The New York Rangers had a couple major factors working against them early this season. They started with a brutal nine-game road trip and simultaneously had to adjust to a new system and coaching staff led by Alain Vigneault.
The latter shouldn’t be dismissed as the move from former bench boss John Tortorella to Vigneault involved changing “a little bit of everything,” according to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“It’s important to stay patient, and throughout this process, [the new staff] has been patient, and still confident we can do this and find our game,” Lundqvist told Newsday.
It seems to have paid off as the Rangers have shaken off their bad start and climbed to a 9-8-0 record. That puts them just four points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division going into tonight’s contest against the New Jersey Devils.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh thinks Vigneault’s personality is part of the reason they’ve rebounded. The Rangers head coach stayed passionate during the their 3-7-0 start. He has also shown a willingness to stick with slumping players while constantly pushing guys that are doing well.
Of course, the Rangers likely have a lot of ups and downs ahead of them and as long as Rick Nash is sidelined with a concussion, there will be a big hole in their lineup. Still, the fact that the Rangers could quickly dig themselves out of their early hole is a very encouraging sign.
The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t grab the torch from the Washington Capitals in this series, but they put up a tremendous struggle.
Auston Matthews continued to make an impression with a goal in his fourth consecutive game, yet it wasn’t enough to send this scintillating series to a Game 7. Instead, Marcus Johansson collected tying and game-winning goals, leading Washington to a 2-1 OT win to take the series 4-2.
Here is video of the tally that ended Toronto’s season:
While the Capitals taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins is “expected,” the path to get there wasn’t as many drew it up. Toronto gave Washington all it can handle in a series that tied a record with five trips beyond regulation.
The Maple Leafs can take heart in pushing the play for large spans of the series, although there have also been spans where it felt like the Caps found that extra gear.
Toronto fans who’ve been longing for a return to playoff glory must be experiencing mixed feelings. This young bunch achieved more than just about anyone expected, particularly in this series against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. That might be why it burns, though; Buds fans deal with the bitter feeling of so close.
Then again, the Capitals know all about that. They hope to avoid repeating such history in this huge opportunity. Perhaps facing a far tougher-than-expected challenge to start things off might be a blessing in disguise?
Now, players are known to at least try to return to games after injuries, sometimes ultimately leaving such efforts unsuccessful.
So, it’s possible that the Washington Capitals should still be concerned about defenseman Nate Schmidt. The solid depth blueliner was helped off the ice after a hit by Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the good news is that he was at least able to make his way back for a spin later on in the same third period.
Does that mean he’ll be OK? We’ll see. The game is entering OT – the 18th of this round, a new NHL record – so a possible Schmidt injury could put Washington at a disadvantage during “free hockey.”
It makes sense that Toronto and Washington made it a new record, as this is the fifth time in six games that they beyond regulation in this series. Wow.
These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.
Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.
It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).
The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.
Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.
It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.
His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.
Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.
He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.
And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.
Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:
As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.