Rangers survive Caps’ mad rush, force Game 7

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The New York Rangers managed a 4-3 win to force a Game 7 against the Washington Capitals, but not after the kind of finish that likely left fans hyperventilating.

In a way, quick plot twists only seem to fit the ending considering the beginning of Game 6 … and really, this skin-tight series in general.

Chris Kreider didn’t just begin the scoring with a goal 40 seconds in; he barely beat the clock with a 2-0 goal that came with .3 seconds remaining in the first period.

The Capitals dominated the second period, generating an 18-4 shot advantage. They only were able to beat Henrik Lundqvist once, however, and entered the final frame down 2-1.

The theme of quick goals continued as Rick Nash made it 3-1 just 54 seconds into the third (Jason Chimera’s goal came less than 30 seconds into the second period, giving the opening minute of each period a tally).

Dan Boyle’s 4-1 tally seemed like it would make this game a laugher … instead, it eventually stood as the game-winner.

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward combined for two goals in less than three minutes to make things very tense in the final 10 minutes or so. That line with Jason Chimera might be a trio to watch, as Barry Trotz took Ward off of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Ovechkin’s line failed to score a point for the fourth consecutive game, even if he created some havoc, including this dangerous chance and big hit on Ryan McDonagh:

The bottom line is that many won’t give Ovechkin & Co. the benefit of the doubt, even in a series where goals were hard to come by (at least until tonight) and Washington enjoyed significant luck in building what was once a 3-1 series lead in the first place.

These Capitals and Rangers series have been tight since it’s been Ovechkin vs. Lundqvist (who was stellar tonight), so it all seems fitting that this one is going the distance. With Washington’s dignity and the Rangers’ outstanding season on the line, the stakes will certainly be high at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

Video: Holtby denies St. Louis with quick left pad save

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There was no score between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals in the first period of Game 5, and the Capitals can thank goalie Braden Holtby for that.

Holtby was busy, particularly in the first half of the period when the shots were 11-2 New York at one point. His best save came on Martin St. Louis.

Holtby suddenly threw out the left pad to deny St. Louis in close on a cross-ice pass from Rick Nash, keeping the Rangers off the board. Through the first four games of this series, Holtby had allowed just five goals, with three of those coming in Game 2. He also has a save percentage this post-season of .950. Not bad.

Even Vanek admits he let the Wild down

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The Minnesota Wild signed Thomas Vanek to a lucrative deal with this in mind: they finally wanted to get over the hump against the Chicago Blackhawks. Vanek’s detractors would counter that he was the last guy who would accomplish such a task.

Unfortunately for the Wild, Vanek-haters seem to be correct, at least for one season. At least if you look at the results.

Even Vanek is disappointed with his play, as the Pioneer Press’ Chad Graff reports.

“I knew I only needed one to get going and I didn’t get it. I let them down,” Vanek said. “Their scorers scored when they needed to with timely goals and I didn’t.”

The 31-year-old didn’t just fail to score timely goals. He didn’t find the net in garbage time or merely to give Minnesota a little “insurance” either. In 10 playoff games, Vanek failed to score a single goal, settling for four assists.

Now, even the best snipers – a group Vanek belongs to, or at least once did – can hit a wall during the precious few games that make up a postseason. The 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs provide plenty of examples, from Steven Stamkos to Rick Nash. Marian Hossa’s struggles to get a bounce even flew under the radar, as his only goal of this playoff run so far came on an empty-netter in Game 4.

The key difference between Vanek and those other forwards is that, frankly, it’s tougher to gauge the effort from Vanek.

It’s not just a matter of puck luck failing him. Vanek only generated 19 shots on goal in 10 playoff games, and as flimsy as plus/minus can be, seeing him go pointless with a -4 mark in the last three contests isn’t promising. Unlike Hossa, Vanek doesn’t exactly draw rave reviews for his defensive play either, so it’s easy to understand the negativity surrounding the situation. NHL snipers don’t tend to age like fine wine, after all.

The key will be for him to play his game, and a big part of that is unleashing his shot with aplomb. Merely looking at his shot totals in 2013-14 (248 in 78 games with three different teams) versus this past season (just 171 in 80 contests with Minnesota), it’s reasonable to wonder if this was just an off year. Perhaps his off-the-ice issues were simply too much to overcome?

Whether it comes from within or from a coach saying the right words (Mike Yeo or perhaps someone else?), Vanek needs to turn things around.

At least he realizes as much, though.

Video: Brassard breaks Rangers’ lengthy drought

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Goals have been very hard to come by lately for both the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, so Derick Brassard’s 1-0 tally could be a big one in Game 3.

It was a beautiful play between Brassard, Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, as you can see below:

If you feel like Brassard is the only Rangers player who’s scoring, you’re not totally outrageous. He has five of their 16 postseason goals, and has been the only one to find the net in some time:

The bright side for the Rangers: the Capitals haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard, either.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoff TV schedule for tonight

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A quick look at what games will be on what channels in tonight’s Stanley Cup playoff action …

Canadiens at Lightning, 7:00 p.m. ET on USA

Montreal is down 2-0 in its second round series after also losing all five of its regular season games against Tampa Bay. The Canadiens just can’t seem to figure the Lightning out and time isn’t on their side. It certainly doesn’t help Montreal that Steven Stamkos ended his postseason goal scoring drought in Game 2. Given what Tampa Bay accomplished while he was struggling, the squad should be very dangerous if he gets hot.

The silver lining for the Canadiens is that they will likely get David Desharnais back tonight. The 28-year-old forward had the flu and was hospitalized at one point to get re-hydrated. However, after initially staying behind when his teammates traveled to Tampa Bay, he was able to rejoin them on Tuesday. He’s been averaging 16:40 minutes per game in the playoffs, so Montreal had a significant hole to fill when he was absent for Game 2.

Rangers at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The first three games of this second round series have been decided by just one goal, so it’s fair to say that these squads have been evenly matched. In Game 3, the difference was a somewhat fluky marker by Washington’s Jay Beagle. That being said, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had the best game out of anyone with 30 saves to post the shutout. He now has a 1.54 GAA and .949 save percentage in the playoffs and is one of the main reasons Washington has its 2-1 series edge over the Rangers.

Netminder Henrik Lundqvist has been great too, but he hasn’t gotten much help from the Rangers’ top forwards. Rick Nash has just one goal in eight playoff contests while Martin St. Louis hasn’t found the back of the net in the 2015 postseason. If Nash and St. Louis don’t bounce back then the Rangers will have a lot of difficulty getting past Washington.