Those who watched the Vancouver Canucks last night know this very well; the first round of the playoffs is no small hurdle even for the best teams. It was important that the Rangers play well tonight and get the win. The seeding and all the hard work that the Rangers did to earn it would be absolutely meaningless if Ottawa came away with a 1-0 series lead on MSG ice. And the Rangers would have an uphill battle for the first time since probably October.
But the Rangers started the game well and established a 3-0 lead after two period. An early Brad Richards goal in the third period rendered the game virtually over. Virtually all the other top teams have had difficult first games, some of them even losing. So the Rangers getting four goals on the Senators and coming away with about as easy of a win as there is in the playoffs is a great statement to make. Sure, Ottawa scoring two goals dampers the mood a bit and I know certain people are going to find things to whine about but if the Rangers play every game like this then they’ll win the series in convincing fashion. Let’s look at post-game notes.
John Tortorella- A good coaching job by him tonight. He made sure the team was prepared for the opening minute and that they didn’t take half a period to get going like they’ve been prone to. When the ice started to tilt in favor of the Senators he called a time out and said enough to wake up the team, who scored twice with the remaining time in the second period. It doesn’t matter how long ago Tortorella’s Stanley Cup win was. Having a coach who has both succeeded and failed in the playoffs is an asset because he knows what buttons to push and how to approach the game before the players step on the ice.
Henrik Lundqvist- Though the Rangers went into the third period with a 3-0 lead the Senators could have made it a much closer game had Lundqvist not played as well as he did. The Senators outshot the Rangers 13-8 in the first period and were the much more active team in the first ten minutes of the second period. A single mistake by Lundqvist in the first 29 minutes of the game and it’s a 1-1 or 2-1 score going into the third period, which would have changed the gameplan completely for both teams in the final period. Lundqvist did pretty much everything asked of him. He stopped Spezza and O’Brien on their partial breakaways. He helped keep Ottawa’s powerplay off the scoreboard. He was a vacuum in the crease, giving Ottawa no rebound opportunities. By the time the Sens found a way to beat him the game was basically over. Thirty saves on 32 shots earned him the first star tonight.
Ryan Callahan- It’s in the playoffs that captains earn their reputation and Callahan played well in his first game wearing the “C.” He scored the early goal to give the Rangers the lead and swing momentum in their favor and then did all the other Ryan Callahan type things. He led everybody in hits with seven, some of which were very hard hits. He played his part on the penalty kill. Callahan played like a captain in the regular season and he continued that tonight.
Brian Boyle- We’ve discussed multiple times on Blue Line Station that Brian Boyle is an important player in this series. As the checking line center he no doubt was going to be matched up against Ottawa’s top line, which accounts for most of their offense. It’s hard to argue that he didn’t do that job tonight. For the first 50 minutes of the game Ottawa’s top line couldn’t get much offense going and he was a big part of the penalty kill. The goal on top of that – a huge one at the end of the 2nd period to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead – was a bonus. On top of that he had six hits and wisely goaded Karlsson into a roughing penalty that took Ottawa’s most important player off of the ice for the remainder of their first power play. I understand that Anisimov had a solid game himself and had two assists but I think Boyle deserved the third star tonight.
Ryan McDonagh- Against Washington in the playoffs last season Ryan McDonagh played like a rookie. Of course, that is to be expected since he was a rookie. But with Staal still not in ideal form and the Rangers finally poised for a long playoff run McDonagh has to play like a top-pairing defenseman. I thought he did an excellent job of that tonight. Ottawa did score one goal with him on the ice but all things considered he did a very good job against the Sens’ top line. He was much more poised tonight than he was last season and I think he’s going to quickly gain confidence with every game.
The Rangers face off against the Senators in Game Two Saturday night. We’ll have to see what Paul McLean’s Senators change, if anything, but I don’t think John Tortorella has any desire to make any adjustments. The Rangers played just fine tonight.