Brandon Dubinsky

Three things the Rangers need to avoid elimination

The New York Rangers have played the top seeded Washington Capitals tough through four games of their opening round series. Unfortunately for them, toughness doesn’t equal wins and after collapsing after a 3-0 lead in Game 4 to lose in overtime, they find themselves on the brink of elimination heading into this afternoon’s Game 5.

For the Rangers to turn their fortunes around, the answers seem simple but there are a few things in particular that they can do to help stave off elimination today and use to to perhaps mount a comeback in the series. If the Rangers are going to make the Capitals relive last season’s playoff nightmare they’re going to need to do these three things to make it happen.

1. Get the power play working

Despite all the bluster going on between coaches Bruce Boudreau and John Tortorella, the fact is the Rangers are getting their chances on the power play and they’re failing miserably. Through four games they’ve had 18 power play opportunities and they’ve come away with just one goal. Scoring on 5.6% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many or any games.

We understand that the Capitals are playing with more dedication to defense, but when you’ve got an extra player on the ice to score with you should be scoring more no matter what. The Rangers have the second worst power play in the playoffs (only Boston’s is worse) and they’ll need to get Bryan McCabe and Marian Gaborik going and helping them find room on the ice to score.

2. Make Michal Neuvirth uncomfortable

We’re not advocating that the Rangers crash the net with reckless abandon and go out of their way to run Caps rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, but they’re not doing enough offensively to get in his head. The Rangers are having a hard time scoring goals, period, and rattling Neuvirth with numerous goals hasn’t fazed him (just look at Game 4 again). Stepping up the pressure and turning the area around his net into a scene out of Mad Max would do wonders for New York and their efforts to put the puck past him.

Through four games, the Rangers have scored just seven goals. Averaging under two goals a game just won’t get it done unless your own goalie is pitching shutouts all series. Henrik Lundqvist is good, but he’s not good enough to score goals for the Rangers to get himself a win. Making Neuvirth work a little harder to make stops and perhaps get in his head could help loosen things up for the Rangers.

3. John Tortorella should take notes from the past

When Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 his message to the team that season in the final year of the dead puck era was that “safe was death.” That message to his team to help push the pressure and keep the offense dialed in and working hard. In those days giving up just one or two goals would mean the game was virtually over as coming back from that was hard enough.

The Rangers should adopt a similar mentality given how the Caps are playing them. The goals are few and they need to push the pressure. Yes, the Capitals have intimidating offensive stars in Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and the Rangers have been playing like a team full of goalies blocking shots and getting in the way of their stars, but not being afraid to break it out and let guys like Brandon Dubinsky get free to take some shots and the offense going would do them a world of good. Not to mention it might make them less susceptible to seeing another “el foldo” with a multi-goal lead.

Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

Related:

Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash

Garret Sparks plays for first time since being suspended by Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 30:  Garret Sparks #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to face the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on November 30, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 3-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.

Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.

“It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.

“I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”

The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.

With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.

Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.

‘We were awful’: Duchene calls out Avs after latest shutout loss

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19:  Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Edmonton Oilers at Pepsi Center on December 19, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Colorado Avalanche are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out.

They have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, and going from Patrick Roy to Jared Bednar was supposed to help get the most out of their star players.

But through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case.

Going into Sunday’s action, they find themselves in the basement of the Western Conference with a 9-13-1 record.

It doesn’t help that they’ve had to deal with a number of injuries. They were dealt an even bigger blow on Saturday, when they announced that Erik Johnson (leg) would be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Gabriel Landeskog and Fedor Tyutin are also dealing with lower-body injuries.

“Injuries are no excuse, but it helps to have some of those guys in the lineup,” Bednar said, per the Denver Post. “You’re missing a pair on ‘D.’ I still can’t help but feel we have more to give. .. You still have to stick with it and work through it. That’s the only way you get out of it is to work out of it.”

Colorado had an opportunity to get things on track, but they finished their latest homestand with an 0-4-1 record. Yikes!

One of the biggest problems with this team is that they can’t seem to find the back of the net with any regularity.

No team has scored less times than the Avalanche, who are tied for last with a league-worst 49 goals for. They’ve also been shut out five times already in 2016-17.

Their power play was so bad against Dallas that Bednar decided to start the man-advantage with John Mitchell and Blake Comeau at one point.

“We were awful. I totally get why he did what he did,” forward Matt Duchene said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Dallas. “It’s frustrating. We’re just not executing right now. I think we’re overthinking things because we haven’t been winning.

“We’re not playing good hockey right now.”

With Corey Crawford out, ‘Hawks recall goalie Lars Johansson from AHL

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks were dealt a blow yesterday, when they announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford would miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday.

With Crawford unavailable yesterday, Chicago was forced to look for an emergency backup in the Philly area. Ultimately, they settled on former temple goalie Eric Semborski.

On Sunday, they got their goaltending situation in order, as they recalled Lars Johansson from the AHL.

Johansson, 29, is in his first season in North America. He played the previous 10 years over in Sweden with Mora IK, Vasteras IK and Frolunda HC.

In the AHL, he’s posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in 2016-17.

His numbers in the minors might not look good, but Johansson had the best goals-against-average (1.74) in the top league in Sweden last year.

The Blackhawks also sent forward Nick Schmaltz to the minors.

Schmaltz, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, made the team out of training camp, but has played limited minutes.

The 20-year-old has just one goal and three assists, while averaging 11:46 of ice time in 2016-17.

Playing a larger role with AHL Rockford should be good for his confidence.