Saturday, April 21, 2012
Anderson Puts Rangers On Brink ... What Will Torts Do Now?
Ottawa 2 New York 0
The Ottawa Senators are one win away from upsetting the heavily favoured top Eastern seed.
Let that butterfly flap around in your head for a while. Then prepare yourself what could be a nerve-shredding couple of games, because, despite all the celebrating going on by Senators fans, the New York Rangers aren't dead yet.
That last win can be a bastard.
It's important to remember that the Senators, despite putting 30 shots on the net, only got one by Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedish King once again played like a champ with a .966 save percentage and a number of highlight robberies. Thankfully for Ottawa, their own guy was even better, which means he was absolutely perfect.
Craig Anderson has gotten downright nasty in this series and it looks like he might even be in the Rangers heads, if there's any room in there after god knows what John Tortorella has filled it with. The Blueshirts don't score much anyways but when you throw 41 pucks at a goalie and still lose the most important game you've played all year, it's going warp the mind of even the most hardened playoff vets like Brad Richards.
This series has been strange to watch because you see a Rangers team that has become so dogmatic in their defensive style of play that just one or two goals seems catastrophic to their fate. The Senators held a 1-0 lead off Jason Spezza's goal from the middle of the first right up until the last minute when Spezza again sealed the win with an empty-netter. The Rangers did look like they deserved a goal in that time but you never thought that either Richards or Marian Gaborik was going to take the game over.
The emotional push of the Rangers seems to come from their bench boss, Torts, but Ottawa's is spread around the lineup, whether it's Zenon Konopka again playing a critical role on faceoffs and the penalty-kill, or it's Spezza visibly shedding the weight of a whole city with a meaningful fist pump after his first goal of the series.
Even Ryan Callahan of the Rangers has been quiet since a great opening game at home. I'm hesitant to say that the Rangers are being held back by their total commitment to collapsing and blocking shots - it got them the Eastern crown, no small accomplishment - but Ottawa seems much looser out there and they don't tend to get down when something bad happens. They've gotten some questionable calls from the refs and go out and kill it off. Their power-play is absolutely brutal but they don't seem to go into a slump for the next few shifts like a lot of teams do.
After a regular season straight out of Fellini movie, the Senators have seen it all by now and the quietly efficient Rangers suddenly don't seem like such an unbreachable obstacle. It's as if the Senators don't get uptight because they know that someone will be the hero when they need it. It could be Kyle Turris, Erik Condra, Chris Neil... just go down the lineup right to the sixth defenseman. We've seen big plays from all of them.
You can't really say the same thing about the Rangers. Torts was chopping down the bench, sitting Artem Anisimov and playing Richards almost 25 minutes, about 4 more minutes than Spezza got in the game. Neil blew the hinges off the Rangers best player of the series, Brian Boyle, with a major hit in the second period and the big centre had to leave the game.
And the Senators have basically done all this without their heart and soul leader, Daniel Alfredsson.
Rumours are he may be good to go in Game 6 in front of the loudest fans of the playoffs. How much of a shot in the arm will that be for Ottawa? The Senators actually might have to rein themselves in a little so they don't go running around like adrenalin freaks for the first 10 minutes.
For all the excitement and hype Game 6 will have, the biggest hurdle remains the calm and collected Rangers who probably wouldn't change their game plan in any situation - unless Torts finally blows a circuit and chokes someone on the bench or begins swinging sticks at the fans. The Rangers coach has been completely under control so far but now that it's do or die for New York, expect him to play all his cards before this thing is through. A rousing, expletive filled pre-game speech may just be the start. As we learned from HBO, Torts knows words that even biker gangs wouldn't utter in each other's company.
The Senators could win this right away or they might not get another puck past Lundqvist. Both scenarios are completely possible and fans should be prepared for both.
Basically, hold on for dear life.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Craig Anderson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Zenon Konopka