Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien offered up a unique compliment about the Washington Capitals last week when he said they’ve adapted the “New York Rangers style” of sitting back and blocking shots. Call it paying the price, call it sacrificing, call it needing ice packs because rubber flying 100 mph hurts a little.
“It’s definitely huge. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows you have to pay, [to] sacrifice to win in the playoffs,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We did that in the first round. Obviously, the Rangers are known for doing it. It’s a challenge for our guys to get it through and on [Henrik] Lundqvist, and I don’t think we’ll be taking any steps back in terms of sacrificing.”
Expect a block party or seven in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series beginning with Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
“I think it might be, just because our style in the playoffs so far has worked for us,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve been able to get through that round against a very tough opponent. There’s no reason why we should be changing our style when this is what’s working for us, this is what we’re comfortable with.”
The Caps probably shouldn’t consider changing a thing after blocking 139 shots en route to their upset of the defending Stanley Cup champions. The only team with more blocks in the first round was, not surprisingly, New York with 155.
That kind of style can win games and a series but can also take a toll. John Tortorella’s Rangers are prepared.
“You can just tell their team by all of them having extra padding on their gloves just because everyone goes down and blocks shots,” Brouwer said. “When you get a whole bunch of guys that do that, you can just tell how committed they are towards their team game.”
The reputation for shot-blocking is well-deserved. Ryan Callahan, now New York’s captain, missed over a month last season, including the series against the Caps, after taking a shot off his foot.
Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman called the Rangers the “best blocking team in the NHL.” That requires a strategy to counter it.
“You have to try to miss the net a little bit. You just have to the shoot by the block,” Hunter said. “You can’t hit the net as much so you have to miss the net by 10 feet and then hopefully it bounces back out in front.”
Patience is possible, too. Mike Green scored his only goal since returning from sports hernia surgery in February by waiting out Gregory Campbell in Game 6 until he could find a place to shoot not into the Bruins forward’s body.
“You fake the shot and one guy goes down and then you step around him and then all of the sudden two more guys are down. It’s tough to get them through,” Wideman said. “You got to pick and choose and you just got to be careful. If you don’t have a shooting lane, especially from the point, if you don’t have a shooting lane you got to shoot it wide and just live to fight another day. You don’t want to be giving up breakaways on blocked shots.”
That’s the dilemma for the Caps and Rangers, who could play a series with under 20 shots a game for each team. It might not make for a lot of run-and-gun action or lots of work for Holtby and Lundqvist, but the Caps now see it as part of their way of winning.
“You see that in the playoffs,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “We’re doing a better job of blocking shots and not letting the puck get to the net. I think it’s imperative that we keep doing that.”