Through two periods of last night’s game seven against the Capitals, the Rangers were playing out their best-case scenario: Henrik Lundqvist was sharp, their forward lines were skating well (especially the one centered by Brandon Dubinsky), and they were limiting Washington’s chances, having allowed only one goal on a fluky deflection. But such is the disparity between the two teams that even with the Rangers finally playing so well, they still were not winning.
Then in the third period, with the score tied 1–1, the Rangers’ biggest shortcoming was exposed once and for all: They have to work so hard, and get so many bounces, and have everything go just right to score just a single goal, while a team like Washington, with its surplus of naturally skilled forwards, can create a scoring chance out of nowhere in a matter of seconds. And that’s exactly what happened when Sergei Fedorov carried the puck into the zone himself, pulled up at a bad angle, and fired a wrist shot past both defenseman Wade Redden and Lundqvist with 4:59 to go. Had that been Scott Gomez carrying the puck in, he’d have looked to pass first; had it been Nikolai Zherdev, he’d have tried to toe-drag his way around the defenseman. It’s the type of goal the Rangers never score, and it’s the one that ended their season.
It’s as clear as ever that the team’s real flaw this year was the lack of a true, superstar goal scorer (think Jaromir Jagr three seasons ago), which is a shame, because the role players — and the goalie — are in place to make a legitimate playoff run. (In the deciding third period, they registered exactly one shot on goal.) Unfortunately for them, big-time goal scorers are hard to come by, and when teams like Washington and Pittsburgh have a few each, it becomes extremely difficult to win without one.