NEW YORK, NY - MAY 12: Alexander Semin #28 of the Washington Capitals attempts to control the puck against Derek Stepan #21 and Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers made a series of adjustments to their puck possession and defense to carry them to victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 7.
Trailing 2-1 and desperate for a goal to keep their season alive, the Washington Capitals saw the clock ticking down. As they went into the final minutes, the Washington bench called for goaltender Braden Holtby to make his way to the bench for an extra attacker, but Brandon Prust had other ideas. Deflecting the puck back into the Washington zone and forcing Holtby back into his net, the Rangers forward dug in and protected the puck in the corner of the zone, draining vital seconds off the clock.
That may have been one of the more dramatic examples of New York's commitment to protecting the puck in tonight's series clinching win, but it was not alone. From the drop of the puck, the Rangers clearly changed their game plan from their surprising lack of urgency that was so badly exposed in Game 6.
Limiting the Capitals to just 23 shots on the night, the Rangers' defensive efforts suggested they borrowed Dale Hunter's playbook. Bodies flew in front of shots and passing lanes, the club worked to force turnovers, and most importantly, the Rangers worked tirelessly to protect the ice around Henrik Lundqvist.
With time and space to work, Lundqvist delivered another Vezina worthy effort, making key stops on Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera during an extended attack during the second period. Though he was clearly frustrated by Roman Hamrlik's goal midway through the third period, "King Henrik" seemed in total control of the game. Showing the situational awareness and incredible reflexes that have made him one of the league's elite, his timely stops were the confidence booster his club needed.
The final key adjustment for the Rangers in this victory was the move to put traffic around Holtby at key times, setting screens that lead to Brad Richards' opening goal. If the team can maintain this level of puck possession, well-timed disruption and confidence in their goaltender, they may have the keys they need to carry them past their old adversaries in New Jersey and into the Stanley Cup Finals.