Friday, May 11, 2012
Rangers need offensive boost in Game 7
By Katie Strang
The Rangers have been here before.
A little over two weeks ago, the team hosted the Ottawa Senators in a make-or-break Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. This time, it will be the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals looking to knock off the Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
"We know what to expect," captain Ryan Callahan said. "You realize how big the game is and how every little play matters."
In a series with little leeway in terms of scoring chances, open ice space and margin for error, the Rangers can expect the finale to follow suit.
But if that's what they can expect, here's what they can hope for:
Of the teams still standing in the playoffs, the Rangers average the fewest goals per game -- a paltry 2.08 -- giving Hart and Vezina trophies finalist Henrik Lundqvist no cushion for anything but a superior effort.
"They've been playing pretty tight in their own end. It's tough for us to create scoring chances," Lundqvist said. "I hope that changes [Saturday] and we come out and play our best game of the year."
The Rangers have managed only 13 goals in six games against rookie netminder Braden Holtby and his stingy Capitals squad. And as much as the power play has underperformed of late (0-for-5 in Game 6, including a woefully disappointing four-minute opportunity), their even-strength production hasn't been much better.
The Rangers have been held without a true 5-on-5 goal in each of the past two games -- both markers in a stunning Game 5 comeback came on the power play; Marian Gaborik's late goal in Game 6 was scored with Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker.
In practice Friday, rookie Chris Kreider and center Derek Stepan were promoted to the second line with Callahan, presumably a move to give the offense a jolt.
Despite personnel changes, alternate captain Brad Richards said the Rangers won't modify the team's overall approach.
"If we win 1-nothing it's the same as winning 5-1. We'd like to go out and score two or three in the first [period], but you play the game the way it's being played," he said. "We're not going to abandon our structure just because people are writing about lack of scoring. We've just got to win a game."
Surrendering only 13 goals in the six games of the series, Holtby doesn't seem to be fazed by much. With injuries to Washington's Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, he transitioned into the Capitals' starting job with relative ease. Leading the Capitals past the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and extending the Rangers to a seventh game, Holtby boasts a .935 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average. Even in the wake of a life-altering event -- Holtby and his fiancée, Brandi, welcomed the birth of their first son Thursday -- he doesn’t appear to be a player who wilts under the spotlight.
The Rangers hope to change that Saturday.
"He's pretty calm back there, he's positionally sound. He's a good goalie, there's no questioning that," Callahan said. "We just have to continue to work and believe and get some shots [on net]."