Rangers-Capitals Game 7 Thoughts: Finality in the Building

Game 7 presents the scariest word in sports: finality. The finality of a team’s season is the worst imaginable situation in sports unless that team’s season ends with a championship. When finality comes at the end of the regular season and you know your team won’t being playing in a postseason which (in the case of the NHL) is about to go on for two-months plus, it’s devastating. And when your team is presented with finality in the first round of a postseason that will still have three rounds after it whether or not your team is in it, it’s devastating.

When finality becomes a possibility you start to think about the season and its games and the ups and downs and the disappointment knowing there will be an offseason and then training camp and then 82 games before the next postseason, and that between now and the next postseason the actual seasons will change and change again and change again and change again. Game 7 can be exhilarating to watch from an outside perspective like it was for any Rangers fan who watched the Anaheim-Detroit Game 7 on Sunday night. But when it’s your team and your season and your time that had been committed over the season (even if it was a shortened season), it’s not exhilarating. It’s petrifying.

At 8 p.m. on Monday the Rangers started a game in which finality was in the building for both teams just 28 hours after starting a game in which finality was present only for the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Someone’s season was going to end on Monday night and I knew if the Rangers’ season was going to end in Washington, it was going to be because of their inability to score and not because of Henrik Lundqvist. But the Rangers found a way to score (and scored five times) and Henrik Lundqvist posted his second consecutive shutout. And for that, King Henrik starts things off in the Game 7 Thoughts.

– When the Rangers took a 2-0 lead, my girlfriend said, “The Rangers need to build a fort in front of the net.” And they did … when they used the 205th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Draft on Henrik Lundqvist.

Monday was Lundqvist’s fourth career Game 7. He’s now 3-1 in those games and has allowed four total goals in the games. The one loss came in a 2-1 loss against the Capitals in the 2008-09 quarterfinals. But hey, he’s overrated and has never won the Cup, so let’s forget that he’s the best goalie on the planet! Only winning a championship matters when talking about talent and accomplishments. So yes, Chris Osgood was better than Henrik Lundqvist could ever be.

– How has Eric Fehr still not been suspended for his elbow on Derick Brassard in Game 6? Did Brendan Shanahan retire? Stupid question. Of course he didn’t. Who would retire from a job in which they don’t have perform well at and still get paid a ridiculous salary? (No, this thought doesn’t matter anymore since the series and Capitals season is over, but I just wanted to know how a blatant head shot away from the play goes unpunished.)

– It’s hard to know when Alexander Ovechkin is playing dirty and cheap and when he’s playing like the all-world, all-around magnificent player that he is. In Game 7, he played like the latter and proved his worth as the captain of the Capitals. (Even if he would later say the NHL had planned a conspiracy to force the series to a seventh game and have the Rangers win.)

– For as much as I get on John Tortorella, and I would say I get on him more than anyone in the Tri-state area, the Game 7 win was his best single-game coaching job as Rangers head coach. The win was the first on the road in franchise history and after losing Games 1, 2 and 5 in Washington and scoring just two goals in the three games, which included two overtimes, the adjustments made on Monday were perfect. The 5-0 win was as dominant of a performance the Rangers have had in a long, long time, especially in the postseason and I’m willing to give Tortorella credit for the win. You’re welcome, John. (And fine, you can stay for the 2013-14 season for now.)

– Here’s who scored in Game 7 for the Rangers: Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello. The only true offensive players in that list are Callahan and Zuccarello and Zuccarello is a playmaker before a scorer. What does this mean? Team effort. What else does this mean? Well…

– Rick Nash had zero goals in the Washington series. Zero. I mean for eff’s sake, he had just two assists. Henrik Lundqvist is the first reason why the Rangers can win any series in the postseason. The Rangers surviving a seven-game series with Nash scoring no goals is the second not only because it shows their depth, but it also means that if you believe in “being due” then Nash is more due than anyone in the postseason.

Tyler Seguin is also going through the same struggles as Nash after tallying just one assist in the Bruins’ seven-game series with Maple Leafs. That means that Nash and Seguin combined for 14 games played, no goals and three assists in the first round. Scoring has been a problem for both teams for stretches this season, including the postseason, but when you know that both teams were able to win series without their best scorers putting even one puck in the net, it’s remarkable.

– In the first game of the series, Brad Richards played 22:14. In Game 2 he played 20:41. In Games 6 and 7, he played 20:46 combined. Game 6 (9:34) was his least amount of ice time this season and most likely ever in his entire life and Game 7 (11:12) was his second-lowest amount of ice time this season (and most likely also his second-lowest amount of ice time ever in his entire life). This is the Rangers’ second-highest paid skater and the 2003-04 Conn Smythe winner responsible for John Tortorella’s Stanley Cup playing 20:46 in two combined elimination games.

Richards has been the focal point of “amnesty” conversation this season with a massive contract that runs through the 2020-21 season and he’s fortunate the Rangers made it through the first round. Richards now has at least another round to turn around his season and prove his worth to the team and to end the conversation that want him out of New York. I’m not sure that he will be able to fix the damage his game and reputation have taken this postseason, but displaying even a glimpse of the 2003-04 Brad Richards (eff, I’ll even take a glimpse of the 2011-12 Brad Richards) will go a long way in his return to the team next year.

The Rangers have eluded finality twice and now they have at least four more games left in their season. The next time finality is in the building for the Rangers, I can only hope Philip Pritchard is carrying it.

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