New York Hockey: Jay Beagle

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 2, Capitals 1

May, 12, 2012

Recap | Box score | Photos

What it means: Bring on the Devils.

For the first time in 15 years the Rangers are headed to the Eastern Conference finals, following a 2-1 win to knock off the seventh-seeded Capitals in a thrilling Game 7 on Saturday. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist led the way, making 22 saves en route to the series-clinching victory in front of a frenzied hometown crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Brad Richards and Michael Del Zotto tallied for the Rangers as they advanced to face the New Jersey Devils in a Hudson River showdown that begins Monday.

Quick turn: The Rangers took a two-goal lead midway through the third after a fantastic shift by Del Zotto resulted in his second goal of the playoffs, but the Rangers coughed one up on the other end just 38 seconds later when Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik pulled Washington back within a goal at 10:43.

Early lead: Three shifts into the first period, coach John Tortorella went right back to his starting line of Carl Hagelin, Richards and Marian Gaborik -- a move that paid off. Hagelin chased down a dumped puck to feed Richards for a one-timer from the left circle that beat a screened Braden Holtby 1:32 into play. The team that scored first in each of the first six meetings of the series went on to win the game.

Big-goal Brad: The hero behind Game 5’s overtime stunner, Richards tallied his sixth goal of the playoffs with his early marker. The 32-year-old center, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy with six game-winning goals in the 2004 playoffs while playing for Tampa Bay, has seven goals and eight assists in 11 career games when facing elimination.

Showcase saves: Preserving the Rangers' 1-0 lead with the Capitals buzzing throughout the second period, Vezina/Hart trophy finalist Lundqvist made a pair of spectacular saves early in the frame. Lundqvist made diving pokecheck to deny Alexander Semin on a breakaway at 5:02, then made a swift save with his right pad to smother Mike Knuble's chance at the doorstep minutes later.

Dis-Laich: Caps alternate captain Brooks Laich took a beating physically in the second period. After hobbling to the bench after blocking Dan Girardi's shot with his left skate early on, he took a puck to the helmet later in the period.

Dog days: The Caps were without key forward Jay Beagle for the second straight game. The defensive-minded center, also a key penalty-killer for Washington, suffered a lower-body injury when blocking a shot during Game 5. Veteran pivot Jeff Halpern replaced him in the lineup for the second straight game.

Up Next: Rangers vs. Devils, Monday at 8 p.m.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Caps

May, 12, 2012
At a glance: The Rangers and the Capitals square off in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden Saturday both looking to punch their tickets to the Eastern Conference finals. New York has squandered multiple opportunities to put Washington away, and the seventh-seeded Capitals seem steeled to continue their surprising run. Can star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist lead the Blueshirts to their first conference final appearance in 15 years? Or will Washington’s big guns – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – shine under the bright lights of Broadway and pull off another series upset?

Uphill battle: According to ESPN Stats & Info, no team since 1987 (when the playoffs went to a seven-game format) that has been extended to seven games in each of the first two rounds has gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Both the Rangers and Capitals will play their 14th games Saturday.

New arrival: Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby, 22, doesn’t seem to crumble under pressure, but he faces his biggest challenge yet. He and his fiancée, Brandi, welcomed the birth of their first child Thursday, just two days before the biggest game of his life.

Rookie response: Promoted to the team’s second line with center Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan in practice Friday, rookie Chris Kreider hopes to respond after being dropped to the team’s fourth line after a couple of gaffes in Game 4 last week. Kreider has been limited to 6:57 and 6:06 and in Games 5 and 6, respectively.

Date with Devils: After disposing of the Philadelphia Flyers in five games, the New Jersey Devils have been patiently awaiting their conference finals opponents. Is another Hudson River clash in store? The Devils have faced the Rangers twice since the lockout -- they lost to New York in 5 games during the 2008 quarterfinals and swept them in the first round two years earlier.

Offense needed: Besides the ailing power play, which went 0-for-5 on Wednesday in D.C. the Rangers could use a boost in even-strength goal production as well. The team has scored only one true 5-on-5 goal in the past two games and their offense ranks last among the five teams still standing in the playoffs.

Out of boot: Injured forward Brandon Dubinsky (right foot) shed his walking boot and looked to be making progress, although he politely declined to discuss his timeline. Given the time missed -- he has not resumed skating -- it appears unlikely he would be available at any point during the Eastern Conference finals should the Rangers advance.

Beagle questionable: Center Jay Beagle, who missed Game 6 with a lower-body injury, is a game-time decision, according to Caps coach Dale Hunter. Should Beagle be unavailable, veteran pivot Jeff Halpern will replace him in the lineup for the second straight game.

Rupp: Game 7's are "special"

May, 12, 2012
Mike Rupp will play in his sixth career Game 7 playoff match Saturday and the excitement has yet to wane for the veteran forward.

"It just feels different," Rupp said after the Rangers' morning skate. "Like it's a birthday or something, just a special day on the calendar. You approach it in the same way but we all know what a special night and opportunity it is for players to play in a Game 7."

Rupp has played in some memorable deciding games -- he tallied the clinching goal to secure the Stanley Cup for the New Jersey Devils in 2003 -- and knows what to expect from the nerves and emotions.

But he witnessed a calm group following the team's morning practice -- Bob Marley was humming from the dressing room speakers -- and believes that to be a good sign heading into tonight's test.

"It's important to be loose and joking around and our team has a lot of that going on, so that's a good thing," Rupp said. "I found when I was younger, I'd kind of gauge the older guys and see how they were. I think you could go out and get too fired up, so you have to channel that in a certain way."

Rupp is not the only Rangers veteran with a handful of Game 7's on his resume; Ruslan Fedotenko has also played in five and boasts a pristine 5-0 record with three goals and one assist.

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Although goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did not participate in the team's optional morning skate, as he usually does, coach John Tortorella said he was "just dandy."

• • •
Brandon Dubinsky has shed the walking boot he was wearing on his injured right foot and although he politely declined to discuss his timeline, appears to be making progress. Given his time off the ice, however, it is unlikely he'd be able to play at any point during the Eastern Conference finals should the Rangers advance.

• • •

Washington's Jay Beagle, who missed Game 6 with a lower-body injury, is a "game-time decision" according to Caps coach Dale Hunter. Should he be unavailable to play, veteran pivot Jeff Halpern will replace him in the lineup.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Caps

May, 9, 2012
At a glance: Coming off their most dramatic win yet -- a spirited late-game rally in Monday's 3-2 OT victory -- the Rangers can close it out against the Capitals in Game 6 Wednesday in D.C. With a 3-2 series lead heading into the match, the Rangers can punch their ticket for the team's first conference final appearance in 15 years. Meanwhile, the resilient seventh-seeded Capitals look to avoid elimination on home ice at Verizon Center following a heartbreaking loss on the road.

Do or Die: In a must-win situation, the Capitals hope to extend the series to Game 7 with a win against the top-seeded Rangers tonight. “It's a do-or-die game for us, so we're all pretty intense,” defenseman Karl Alzner told the Washington Times. “Obviously we want to do and not die, so we're ready for it.”

Avoid same mistakes: After prevailing in last week’s epic triple-overtime Game 3, the Rangers bungled the chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. With another prime opportunity within reach, the Rangers want to avoid letting it slip past. Said alternate captain Brad Richards: "It's backing up these big wins. We didn't do a good job coming out after Game 3. That'll be a focus. We want to back this up and at least give ourselves a lot better chance, especially to start."

Big-goal Brad: Richards contributed another clutch goal for the Rangers Monday, tying the game at 2 with 7.6 seconds left in regulation. The dynamic 32-year-old center has shown a knack for stepping up in big situations throughout his career, particularly the playoffs, and has a Conn Smythe Trophy to show for it. Richards, who holds an NHL record for seven game-winners during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup run, has five goals and five assists in 12 games this post-season.

Guns blazing: A key for the Capitals will be to get the most out of their “Young Guns” Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and offensive defenseman Mike Green. The Caps are 13-0 when all three players tally goals, which they did to lead Washington to an 3-2 win in Game 4.

Dog days: Caps forward Jay Beagle did not participate in the team’s morning skate Monday, but according to reports, he will be available for Game 6. Coach Dale Hunter said he was just “resting his legs.”

Devils beckon: Knocking off the Flyers in five games, the New Jersey Devils now must wait until their opponent is set for the Eastern Conference finals. The 6th-seeded Devils, who missed the playoffs last year, will face the winner of the Rangers-Capitals series.
While the Rangers split into two groups for Thursday's off-day activities -- one went to see "The Hunger Games" movie in IMAX, the other visited Arlington National Cemetery -- the Capitals hunkered down at home to re-charge and re-fuel after Wednesday's grueling 114:41-minute triple-overtime stunner.

Catching up with the Capitals at their practice facility Friday, Scott Burnside found a myriad of interesting items on the menu. Center Jay Beagle, who played 30:15 in Washington's heartbreaking 2-1 loss, gobbled up protein-rich snacks in attempt to re-gain some of the weight dropped in the epic match.

"Ate a lot of beef jerky and steak and bison burger. I went over to Karl's for some bison burgers -- a lot of good fats, avocados, nuts. Even made a couple of nasty shots of olive oil and avocado oil, stuff like that,” Beagle said, referring to teammate Karl Alzner, who was in charge of grilling up bison burgers for some teammates.

Read more about Washington's day of recuperation in Burnside's Cross Checks blog here.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Capitals

May, 2, 2012
At a glance: Tied 1-1 after the first pair of games at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers and Capitals take the series to Washington, D.C., for Game 3 on Wednesday. The Rangers hope to get the most out of their top guys, while it seems the Capitals have coaxed a positive response out of their superstar with unconventional methods.

Limiting Ovechkin: Held off the score sheet in Game 1, Alex Ovechkin’s ice time was limited in Game 2. No 8 played only 13:36 in what Caps coach Dale Hunter characterized as an effort to “roll four lines.” Whatever Hunter’s reasoning for playing Ovechkin a career playoff low, it worked. The star forward tallied the game-winner in the third period to give the Caps a 3-2 win and snap a two-game goal drought.

Boyle wants to be better: Brian Boyle was pretty blunt in assessing his first game back from a concussion. Of his performance in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Boyle said “I stunk.” The 6-foot-6 center, who lost the faceoff on Ovechkin’s game-winner Monday, tallied three goals in the first three games of the team’s first-round series against the Senators.

No Dubinsky: The Rangers will be without injured forward Brandon Dubinsky for the third straight game Wednesday. The 26-year-old forward appeared to suffer a lower-body injury in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and has not played since. Coach John Tortorella confirmed he did make the trip with the team to D.C., but there has been no indication he is close to a return.

Teacher’s pet: With Ovechkin’s ice time limited, some unexpected characters have seen their roles increase, namely defensive-minded Jay Beagle. Beagle led all forwards in ice time with 19:58 in Game 2. Beagle finished the game with one assist, five hits and a plus-1 rating.

Another nomination for Lundqvist: Already nominated for the Vezina and Hart Trophies, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist secured another Wednesday afternoon. The 30-year-old netminder, who has set career highs in wins (39), save percentage (.930) and goals against average, was announced by the NHLPA as one of three finalists for the annual Ted Lindsay Award. Lundqvist joins Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos as fellow nominees for the award for "Most Outstanding Player" as voted by NHL players.