Thursday, May 10, 2012
Marian Gaborik has to find the net
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
We take you back to the trade deadline and the New York Rangers' concerted effort to acquire Columbus captain Rick Nash.
You have to wonder if GM Glen Sather was envisioning exactly the Rangers' current situation and the impact Nash might have had on the Rangers' lineup.
More to the point, given the Rangers' significant offensive struggles in this second-round playoff series against the plucky Washington Capitals, you have to wonder if Sather and the rest of the Rangers are now wishing they had paid whatever it was the Blue Jackets were asking.
For the second series in a row the Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, find themselves headed home for a Game 7 against a team that finished well below them in the standings. In large part in these two series -- the first against Ottawa and this current set-to against the Capitals -- have gone the distance because the Rangers could not find enough offense to distance themselves from their opponents.
Through 13 postseason games, the Rangers have scored more than three goals just once and that was to open the postseason, against Ottawa.
In the series against Washington, they have scored 13 goals in six games. Four of those goals have been on the power play and another they scored with an extra attacker in Game 6. They have one even-strength goal in their past two games.
"I said at the start of the playoffs, my biggest question mark about the Rangers was could they score enough 5-on-5," longtime NHLer Ed Olczyk, now a national broadcast analyst, told ESPN.com on Thursday. "Could they generate enough to give them the opportunity? It's been a battle. It's been a challenge."
And so to Game 7. Again.
After a superlative regular season, the Rangers are at risk of seeing so much of that good work undone if they cannot find a way to beat rookie netminder Braden Holtby and the rest of the remodeled Capitals team.
Is there a hero in that room as there was in the first round when the Rangers trailed Ottawa 3-2 in the series and won the final two games?
We have seen Brad Richards answer the bell in a big way. The biggest free-agent signing of last summer (he inked a nine-year, $60 million deal after being pursued by a number of other teams) has more than earned his keep this spring with five goals and five assists. He has six power-play points and his terrific play from behind the net to linemate Marian Gaborik gave the Rangers a crucial win in triple overtime in Game 3 against the Caps.
"He's been the guy," offered former NHL netminder Glenn Healy, who is also a national broadcast analyst.
Indeed, Richards has been in on five of the team's 13 goals in this series.
Olczyk believes the Richards-Gaborik-Carl Hagelin line has been the best offensive unit going for the Rangers. To win in Game 7, he said the team will need more from captain Ryan Callahan, who has just one goal and one assist in this series, and Derek Stepan, who has four assists in the series but has yet to score, among others.
And what of Gaborik?
After a bounce-back regular season in which Gaborik scored 41 goals, including 10 on the power play, he has collected nine more points in 13 postseason games. But is there more? And, specifically, does there need to be more from Gaborik if the Rangers are going to survive this series?
"He's a guy that the Rangers heavily rely on as a game-breaker," Healy said Thursday.
Apart from his triple-overtime winner, have there been many "Oh, my" moments from the skilled Slovak?
He has yet to score on the power play this spring and, given the team's struggles to score at even strength, it's not a stretch to suggest cashing in with the man advantage will be crucial in Game 7. It was so in Game 5 when the Rangers' power play struck for the tying goal and overtime winner. On Wednesday, though, the Rangers went 0-for-5 with the man advantage, including a game-changing four-minute power play in the second period.
These are the moments in which Richards and Gaborik -- and, across the way, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom -- are paid to produce. It is when players like them should shine the brightest.
We saw Ovechkin, held without a shot in Game 5's overtime loss, rebound with a strong Game 6, blocking shots and scoring the game's first goal.
"If he doesn't bring it, they don't win," Healy said of Ovechkin.
Richards, a former playoff MVP, has proved he is that kind of guy. Gaborik? In his career, Gaborik has scored 17 goals in 47 postseason games. Twice he has netted a game winner.
In Game 7 against Ottawa, a 2-1 Rangers victory, Gaborik was held without a point and had two shots.
"If you look at his career, there are not a lot of defining moments for him," Healy said.
Perhaps that moment awaits him on Saturday.