I apologize for the lack of posting this weekend. (You can see the comment thread in the last post; I think that sums it up pretty nicely). With that said, here we go...
I picked the Capitals to win the series in six because I did not think the Rangers, minus Hank and a few exceptions, had the determination, skill, where-with-all, or any combination of those three, to get it done when it counted. I said they were a team that spent almost all season struggling to score and struggling on the powerplay and that I didn't believe that would change in the playoffs. I thought Washington was vulnerable, really, on goaltending only, and that they were loaded with too much fire power for the Rangers to contend with.
Fast forward two games into the series. The Rangers have not played spectacular by any means, but they have won - on the road - the first two games and hold a 2-0 lead coming back to New York. Ovechin and the big guns have not scored a ton of goals, in fact, they've scored none. The series had already taken a baffling turn.
I predicted/alluded/pondered how a Game 3 goalie decision from Washington would make or break their playoff season. Not because Theodore could not have come back in and rebounded, not because the Capitals could not have woken up and therefore made their own goalie a non-factor in the series, but because I believe in momentum. Boudreau made the right call, for his team, in my mind, and stuck with Varlamov. The young 20-year old shutout a non-existent Ranger offense.
Game 4 provided the long awaited and anticipated collapse of Sean Avery. And let me get this straight right off the bat. I've defended and stood by Sean Avery, believed he is a legitimate hockey player and can be an effective contibutor to this league. I've said it over, and over, and over again and I still believe it. Game 4 provided a collapse. I have not seen him, until this year, collapse into undiscplined and unacceptable play. (Remember, I was not a fan or an observer of him in LA or Detroit). This was my first foray into the potentially desctructive Sean Avery. And yet - AND YET - Sean Avery, still, to me, is anything but - destructive. Others have alluded to it, so I am saying nothing new, but I feel that Avery was put in a corner here. He came back to the league and immediately - game one - was called for a marginal penalty. It continued. It was allowed to continue. Avery was attacked without punishment, without any thought or consideration for the desire and want for a fair and even playing field. And he finally snapped. I can't agree with what he did. While I feel two of his four penalties in game 3 were of the this-is-crap variety, I know that the two he took in game four were undisciplined and unacceptable. And you cannot have that happen, no matter how many liberties have been taken on you. The fact that those liberties were allowed to be taken, over and over and over - that is a bigger disgrace than anything Sean Avery has ever done. And that disgusts me. And that is one of the growing numbers of reasons why this league, at present, cannot be taken seriously.
In game 5, John Tortorella was faced with a decision - bench Avery or trust that he will stand back and behave? He benched Avery. A decision I do not agree with and I do not think anyone did agree with - well, out of the fans of New York or the Avery supporters that is. I'm sure many were calling for his head and I know many would like nothing better than to see him out of the league forever. I cannot, cannot for the life of me, think of a way to express just how hypocritical and horrible that attitude is, so I will leave it at the fact that I do not agree with them and I do not agree with Tortorella's decision. He left an important game - but not a decisive game - in the hands of a lifeless and withdrawn group of half-players, the same group I've tried hard to wrap my head, let alone my heart, around all season. I saw enough to know I had seen too much. There was no way, no way!, they were winning that game. Think what you want. The message had been sent, and it was the wrong message. Avery's mistakes, his penalties, his errors in judgement were just that, but they did not and have not cost the Rangers a game. The Rangers won on Wednesday by playing together in spite of the rest of it. That was their "big picture." On Friday, without their spirits, spark, enthusiasm, and the guy who you can't argue wants to Be a Ranger!, the team fell, lifeless and undisciplined to the embarrassing end. The decison wasn't really to play him or not to play him. It was whether or not to trust that a team with Avery stood a better chance than a team without Avery.
And Tortorella made the wrong decision.
At that moment, or in the moments following, the series became a circus, if it was not already one. Given a suspension for an altercation with a fan, Tortorella was benched for game 6. I, being at the viewing party, did not hear commentary on this instance, and did not see it for what it was. I found everything out on Saturday. At which point, I shook my head, watched the Flyers/Penguins game, and tried to forget about everything Rangers. Not to be dramatic, but it seemed like just a bad dream I wanted to wake up from, and just one more bad moment in a season of bad moments.
Avery came back for Game 6, and Jim Schoenfeld took the bench. I questioned before the game, during the game, and am still questioning now, hours after the game, whether or not it was too little, too late.
Will Tortorella benching Avery cost the Rangers the series?
Or will the same problems that haunted the Rangers all season cost the Rangers the series?
I don't know. We won't ever know. Heck, the series isn't even over yet, so none of us, any of us, will know anything until Tuesday night.
But did it have to come to this? A game seven? I think of how shocked and in awe I was with the Rangers coming back to the Garden up 2-0. And I watched how the field evened a little, but how the Rangers til held a big enough lead to have not just one, but two, and consequently, three, chances to close out the series. And I said, I'd take it, sure. Who coming into this series would have thought the Rangers would have been up, and would even have a chance. I didn't. Again, I didn't for the reasons I mentioned in the start of this, what I am sure at this moment is a very long, blog entry. But...I started somewhere to believe they could do it. I really did. And that feeling I had was crushed on Friday night.
And those questions I have about what has caused this potential demise - well, they'll never be answered. How can you know what caused the game 5 defeat? How can you know whether or not they would have won had they had Avery in the lineup?
I hate that I'll never know the answer. But I hate even more that it is a question at all.
**Side notes: I am reading the blog entries - Ranger Rants, Blue Notes, Rangers Report and hearing all this stuff. My thoughts are as follows:
If Shaone Morrisonn did in fact bite Brandon Dubinsky, I find that loathsome. I cannot believe that this series, this series I thought the Capitals would dominate on talent and skill alone, has come to this. I can't even believe what I am hearing and reading.
Donald Brashear's non-called penalty on Blair Betts was equally loathsome. He got hit by Callahan and turned and attacked the first guy he saw. My mind screamed Simon/Hollweg. I watched Betts crumple to the ice, and I realized, again , what a big joke this league appears to be at times. At moments like this where guys that run their mouths are punished and guys that legitimately do things so potentially hurtful get nothing but a slap on the wrist and free reign to go do it again and again. I don't like that part of the game that I love.
I hate that this and Tortorella's incident with the fans in game five - that thos are the things I will think of when the series is over - no matter who does indeed win. Not Ovechkin's game one effort sans goal. Not Simeon Varlamov's rookie initiation. Not Hank's dominance to keep this team in the series. Unfortunately it wil be about bottle throwing, name calling, head shots and biting. Seriously, read that last sentence and tell me it doesn't remind you of wrestling for tv entertainment.
Lastly, Jim Schoenfeld, a guy I really do like for his spunk and his honesty, said something I think deserves repeating, whether looking at this series or at this season and a quote I will undoubtably use when the season has come to its final end for New York - either Tuesday night or, hopefully, weeks down the line. He said:
“Big offensive guys have not gotten it going,” said Schoenfeld, without naming names, but the list could include Nik Zherdev, Nik Antropov and Markus Nalsund, with three shots between them. “What happens is part of their job falls on someone else, kid s like Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal and Girardi. There’s so much we have to do defensively because the other guys aren’t doing their job offensively.”
This, from day one, has been the story of this team. It is just interesting, baffling, and amusing, that it took the guy doing the press conference only because he was replacing the head coach (the 2nd head coach) of the season to finally say what we all have been feeling all along. We will never know what this team was capable of, because we have rarely if ever seen the full sum of the parts. We have guys like Hank, Callahan and Staal, to name my favorite three, that have - from the beginning of the season - been tasked with doing more than their fair share, trying to do everything, because not everyone on this team has showed up together on any given night. And that doesn't work. It may work for a while, but it ultimately doesn't ever work.
(courtesy Blue Notes)