May 9, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) stands on the ice during a stoppage in play against the Washington Capitals during the second period in game six in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
This is it. This is the game that determines whether the New York Rangers' season will continue to fulfill expectations based on regular season success or whether it will go down as a disappointment. New York's goal from Day 1 was to play for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. For the second consecutive series, the Rangers will look to feed off the Madison Square Garden crowd in a Game 7 and advance to the next round, the Eastern Conference final series. The Washington Capitals hope that doesn't happen season Saturday, in a game that kicks off at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN, 7:30 p.m.).
After six tight-checking, close games, it's pretty clear what the object of this one will be for New York: find ways to create offense, without sacrificing on the defensive end. Five games in a row have been determined by one goal. Each team has alternated wins and losses. No team has found the fountain of offense. The Rangers have scored 13 goals in the six games. Four have come with the man advantage and one has come with the goalie pulled. Goal scoring at even strength has been hard to come by: They have one goal in that situation in the last two games.
Coach John Tortorella has to alter the game plan somewhat to free up his goal scorers. More importantly, he has to play the lines that offer the best chance of scoring goals, which he's done if the latest practice is any indication, moving Chris Kreider to the second line with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan. Kreider had been relegated to fourth-line minutes the past three games after a gaffe led to a goal early in Game 4.
The Caps have become a carbon copy of what the Rangers were all season: a team that's hard to play against because they're physical and most of all, block a ton of shots. There's no doubt them getting in shooting lanes has frustrated the Rangers, but that means New York has to cycle the puck down low more, shoot when the opportunity presents itself and be ready with their own bodies in front to bang in the rebounds. Callahan hasn't been a huge factor on the offensive end in this series, notching a goal and an assist after putting up two of each in the first round. he still has 20 shots in the series, however.
If the Rangers want to move on to the conference final for the first time since 1997, they could use some production from their sniper, Marian Gaborik. The winger had 41 goals in the postseason, and has four goals and nine points in the playoffs, but he hasn't been overly noticeable -- other than scoring the three-overtime winner in Game 3. Brad Richards has been productive with five goals and 10 points, but Carl Hagelin has one assist the entire playoffs -- and he had that in Game 1 of the first-round series.
Henrik Lundqvist has also been one of the best goalies in the regular season during his career, but you're defined as a goaltender by what you do in the playoffs -- and the championships you win. This is his chance to make a mark. He has 1.73 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in the playoffs.