At one point, things looked to be well in hand for the Rangers, who led the second-seed Capitals in the series by a 3-1 margin. Then, the wheels came off…
We've seen a little of everything in this series, which has been a weird one to say the least! From Jose Theodore losing his starting job after only a single game, to suspensions, to benchings and finally, to the emergence of a potential rookie hero goaltender.
Theodore wasn't great in the game 1 loss, but many people look at his being a bench-warmer from that point forward as simply throwing him under the bus. Let's face it, the Capitals went out and signed this guy to a $9M deal last summer because they must have felt he was a somewhat competent starter. Benching him for one bad game hardly seems like a move that will bolster his confidence in the event he is called upon later in the series, so effectively, they've sawed him off at the knees…
Much of the talk surrounding this series, at least the early stages of it, centered around uber-pest Sean Avery, and his somewhat reckless antics. There was the icing chase that resulted in Milan Jurcina nursing a bloody nose. Then, there was the punch to the face of John Erskine. Then there was the high-stick late on a Caps player after the two were down on the ice together. And finally, as icing on the cake, there was the random punch to the face of goalie Simeon Varlamov. From this rap sheet, it might be safe to say that Avery isn't fully rehabilitated, despite his time in the NHL's behaviour modification program…
Now, while I don't condone some of Avery's actions, I must say that I can see where his behaviour comes from. He is a marked man out there, as Washington players know they can pretty much take any liberties they want on him without incurring a penalty. I'd go as far as to say you could ram a stick through him like a shish-kabob, and if he tells you he doesn't like it, he will get 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. It's absurd, and the fact the league has essentially mandated a no-tolerance policy for Avery has rendered him less than effective. There must be a way to get some money back from the officials on this front…
Anyway, Avery's antics got to the point where head coach John Tortorella simply couldn't take it anymore (he looked absolutely livid for most of game 4), and opted to make Avery a healthy scratch for game 5. Now, here's where things got a little ironic.
In game 5, with the Rangers getting pummeled, it was Tortorella's turn to act like someone who needs anger management counselling. Allegedly, some particularly inebriated and classless Washington fans had been heckling the coach and staff all game long, when they finally crossed the line, allegedly suggesting that Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal were “more than friends” – in more colourful language. Torts blew a gasket, and sprayed some water through the partition in the glass, only to have a beer dumped on him. The coup de grace was Torts tossing the water bottle over the glass, which apparently hit a female spectator who was otherwise not involved in the incident. Finally, Tortorella grabbed a stick, and started gesturing like he was going over the glass and into the crowd. Jim Schoenfeld held him back, although in an interview following game 6, he joked that he was actually trying to give Torts a boost.
The league, in its infinite wisdom, decided to suspend Tortorella for game 6. My best guess is that the league felt pressure to suspend rather than fine him because the woman who was hit with the bottle told the press she was “contemplating her options”, likely referring to potential legal action. Let's not forget, the USA is the most litigious nation on the planet… Now, it might just be me, but I have to question the moral fibre of anyone who would actually sue someone over this. I mean, it's a WATER BOTTLE! It's made of plastic! The whole farce of this woman going to the hospital for treatment makes me laugh. I hope it hurt, although I fail to see how it could have, especially when the bottle was lobbed over the glass…
Anyway, the irony here is that firstly, Torts lost his composure a la Avery, in a game that Avery was watching from afar because he lost his composure. Secondly, Tortorella's replacement for game 6 would be none other than Jim Schoenfeld, who is the only other coach to be suspended for a playoff game (for his famous “fat pig, go have another donut tyrade against Don Koharski, I believe).
Game 6 was the Ovechkin show, as he was all over the ice. Apparently someone woke him up, likely with a bodycheck, and the kid came out to play. With Henrik Lundqvist looking tired and worn, the Caps exposed a slow glove-hand, staking themselves to a 5-1 lead before the Rags scored a pair of meaningless goals en route to an all-important loss that would send the series to a 7th and final contest, which goes tonight.
Tonight's contest will decide the fate of these two teams, with one headed to the second round, and the other to the golf course. Personally, I think the Rangers will come out with far more emotion that was witnessed in either of the previous two games. Henrik Lundqvist will be better, after spending the third period of both preceding games on the bench in favour of Steve Valiquette. The Caps will come out firing as well, so the key will be to keep them off the scoresheet early in the game to try and establish a slightly slower pace of play. The Rangers don't want to get into a run-and-gun affair with the Caps, who are simply more talented than the Rags. It will boil down to attention to detail, especially defensively, where the Rangers have faltered since holding a 3-1 series edge.
I expect Sean Avery to be a factor in this game, as well as Ryan Callahan. These two play a non-stop brand of game, and when things go their way, they can be effective goal-scorers.
One player who will not be a factor in this game is Donald Brashear, who earned himself a 5 game suspension for a cheap headshot on Blair Betts, who also won't be playing tonight. Furthermore, Brashear was handed another 1 game suspension for making physical contact with Colton Orr during the pre-game skate, which the league warned teams about prior to the playoffs. Not that this will make a big difference in a good way, as Michael Nylander will draw in for Brashear in game 7. To me, it's a wonder why Nylander was not in there in the first place. Brashear plays about 3 minutes per game, and is absolutely useless at playing hockey. This suspension can only make the Caps better.
Replacing Betts tonight will be young Russian, Artem Anisimov, which might be a talent upgrade, but Betts will be sorely missed on the penalty kill, where he is an unsung hero.
That's about it for now. Sit back, crack a cold one, and enjoy the game!
About the Author
Written by Dan Rakusan
A huge Rangers (NHL), Falcons (NFL), PGA Tour and soccer fan, I have been writing semi-professionally for about 7 years now. I try to impart information with some degree of humour, and always have an opinion. PSB is another feather in my cap, and am really proud of the team assembled here, and look forward to the long-term journey PSB is embarking on in terms of establishing itself as the best sports blogging collective on the net! Look for articles such as 4-Play, Rangers blogs and PGA Tour updates, along with my NFL handicapping service!