"The New York Rangers can't hope to consistently out-skate or outscore the Washington Capitals, so their strategy is to outfight and out-argue them." - Sally Jenkins, Washington Post, "Rangers Have Gone From Winning to Whining"
While a Sally-come-lately-to-this-series like Ms. Jenkins certainly excels at grave dancing, painting an accurate picture of the New York Rangers' battle against the Washington Capitals may be asking too much.
The Rangers team that won Games 1 and 2 of this series did so with a disciplined, professional, selfless style and impenetrable goaltending. To suggest that the Rangers were the aggressors in the series, as Jenkins does, is revisionist; they were at their best as counterpunchers, and are now tied 3-3 because they've gone punchless.
The Capitals, on the other hand, are throwing haymakers. Around Game 3, the notion that Henrik Lundqvist could be chased from consecutive games in this series was as unlikely as a coach getting suspended for throwing a water bottle at a fan -- and yet here we are.
The offense is clicking, Simeon Varlamov is contributing proficient goaltending and the Rangers look baffled; a rough estimate, but the question "Do you wonder how you were ever down in the series to begin with?" has been asked of Capitals players and coaches roughly 534 times in the last two games.
But here's the thing: Game 7 is still a crapshoot. Ask the Capitals about last postseason, when the Flyers skated into Verizon Center, played their game and Joffrey Lupul sent 18,000 red T-shirts into storage for the summer. The return of John Tortorella to a heavily fortified Rangers bench is one X-factor; the fallout from some truly bizarre behavior from the Capitals in Game 6 is another ... depending on how the NHL's wheel of discipline spins for Donald Brashear and Shaone Morrisonn.
But beyond that, Brashear's hearing today with the NHL will also cover pregame contact with Colton Orr before the game. The combination of these two offenses, similar to already-disciplined acts in this postseason, leaves one to believe that the Caps will be Brash-less in Game 7.
Am I mistaken or did the referees not use video replay to penalize Sean Avery in Boston for tapping Tim Thomas on the head during a tv timeout? Yet they allow an atrociously dirty hit by a notoriously dirty player in Donald Brashear go unpunished?
Morrisonn's bit of savagery was reported by Rangers emergency head coach Jim Schoenfeld after the game. From Capitals Insider:
Schoenfeld also accused Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn of biting Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky on the arm after a skirmish behind the Capitals' goal in the second period. Dubinsky, Schoenfeld said, had to get a tetanus shot.
Morrisonn was coming to defense of Mike Green after Dubinsky had crushed Green from behind when the incident allegedly occurred.
"Dubinsky had to get a tetanus shot because he was bit in the arm in a scrum," Schoenfeld said. "I don't know what affect that will have on him so his status will remain in question."
Great line by Allan Muir of SI: "Unless Morrisonn was himself bitten while shopping at the Monroeville Mall, it's a good bet Dubinsky will be available for Game 7."
Jokes aside, the NHL has already established distaste (OK, not all jokes aside) for biting during the regular season. Please recall Jarkko Ruutu of the Ottawa Senators getting the gate for two games for feasting on Andrew Peters of the Buffalo Sabres. The only difference seems to be a lack of clear video evidence in the Morrison situation.
In both cases, the outrage by the Rangers and their fans is completely understandable; especially if Brashear had a pregame incident before his head-hunting on New York's best penalty killer.
The outrage from Glen Sather in his now-infamous letter to the NHL? Pathetic.
The Rangers GM asked for the NHL to discipline the Capitals for "gross negligence in ensuring the safety of the personnel on the Rangers' bench" that led to John Tortorella throwing a water bottle at the fans. From Sather, in a letter CC'd to the media:
Because of the way the glass is installed, the patron sitting behind Coach Tortorella (the gray-haired, bearded man in the white T-Shirt) could literally scream into the coach's ear. According to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay, one patron was screaming at the team, in graphic language, about whether Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship. This was within earshot of several children seated nearby. Several other fans also made repeated homophobic remarks. Moreover, Mr. Ramsay reported that he and other bench personnel were spit on by one or more "fans" as they yelled through the gaps in the glass.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?!?
There's also a timeline of abuse that's meticulous to the point of scholarship. So glad to see the Rangers continue their stalwart war on homophobia at hockey games. (*cough*)
As well-intended as Sather's letter may have been, it's still defending the indefensible; a Capitals fan could have said that Girardi was having a "sexual relationship" with Staal in St. Patrick's Cathedral while Mark Messier was crying in the corner, and it still comes down to a coach hitting a women in the head with a plastic bottle.
And as well-intended as Sather's letter may have been, it's allowed columnists like Sally Jenkins to take legitimate gripes from the Rangers and their fans and place them in the context of Sather's petulant airing of grievances. Which is a shame.
But it's the sum total of these gripes that could have the Rangers ready for Game 7. The bottom line is that nothing sparks a team playing without heart faster than feeling that the world's against them. And the last time the Rangers felt that way, they swept two road games in D.C.