Admittedly, the Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers first-round series could have had a more compelling hook entering the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Capitals were a playoff disappointment last year, a reality TV star this year, and decided to turn their offensive stars into conservative, systematic drones for the sake of their coach's job playoff glory. The Rangers were a team that backed into the postseason and lost one of their key players (Ryan Callahan) to injury before the playoffs. The games promised to be tightly played, but without much sex appeal, despite the presence of Brooks Laich and Brandon Dubinsky's mustache.
Now? Game 4 has become an event, thanks to Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, the Rangers and their supporters.
It began on Sunday, when Boudreau ripped Madison Square Garden for being antiquated and quieter than the Verizon Center. It continued on Monday when Boudreau started working the officials about what he felt was a "dirty" hit on Mike Green by Marc Staal. He also claimed Brandon Prust left his feet on an attempt to hit Green. Keep in mind Green missed 20 games — out until the playoffs — after suffering a concussion on a Derek Stepan hit on Feb. 25.
Thus began a rebuttal by the Rangers faithful that stretched from the bench to the NHL boardroom.
Rangers Coach John Tortorella was asked about Boudreau's contention that Green was being targeted, and said via Rangers Rants:
"Our mindset is we're just focusing on what we need to do, which is playing the right way and getting ready for Game 4," Tortorella said. "We have confidence in the league and confidence in the officials that they won't be influenced by all the whining going on.
"We're going to go about our business, that is the mindset," Tortorella said. "We're not getting into any convoluted thinking."
So, will the League be influenced? From Larry Brooks of the NY Post:
The Rangers coach, who said Boudreau was "whining," would be pleased to learn NHL VP Colin Campbell has his back on this one.
"All I can say is we watch all plays and hits to determine what is acceptable and what crosses the line," Campbell wrote in an e-mail to the Post's Mark Everson. "We don't need Mr. Boudreau's help."
(NHL VP and former New York Rangers coach, Colin Campbell. Man, this tin foil hat is itchy …)
So, suddenly, this series is less about the Capitals and Rangers heading into a Game 4 with the Rangers trailing by a game, than it is Boudreau vs. all of MSG. And blogger Steven Ovadia believes that's a bad signal coming from the coach to his players:
And the thing of it is, players know all of this. A team knows when a coach is trying to divert attention away from their play. So while Boudreau definitely accomplished his mission of getting reporters talking about what he said, one has to wonder about the psychological damage the move inflicted on his own team. Are the Capitals going to go into game four, on the road, against a physically tough team, thinking their coach is worried about their ability to win? Is it healthy for the Capitals to worry their coach is worried about the calls they are and are not getting?
When a team is down three games to none or one, it makes sense for the coach to try and change the media conversation, just to give a psychologically weakened team a little bit of breathing room. But I can't for the life of me think of why a number one seed that's beating the eight seed would act like it hasn't been the better team in the playoffs.
Can't agree with that one. He's working the refs. It's a time-honored tradition whether you're winning or losing a series. The first marginal roughing call that goes against the Rangers, where do you think the MSG cameras are pointing? (Hint: He had sauce on his face during "24/7".)
The Capitals have been the better team in the series, but the Rangers have hung tough and gave Henrik Lundqvist more support in Game 3 than they had in DC.
1. Build on momentum: The Rangers have an excellent chance to plant doubt in the Capitals' collective psyche. To do so, the Rangers must be even more physical and get more traffic to the net than they did in their Game 3 win.
2. Stay disciplined: The Rangers can't give the referees any reason to dole out make-up calls after Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau made it clear he was unhappy the Rangers had seven power-play chances and the Capitals just three in Game 3.
3. Contain Ovechkin: Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin scored his second goal of the series in Game 3 but it came on his only shot. The Rangers, particularly defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, must continue to take away his skating space.
The eyes are going to be on the refs and the Capitals coach tonight; at the end of Game 4, they could be on a 2-2 series, heading back to a land of sweaty palms in D.C.