Rangers Spreading out the Offense

Regular-season New York Rangers scoring leader Derek Stepan has game-winning goals in both of New York’s home wins in their now-tied first-round series with the Washington Capitals, but Rick Nash has one assist in the series’ four games, Brad Richards has one goal and Ryan Callahan has been held without a goal.

Other offensive sources have stepped up in a big way in the Rangers’ two home wins, though, allowing the parent club to battle back from a pair of series-opening losses in Washington, in which the offense was virtually non-existent.

Carl Hagelin, who had the only Ranger goal in the two road defeats, figured in three of the Rangers’ four goals in Wednesday’s 4-3 win in Game Four, striking for a goal and two assists, one of them a brilliant one-touch pass to set up Stepan’s winner.  Hagelin’s goal, meanwhile, was helped by a beautiful feed from Derick Brassard.  That was one of two helpers in the game for Brassard, who had never played in an NHL postseason game before this series, and made no impact in the first two games, but now leads the Rangers in playoff points with 1-4-5.

Carl Hagelin in action with the Whale early in 2011-12.

Carl Hagelin in action with the Whale early in 2011-12.


A little more quietly, Mats Zuccarello has three assists, including helpouts on both Ranger power-play goals in the series.  One of those was a huge early-third period goal, on which Brassard had the primary assist, by Dan Girardi Wednesday night, after the Blueshirts had coughed up a 2-0 lead in the second period, allowing Troy Brouwer to tie the game with only 17.1 seconds left in the frame.

“The first two games, I was a little bit nervous, but when I’m in my game, I make plays,” Brassard told the media after Game Four. “I just wanna take that game [into] Washington.”

Ranger head coach John Tortorella said of Brassard, “He’s grabbed a hold of it here and makes just a great play on Danny’s goal. He’s stepped in here to try and make a difference and he’s made some big plays for us. I’m not afraid to put him a lot of different positions in a lot of different situations.”

“I’m having fun,” Brassard said. “They showed a lot of confidence in me. I just try to help the team. I know I can bring some offense. We have a lot of talent on this team and that’s why I am really excited. We can do a lot of damage and I want to be part of it.”

The Rangers deserve credit, too, in Game Four for dominating some statistical categories that capture the “little things” in the game.  New York outhit the Capitals 38-20, won 34 faceoffs to Washington’s 19 and had 33 blocked shots (the Caps blocked 20).

One negative for the Rangers Wednesday was the fact that Marc Staal was a late scratch, after finally making his return from an eye injury in Game Three.  There was no indication during the day that Staal might not play, and you just cross your fingers that he has not suffered some sort of a setback, after a long battle to get back into the lineup.  New York clearly got a boost from his presence in Game Three, and although they played well without him Wednesday, I don’t think there’s any doubt that they are a better team with Staal in uniform, even if he isn’t at a hundred percent.

Back in the AHL, the Conference Semifinal round of the Calder Cup playoffs starts tonight, after regular season-champion Providence ended Hershey’s upset bid last night, with a 3-2 home win in Game Five of the last first-round series that had yet to be decided.  The Bears, who just nosed out the Whale for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on the last day of the regular season, won the first two games of their matchup with the P-Bruins, but then went 0 for 3 in bids for the clincher.

So the Bruins move on to face Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in one Eastern Semifinal, while Syracuse and Springfield battle in the other.  Those should be two great series’.  There was one mild upset in the Western Conference, with fifth-seeded Oklahoma City ousting fourth-seeded Charlotte in the first round, but form held otherwise.  The Barons face the Texas Stars in one Western Semifinal matchup and it’s Toronto and Grand Rapids in the other.


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