Wednesday, April 29, 2009
In Praise of Blue
When we were younger, we’d have been inclined to say, “ah, f*** ‘em…we win, you lose. Go back to New York.”
But after seeing a lot of playoff hockey over the years, we stood there at the end during watching the handshakes, silently appreciating the effort on the part of the New York Rangers. The Rangers are an offense-challenged team that doesn’t have a finisher worthy of the name. They don’t have a real stopper on defense, although Marc Staal could grow into that role one day. They have some underachievers and guys who don’t look like they fit.
But they have some guys on that team – and behind the bench, for that matter – who are nothing short of warriors.
Chris Drury, who couldn’t even shake hands with his Capital opponents afterward because of a broken hand suffered in a playoff-clinching win against the Flyers almost three weeks ago, was the epitome of a “leave it on the ice” approach to Game 7. He still managed to win five of eight draws and register a couple of hits, despite playing more or less one handed.
Sean Avery was booed every time he touched the puck. He deserved it for some of the antics he perpetrated in this series. But apart from the “Side Show Sean” persona, he was the best Ranger on the ice last night not wearing goalie pads. Avery played with a singular energy – within the rules, if at times right up to the edge of them – and was for long stretches the only Ranger who was asserting himself on offense.
Brandon Dubinsky could have been a “Plumber.” We mean that as a compliment to the young forward. He would have fit right in with that lunch pail bunch for the Caps in the 1980's. A player of somewhat limited offensive skills, he makes the most of what talents he has – on display last night – to rattle, harass, hound, and otherwise make a nuisance of himself to the other team. If he was a Cap, fans would adore this guy.
Ryan Callahan, another player of somewhat limited offensive skill, was just about the hardest working guy on the ice for the Rangers in most of the games of this series. It was his sheer hustle to get into a play that afforded him the opportunity to score the game’s only goal in Game 2, and last night he was one of the Rangers who were checking the Caps all over their own zone, threatening to skate the Caps right out of the rink in the first 40 minutes.
Henrik Lundqvist had the unimaginable pressure of being the one Ranger who could not have a bad minute, let alone game, in this series. On a team that would struggle to score more than two goals a game in this series (the Rangers only did it twice), Lundqvist had to be as close to perfect as a goaltender gets. That he wasn’t, in the end, is not a reflection of his skill or cool determination in this series as much as it shines a light of some other Ranger deficiencies.
When we looked at this series before it began, we thought it would turn on the fact that Lundqvist would not have enough sub-three goal games against the high-octane Caps offense to win the series. The irony is that Lundqvist would lose the ultimate game while providing the Rangers that sub-three-goals-against effort. No goalie is without holes, and the Caps managed to find one often enough to win the series, but absent the play of Lundqvist, this series is probably over before last weekend arrives.
John Tortorella is an abrasive, sour, prickly cuss who no one in the media probably ever wants to ask a question of after a loss. He also has lousy aim with a water bottle. But he was a fantastic bench coach in this series, getting the absolute maximum out of a flawed array of talent. And while he was trying to find the right buttons to push as the Caps were crawling out of a 3-1 deficit in games, Tortorella was, if not pleasant in post game interviews, graceful in a gruff way, if such a thing can be said. His comments about his team last night in the aftermath of the Ranger loss hit all the appropriate grace notes, and none of them seemed forced or false. He really does seem to have an affection for a lot of those players, many of whom are a reflection of a “junkyard dog” approach to the game that he prefers to coach. When he commented that “we checked our ass off,” you could almost hear his voice cracking in disappointment that his boys didn’t quite have that last measure to pull the game out of the fire, but in true appreciation of the effort they gave.
It’s hard to muster a real hate for the Rangers. The first 40 minutes of the game they played last night were a sight to behold, something any fan of the sport who has watched any measure of playoff hockey can appreciate for its “old school” values of hard work and relentlessness. It says something about the Capitals that they were able to dig down in the last 20 minutes and find what it took to win. And in that respect, the Capitals earned their victory.
The Rangers made them earn it.