Rangers Paying the Price to Stop Capitals
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Washington Capitals have never had difficulty shooting the puck, but against the New York Rangers in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal it's just as likely for frozen vulcanized rubber to be absorbed by a Ranger body as it is to reach the net.
The Rangers blocked 29 shots in their 1-0 win over the Capitals in Game 2, including a 1 minute 27 second stretch in the second period when five Rangers gave up their body to silence a shot.
Just past the 12 minute-mark, Derek Morris stopped a wrist shot from Alex Ovechkin, then Brandon Dubinsky blocked another Ovechkin shot 16 seconds later. Blair Betts dropped next to stop a Brian Pothier shot, then Ryan Callahan on John Erskine and finally Nik Antropov on Nicklas Backstrom.
"I haven't seen any team block more shots than this," Backstrom said. "They're doing a great job of blocking shots but it's a thing for us to get the shots through them. Like if we have the puck on the point we can't just shoot it, we have to find a way through them. So it's our mistakes, too."
New York leads all playoff teams with 50 blocked shots through two games -- 17 on attempts by Ovechkin. The Capitals have had 70 shots on net in the series. All but three New York skaters have blocked a shot in the playoffs and 12 have more than one.
"It's the playoffs and you got to sacrifice your body," Dubinsky said. "You got to do that against a team like [Washington]. They're going to shoot everything."
The Rangers' willingness to block shots is not only emblematic of playoff hockey -- when few players are concerned with risking physical harm to themselves -- but also of New York Coach John Tortorella's teams. In 2003-04 when his Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup they led all playoff teams in blocked shots (363).
Tortorella's teams excel at limiting opponents to perimeter shots and taking away open lanes to the net. When they do give up a chance, players display their deft ability to drop to the ice to squash any opportunity for deflections or rebounds close to the goalmouth.
"It's tough because they're always waiting for us," Tomas Fleischmann said. "Trying to shoot the puck on [Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist] -- they just block everything almost. It feels like it. [We] just try to go to the net and nothing comes to our sticks, so we've got to improve that."
Even with the Rangers propensity to block shots though, Lundqvist has been solid and even stellar when called upon. Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau wagered that the only shot that beat Lundqvist in the loss was Ovechkin's chance from the slot in the third period that rung off the crossbar.
"We're going to have to start going hard to the net," Backstrom said. "I think the most important is to find the rebounds. He's letting a lot of rebounds like straight up the middle in the slot. If we get the rebounds maybe we [score] in the first period or something and it's a different game."
Capitals Notes: Pothier played 15:46 and said he felt good in his first playoff game since the 2005-06 season when he was a member of the Ottawa Senators.