The Rangers survived in seven games to upset the Caps in the first round in a series that really could have gone either way for six of the seven games. Two games went to overtime, three games were decided by a goal in regulation, and another game was decided by just two goals. The Caps led for under 35 minutes in the entire series, even though they dominated play and puck possession for the majority of the series. That said, out-puck-possessing doesn’t mean you win.
The Rangers got their share of luck, which certainly contributed to the win, but they also controlled play when they needed to in the games they won. They scored goals when they needed to, they killed penalties when they needed to, and they got stellar goaltending. But to play devil’s advocate, so did the Caps. In the end, the series was a toss-up. The coin came up heads, and the Rangers won.
Why they won – Goaltending
This one is a no-brainer. Henrik Lundqvist stole Game Six and was great in Game Seven. He allowed zero goals in regulation three times, and less than one goal in regulation four times. Interestingly enough, the Rangers only went 2-2 in that span, but those two wins came at critical times in the series. Your best player needs to carry you throughout the playoffs, and Hank did just that this series.
Why they could have lost – Braden Holtby
At the other end of the ice, Holtby matches Hank save for save until Game Seven. Holtby is the reason why I never like playing the Caps. He’s a very good goalie, and he will only get better as he gains more experience. Holtby was magnificent in Games 1-6, and even stole a game for the Caps (Game Five).
Why they won – Containing Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin had two points –a goal and an assist– in the seven game series. Whenever he was on the ice, either Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, or both were out on the ice. If the series MVP goes to Hank, then honorable mentions go to McDonagh and Girardi. They were fantastic this series. They may not have made Ovechkin irrelevant –he did have 30 (!!!) shots on goal this series– but they took him off the score sheet and made the Caps depth provide offense.
Why they could have lost – Early penalties
One of the keys to this series was winning the special teams battle, and the Rangers kicked the series off with a too many men penalty 34 seconds into Game One. That is not how you start a series against the best powerplay team in the land. The Caps scored powerplay goals in each of the first two games, both at critical times. The Rangers did not do a good job staying out of the box early in the series.
Why they won – The penalty kill
Despite not staying out of the box early, the Rangers did hold the Caps to just three powerplay goals in the series, including just one from games 3-7. The Rangers penalty kill did a fantastic job of containing the Caps and limiting their scoring chances with the mad advantage. This is easy to do when your best penalty killer is your goalie, and Hank was the best we’ve ever seen in the playoffs.
Why they could have lost – Defensive breakdowns
I’m going to highlight the Arron Asham goal from last night, because this goal was only made possible due to an epic Chris Kreider gaffe. As we mentioned in the goal breakdown, Kreider left his man (Mike Green) to go for the puck carrier (Eric Fehr), who was already covered. Fehr slid the puck to Green who had a breakaway that Hank stopped. Kreider picked up the loose puck and the rest is history. This was not the only breakdown the Rangers had, but they were able to overcome.
Why then won – Depth scoring and luck
When you ensure that Joel Ward and Mathieu Perreault are the Caps leading scorers among the forwards, you are doing a great job defensively. The Caps top forwards had four points each, while the Rangers top scoring forward was Derick Brassard (2-7-9). Mats Zuccarello also had more points than any Caps player. The Rangers got nothing from their star players, but their depth guys won the series. This is especially evident when you realize the Rangers never dressed a fully healthy lineup. Luck was a factor throughout the series, but it really turned the Rangers favor in Games Six and Seven, when every bounce seemed to land on a Ranger stick and not a Caps stick.
This was a rare series where it could have gone either way for all but one game. A post here or there, or an extra bounce of the puck, and we could be writing a eulogy for the Rangers. The coin-flip in this series came up heads, and the Rangers are off to Boston to begin a series with the Bruins on Thursday.