The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals were each tempting fate on Saturday night on Madison Square Garden, with each team playing its second Game 7 in as many rounds. The game was a proto-typical seventh game, with defense and goaltending paramount, but the Rangers won enough little battles to produce a 2-1 win that sends them to the Eastern Conference finals starting Monday against New Jersey.
Ranger center Brad Richards got the scoring going in the first period. A scoreless second was followed by a third period New York goal where Marian Gaborik fed Michael Del Zotto. Washington came back 38 seconds later and pulled to within a goal with still half a period to play. But the Caps couldn’t complete the comeback and another postseason ended early in for the good fans in Washington D.C.
Its team defense—not just goaltending, but an overall team defensive concept that jumps out at me the most in this game. In the third period, their season on the line, Washington got only four shots. Alex Ovechkin, with a chance to get critics off his back, got just two shots all game long. The ability of the Rangers to effectively take Ovechkin out of any real offensive activity the last three games is the biggest reason they won this series. Conversely, New York got shots from its key offensive people. Washington’s defense couldn’t keep Gaborik and Ryan Callahan off the puck, with the two combining for ten shots. While Gaborik’s assist was the only point between the two, TheSportsNotebook’s playoff coverage has constantly stressed a correlation between offensive activity by the key players and success, even if it’s not the key players themselves ultimately scoring. Gaborik and Callahan were a part of the offense. Ovechkin was not. Goalie Braden Holtby tried again to rescue his team, saving 29 of 31 shots, but it wasn’t enough.
The conference finals are now set. Los Angeles-Phoenix starts in the West on Sunday night and that series preview is posted online. We’ll have a preview of the Rangers-Devils series either late Sunday or on Monday morning, in anticipation of Monday night’s Game 1.