There’s been plenty of talk this week about ice time – enough that the Caps preferred to avoid the subject with regards to Alex Ovechkin and his limited role in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series. So let’s go in the other direction. What did Washington’s players think when they saw the Rangers had dropped to five defensemen for much of what became a triple overtime win on Wednesday? They seem to sense an opportunity there.
New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh played 53 minutes, 17 seconds. Marc Staal was at 49:34 when teammate Marian Gaborik finally scored the game-winner with 6:xx left in the third overtime. Dan Girardi skated 44:26. Michael Del Zotto earned 43:33 from coach John Tortorella, who benched No. 6 defenseman Stu Bickel (3:34) and rode his horses. Tortorella downplayed the affect that amount of ice time would have on his players. He scoffed at it, really, saying that McDonagh was asking for more at the end of the game. That’s seems like whistling past the graveyard – no matter how hard your players train. Dennis Wideman led a far more balanced Washington blueline with 40:42.
“So 12 minutes more [for McDonagh]?” asked Caps No. 6 defenseman Jeff Schultz, who was entrusted with 31:52 of ice time and produced a critical blocked shot during a Rangers 3-on-2 in overtime. “That’s insane.”
Maybe Tortorella turns to former Caps defenseman Steve Eminger for Game 4 and benches Bickel altogether. Eminger, the man who brought Washington the draft pick that became John Carlson in a 2008 trade with Philadelphia, has played well in the postseason before. That would add some fresh legs to the lineup. No matter what Tortorella claims, it’s difficult to believe those heavy minutes won’t cost New York if the series is extended to six or seven games. Then again, maybe he’s banking on finishing Washington before it gets that far.
“They might've paid a great price for that win in Game 3,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “They logged a lot of minutes. They're very well conditioned. [But] at some point it's going to take a toll.”
Again, for that to matter Washington has to actually extend the series. With two games in the next three games, here is their chance. Dale Hunter didn’t publically claim that extreme ice time would be beneficial for his team. The Rangers have a rangy, mobile blueline with multiple high-end skaters. But all of that pinching to help the forecheck can’t help with sustained energy, either. Either New York’s players really are better conditioned or Tortorella just rolled the dice to take control of the series.
“I think they caught a huge break, two days off,” Washington winger Mike Knuble said. “Their [defensemen], they relied on five guys a ton and they played a lot of minutes. And they're very active, too. They're not just chipping it out and then backing off again. They're very active around the ice. They were a lot of minutes. They covered a lot of ice that night.”
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