Here we go again. In the first round of these playoffs, the eighth-seeded Senators took the No. 1 seed Rangers to seven games. And now, with their 2-1 win in Game 6 tonight, the seventh-seeded Capitals have forced a Game 7 in the conference semifinals. Of course, seeding ain’t nothing but a number in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially when you consider how much the Capitals have embraced a style similar to the one the Rangers play. (The Capitals blocked 24 shots tonight.) But for the Rangers’ season to continue on to the conference finals, they’ll need to win a do-or-die Game 7 at the Garden on Saturday.
Five times the Rangers have taken a one-game series lead in these playoffs, and five times they’ve lost the next game and allowed their opponent to tie the series. Maybe there’s a lack of desperation in such games, or maybe it’s simply a part of the ups and downs of a series between good teams. But their inability to get a series lead and build upon it will result in their second Game 7 in a matter of weeks. Give the Capitals credit, though: They’ve bounced back from two crushing losses — one in triple overtime, and one in overtime after allowing the game-tying goal in the final seconds of regulation — with strong efforts in the following game.
In Game 5, it was the Rangers that got off to a good start, but tonight it was Washington: After Anton Stralman was whistled for taking down Jason Chimera, the Caps scored on the power play just 1:28 into the game. (Alex Ovechkin beat Lundqvist high glove side. And while the Caps aren’t the first team to try to go glove side on Lundqvist, they believe that’s a way to beat him: Their associate goalie coach Olaf Kolzig said just the other day that good high shots could be effective.) The Caps would extend that lead in the second period, when Chimera put in his third goal of the series after the puck deflected off teammate Nicklas Backstrom, across the crease, and right onto his stick.
Just like in Game 5, the Rangers would show signs of life late, after they pulled Lundqvist: With traffic in front of Braden Holtby, they’d finally break through and score with 50.5 seconds remaining. (Marian Gaborik would get credit for the goal after one-timing a feed from Dan Girardi and getting a friendly deflection in front.) There would be no heroics in the final seconds this time, however, and the Caps would hold on for a 2-1 victory. And unlike in Game 5, when the Rangers’ power play went from dreadful to awesome over the course of the game, they wouldn’t score any goals with a man advantage tonight: They were 0-for-5, and couldn’t convert on a four-minute power play in the second period that began shortly after they fell behind by two.
Luckily for the Rangers, momentum hasn’t meant much from game-to-game in this series. (That said, if not for a miracle finish in Game 5, the Rangers might have lost three straight games and could have been eliminated already.) Through six games, these teams have alternated wins and losses. They’ll play once more, on Saturday at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden. The Devils await the winner.