely be a major component of their success.