Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - They may not play the most exciting brand
of hockey, but the New York Rangers have found a winning formula that is as
effective as the natural process of erosion.
Like erosion, where soil and rock are removed from the earth's surface by wind
or water, the Rangers' ability to wear the opposition down seems to be an
Under head coach John Tortorella, New York has become a defensive juggernaut
that relies on shot blocking and the superb goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist to
grind out close victories. Although the tooth-and-nail style has allowed the
opposition to stay close in both games and series this postseason, the Rangers
have been able to outlast the competition.
Since New York was coming off seven-game series in each of the first two
rounds, there was some concern the Rangers would be tired heading into the
Eastern Conference finals. However, a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils in
Game 1 went a long way toward putting those fears to rest.
After eliminating Washington in Game 7 on Saturday, the Rangers had just one
day off to prepare for the Devils on Monday. New Jersey appeared to be the
better team for the first two periods, but New York weathered the storm and
the teams were tied at 0-0 after 40 minutes of play.
If New York was battling fatigue in Game 1, it certainly did not show it in
the third period. The Rangers got stronger as the game wore on and never
wavered after defenseman Dan Girardi tallied the game's first goal just 53
seconds into the period.
At times the Rangers may look tired because they're not a team that pushes the
pace offensively. This means they can go long stretches without generating
many scoring chances, but as long as Lundqvist holds down the fort --
something he's done all season long -- New York is eventually able to
capitalize on a mistake and turn it into a game-changing goal.
The outspoken Tortorella is one person who is sick of answering questions
about how tired his club should be at this stage. It's a valid question since
no team has ever won a Stanley Cup title after going seven games in each of
the first two rounds, but New York's bench boss doesn't think fatigue is an
issue at all.
"I don't know where you guys get all this stuff being tired. If we're tired
this time of the year, there's something the matter," Tortorella said. "We
still have a month to play. You might as well not even ask me questions about
being tired. We're not a tired hockey club. We are ready to play."
While the fatigue factor was expected to be an advantage for the Devils, if
the Rangers aren't tired, then the task for New Jersey going forward will be
to adjust to their new opponent. In the last round, New Jersey faced a
Philadelphia team that was used to playing an attacking style and the Devils
were able to force the Flyers into committing many costly turnovers.
Although the Devils' forecheck was effective early in Game 1 against the
Rangers, New York is a much more disciplined club than Philadelphia and will
not be pressured into forcing the issue on offense. Of course, the Rangers
also have the always-steady Lundqvist between the pipes to erase most mistakes
committed by his teammates, while the Flyers ride the roller coaster that is
goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer and his assistants pushed the right buttons in
Round 2, allowing New Jersey to win four straight against the Flyers after
suffering a Game 1 loss. It seems unlikely New Jersey will be able to deliver
as dramatic a turnaround in this conference final series. The Rangers are
simply better equipped to handle the pressure that the Devils are able to
produce with their relentless forecheck.
The hockey world has been waiting all season for the Rangers to run out of
gas, but if consecutive Game 7s and a one-day layoff between rounds didn't
slow the club down, it doesn't seem like anything will.
Like waves crashing into a rocky shore, the Rangers never let up and always
seem to get their way in the end.
HUNTER LEAVES CAPS
Although it had been rumored for quite some time that Dale Hunter had no
interest in remaining the Washington Capitals head coach beyond this season,
it was still surprising when the club announced on Monday that Hunter was
indeed leaving the post to return to his duties with the London Knights of the
Ontario Hockey League.
While it's refreshing that Hunter, who is co-owner, president and head coach
of the junior club, chose the Knights over the glamour of leading an NHL team,
his decision leaves Washington in limbo. Hunter completely transformed the
Capitals from an up-tempo offensive club into a defensive powerhouse that
resembled Tortorella's Rangers. In fact, before succumbing to the Rangers in
Game 7, it appeared that Hunter's Caps were a mirror image of top-seeded New
In some ways Hunter was the NHL's version of Kwai Chang Caine, the character
David Carradine played in the popular 1970s TV show, "Kung Fu." Like Caine,
Hunter, who replaced fired head coach Bruce Boudreau in November, swooped into
D.C., fixed what was wrong with the Capitals and quickly moved along.
The decision for general manager George McPhee is who to bring in as Hunter's
replacement and whether or not he wants the next bench boss to stick to the
defensive blueprint that the predecessor utilized to solid results. Do the
Capitals continue on the trail blazed by Hunter or revert to the more
offensive style of play they used under Boudreau?
Ultimately, McPhee's will need to consider how his next head coach meshes with
superstar winger Alex Ovechkin. It's no secret Ovechkin's ice time dwindled
under Hunter, but the Russian sniper is still the face of the franchise and it
seems unlikely that the team is ready to part ways with No. 8.
Although Ovechkin's playing time suffered as a result of Hunter's strict game
plan, he actually was a better player by the time the playoffs came around.
Sure, Hunter's bold choices may have rubbed Washington's star player the wrong
way, but whether Ovechkin knows it or not, the coach actually helped add a
missing dimension to his game.
Hunter proved many points about Washington's hockey team during his brief
tenure. McPhee would be unwise to simply go back to the way things were before
Hunter came to town.
The Sports Network