What's on tap tonight at Chez Zipay, Blue Noters?
Settling in for what I hope will be one of the last times we use our fireplace before spring zooms in and I redeploy the grill out back. There already are buds on the Japanese maple and daffodils sprouting along the low stone wall. The roses? Waaaay too soon.
Sent in the application for credentials to cover the Entry Draft in St. Paul in late June (we'll have our usual mock drafts here of course), and been listening to John Doyle and Liz Carrolls "Double Play", thinking farther ahead to an Irish sojourn in late July and early August in Donegal and Belfast.
But the Rangers remain alive, so down to bizness. Here's some of what went on at practice today in a preview of tomorrow's Game 4..
Rangers center Derek Stepan, the poised rookie who scored 21 goals but missed the final cut for the Calder Trophy, took today’s results in stride.
“I’m very lucky and very blessed that I had a solid year,” Stepan said. “The most important thing is what we’re playing for right now.”
Now means tomorrow’s critical Game 4 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which the Rangers trail the Capitals 2-1 and are looking to even the series at Madison Square Garden.
In an effort to create more scoring opportunities---the Rangers have just four goals in three games---Stepan will skate on right wing, where he has played a few times during the season.
“I think the first three times (coach John Tortorella) did it, I scored a goal on the first two shifts,” Stepan said of the switch. “Then he said something to me and that was it. I started overthinking.”
On Tortorella’s watch, overthinking is verboten.
“I have full faith in the club that they’re not going to get involved in anything around us and just focus on the job,” Tortorella said, leaving the off-ice musings to Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Just go about our business; we’re not going to get into any kind of convoluted thinking.”
Boudreau had lobbied the league to review Marc Staal’s high hit on defenseman Mike Green in Game 3, moaned about officials allowing the Rangers to jam rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth after being warned, and complained publicly about the dressing room and benches at 43-year-old Garden.
“We have confidence in the league, we have confidence in the officials, that they won’t be influenced by all the whining going on here,” Tortorella said. “We’re staying away from it. It’s a pretty good series, pretty good teams going at it pretty hard.”
The Rangers are 39-28 all-time in Game Fours, including 5-0 since 2007 and have advanced seven times when trailing 2-1. The Capitals, who are the East’s No. 1 seed, are 1-4 in seven-game series when they led 2-0.
Of course, this edition of the Capitals, who host Game 5 on Saturday, is stronger defensively. They lead the league in postseason goals-against-average, surrendering 1.33 goals per game. Washington is tied for second in the playoffs having allowed just two 5-on-5 goals.
If the Capitals win Game 4, they would have an enormous advantage. In the 229 times that teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, teams have rallied to win the series only 20 times.
“They did their job at home and we have to do our job to here to get back in the series,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “We’re still down. We need to play even better than the last game. They’re going to come back hard. We have to be ready…I don’t really care what they feel or think about the building. There’s certain points in the game where you can feed off the great atmosphere.”
For the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin, who propelled the offense with 32 goals and 53 assists in 79 games, has only three shots on goal in the past two games. “He’s got to find a way to get it through,” Boudreau told reporters. “He knows they’re going down to block them so…avoid it somehow.”
For the Rangers, their most-gifted scorer, right wing Marian Gaborik, is in a 12-game goal drought. “It’s frustrating,” Gaborik said. “But I’m trying everything I can to get it done. The goals have been scored in the crease and I’m looking for loose pucks and rebounds.”
After a two-day break, the puck drops again tonight. “I’m sure both teams are chomping on the bit,” said Tortorella. “I know we are.”
Also chomping on the bit, if you believe the message boards, are Rangers fans, who are prepping to come in full voice to drown out Boudreau's assertion that the Verizon Center is louder than than Garden. I believe the decibel level will rise, for sure, especially if the Rangers can score early. The Blueshirts surrendered two leads in Game 3, but are a confident, committed group and Lundqvist seems on his game.
With Ryan Callahan’s broken ankle keeping him sidelined, Tortorella has found a temporary replacement: Ruslan Fedotenko.
“He’s very similar; on the bench, when I’m looking for someone and Cally isn’t there,” Tortorella said. “He’s kind of turned into my Cally, I’m looking for him in all different situations.”
Fedotenko played 22:36, a season-high, in Game 3, including 1:02 shorthanded and 2:59 on the power play. Yesterday, the left wing was posted in front of the net during power play practice.
“He’s been good in this series, very underrated as far as his hitting, does the little things on the boards,” said Tortorella. “We’d like to see him score some more.”
D Bryan McCabe joined Brandon Dubinsky, who scored the game-winner in Game 3, and Brian Boyle, in sporting a playoff moustache. “It worked for Dubi,” said McCabe of his Fu Manchu. “I’ll try it.”…The Rangers will hold their optional game-day skate at the Garden, rather than in Westchester, as was the case during the season. “We’re not sequestering our players in the hotel, we’re trying to do the best for them,” Tortorella said. “Three quarters of the team lives down there.” Tortorella relocated the team in 2009 against the Capitals, and the Rangers went 1-2 in Games 3, 4 and 6.
Mike Green downplayed the Staal issue, telling reporters Tuesday: “Whether it was or was not intentional, it’s over with…Whether it’s high or just finishing their checks is irrelevant. They’re coming so hard that it’s hard to get out of the way. I’m not complaining.”… Caps winger Mike Knuble, whose hand was struck by a shot in Game 3, did not skate but will be ready for tomorrow, Boudreau said.