Rangers' heart can't match Caps' talent

Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers looks on after surrendering the overtime goal against the Washington Capitals during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (April 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

They're all heart, these Rangers. You could see it in the way that Henrik Lundqvist, battling cramps, shut down every opportunity in 32:36 of overtime.

In the way Dan Girardi, logging a ridiculous 39:45, laid out to block two blasts on the Caps' power play in the first OT. In the way Ruslan Fedotenko, a first-year Ranger who has become as indispensable in this postseason as any Ranger, sparked the seven-second, two-goal outburst that should have evened this series.

But the heart and grit only carry a team so far. Once the Caps turned on their jets, when Alexander Semin removed his cloak of invisibility to capitalize on a turnover early in the third, the Rangers froze.

Grit and jam can get you those extra points in the regular season, carry you through to a shootout or hang on at the end of regulation. But in a postseason overtime, the will starts to wilt, and talent can take over.

"They surged on us, and we watched a little bit," John Tortorella said.

The winner was a typical multiple-OT goal, an accident of timing with Marian Gaborik and Lundqvist that landed right in Jason Chimera's lap with a yawning net.

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Talent had nothing to do with that. But the preceding 32:36, with an Alex Ovechkin breakaway and the Rangers on life support with every rush by Semin or 20-year-old talent Marcus Johansson, showed that these Rangers still have a long way to go to become championship material.

Championship mettle? You bet. Seeing a score sheet with Brian Boyle in double digits for hits, with 28 more blocked shots as a team and even a few goals and assists showed that the Rangers do have the guts.

They can even pile up goals on a team that gives even a little bit, as happened when Caps rookie John Carlson watched Fedotenko skate rings around him twice to set up goals.

But there were nerves, 20 minutes away from evening the series and sending the Caps home with their tails between their legs. "We were a different team," Chris Drury said. "We were off our game."

It was painful for the Garden faithful to watch and painful for the Rangers to experience, but there is still something to be said for that sort of experience.

"We've talked about a lot of lessons this year," Sean Avery said, "but this was a big one. If we're not outplaying them, they're going to come back on us."

Now the series is there for the Caps, which may not be the worst thing for Tortorella's Rangers. They have thrived this season when up against it, and they will never be more up against it than they will be on Saturday afternoon in D.C., with a raucous crowd and a slew of talented Caps players ready to erase memories of last season's collapse.

"We'll be fine," Tortorella said. "We can't look at the hill. We just have to win one game."

They had enough heart to do that Wednesday night, but they froze. And the Caps' talent surged through that small opening, overwhelming the Rangers for a time, then finishing them off in the ugliest way possible.

There's no denying this team's heart. But this is not their time. Not yet.

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The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Rangers, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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