In the 2007 second round matchup between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres deadlocked at two wins for each, the lower seeded Rangers had a late lead on the Buffalo Sabres only for Chris Drury to put a knife in the heart of Rangers fans as he tied the game with 7.7 seconds left. Maxim Afinogenov scored early in overtime and the Rangers lost the series.
In a season where everything seems to be going right for the Rangers, history repeated itself tonight, only for the roles to reverse. Despite the Rangers heavily out-chancing the Capitals, it was Washington who had the lead after 59 minutes. Joel Ward, the hero for the Capitals in the first round, received a double-minor for high sticking Carl Hagelin, and the rest is history. As Rangers fans lamented the failure of their powerplay, at that point 0 for 3 on the night with zero shots, and its contribution to what seemed to be a loss for the Rangers, former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards scored the most important goal of his career since the 2004 playoffs with 6.6 seconds left. And then a Marc Staal powerplay goal on the second portion of Ward’s double minor gave the Rangers an unlikely win. Sometimes a team seems destined for greatness. The 1994 team certainly was. And while we’re far away from putting this group in that category, it’s hard to not believe this team has a little bit of magic on its side. Let’s look at some post-game thoughts.
Brad Richards- Brad Richards had one of the worst statistical regular seasons of his career in his first year with the Rangers. Guess how many people in the world care right now? Only Giroux and Briere have more playoff goals than Richards does currently, and very few have scored a goal more important than the one Brad Richards did tonight. Eleven points in thirteen games so far in the playoffs for Brad Richards. You have to believe that Glen Sather got this one right.
Marc Staal- Marc Staal also had a regular season to forget, missing half of it with a concussion while looking sluggish when he returned. And like Richards, nobody in the world cares. Staal has been on his game since the playoffs started and specifically in this series against the Ovechkin line. Considering the route he was forced to take to get to this point, I don’t know if there is anyone on the Rangers more deserving of that goal. And while the screens certainly helped him out, it was a hell of a shot from the point to win the game for the Rangers. The assist on Stralman’s goal is just the cherry on top.
Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi- Ovechkin and Backstrom were both held without a shot on goal. As Forrest Gump would say, that’s all I got to say about that.
John Mitchell- Little things in the playoffs can make the biggest of differences. For the much maligned John Mitchell, it was a clean faceoff win on the powerplay that got the puck back to Staal, who put it in the net. In order to win in the playoffs you need your key guys making huge plays, and Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik have done that. You also need the role players doing the little things. John Mitchell has been very good defensively for the Rangers this series and he did his part in helping the team get the win tonight.
Anton Stralman- Does he make mistakes sometimes in the defensive zone? Yeah. But no team has six perfect defenseman. I’ll consider the Rangers lucky to have found Stralman off the scrap heap. Stralman’s goal tonight was his third of the playoffs. Here are some other players with three or fewer goals in the playoffs this year: Evgeni Malkin. Shane Doan. Patrik Elias. Jaromir Jagr. A big thank you to Lou Lamoriello for opting not to sign Stralman and giving Sather a chance to swoop in.
While we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves – the Rangers still need to win one of the next two – it feels nice to finally get some bounces in our favor in the playoffs. It’s nice to see some overtime goals go in the opposition’s net. It’s nice to be one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. Hopefully the Rangers can do it on Washington ice Wednesday night.