Talking time is done, time to play some hockey.
Rangers' lines for tonight's Game 7 (to start, at least):
Markus Naslund-Scott Gomez-Ryan Callahan
Lauri Korpikoski-Chris Drury-Nikolai Zherdev
Sean Avery-Brandon Dubinsky-Nik Antropov
Fredrik Sjostrom-Artem Anisimov-Aaron Voros
Loud cheers in the building right now as a fan holds up a sign that says, "Shhhhhh, Rangers R Sensitive."
Not surprised Callahan is playing with Gomez, I figured Tortorella would lean heavily on one of his favorite players tonight. Korpikoski with Drury is logical, especially if Drury struggles on faceoffs, they can switch. If Anisimov is playing well, expect him to get moved up.
Like Callahan, Marc Staal is a oplayer I'm not worried about in terms of folding under the weight of Game 7 pressure. Love this quote from the young defenseman on tonight's game.
"Everybody expects us to fall apart," Staal said. "It's exciting to rise to the challenge."
Also, advance notice/warning, I'll be the second intermission guest on ESPN 1050. Hopefully, we'll still be talking hockey at that point and not some more, unforeseen nuttiness.
Live updates below, enjoy the game.
PRE-GAME UPDATE: Clever fans here at the Verizon Center. Group of fans behind the Rangers bench are wearing red rain slickers. And one fan has a red umbrella with "4 U Torts" written on it.
UPDATE, :42 First period: Simeon Varlamov stops two good chances for the Rangers in the opening minute, including a right pad save on Nik Antropov's breakaway. Sean Avery also got a clear shot from the right wing. One it means Varlamov is sharp. Two, it means the Capitals defense hasn't started well and the Rangers could still exploit.
UPDATE, 2:37 First period: Anisimov OK on first shift, though his backhand pass causes an offside. Not the fastest skater.
UPDATE, 5:35 First period: Tremendous work along the boards by Sean Avery and Brandon Dubinsky, eventually getting the puck free, Avery to Dubinsky. Dubinsky got the puck poked away on the doorstep but Nik Antropov deposited it for a 1-0 lead. For continued success, Rangers must play like their trailing by one.
UPDATE, 8:36 First period: Dubinsky got away, looked like, with a slash as he tried to defend Ovechkin streaking through the neutral zone and up the right wing. TV couldn't have done justice to how fast Ovechkin was moving.
UPDATE, 8:59 First period: Rangers outshooting Caps, 5-0.
UPDATE, 15:34 First period: Capitals second shot goes in as Alexander Semin's shot deflects off both a diving Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.
UPDATE, 15:42 First period: D Michal Rozsival limps to the dressing room, looks like a left leg, wasn't sure. Rangers are going to be gassed if they have to play this game with five defensemen. Lundqvist being serenaded with Brodeur-like "Lund-qvist, Lund-qvist" chant.
UPDATE, 17:00 First period; Long delay to repair the glass behind the Rangers' goal allows Rozsival to return quickly.
AFTER FIRST PERIOD: Rangers dominate the first 20 minutes, outshooting the Caps, 8-2, and it's just bad luck that the score is tied 1-1. Sean Avery had a very strong period, constantly battling and trying to create in the corners. Nik Antropov was surprisingly good too. One good sign on Nikolai Zherdev - at least it looks like he wants to work with the puck, trying some fancy stickhandling moves. One question for No. 13, though. On that play where he skates down the right, he must have felt a presence behind. Why would he wind up - I mean, really wind up - for a slap shot rather than trying a quick wrister?
UPDATE, 2:42 Second period: OK, that's the Lundqvist we've come to know and expect. Ovechkin and Kozlov attacking and Lundqvist stretches his glove arm across the crease to stone Kozlov.
UPDATE, 4:32 Second period: After a good first shift for the Rangers, it's been all Capitals so far this period.
UPDATE, 6:13 Second period: Steckel gets back to keep Chris Drury from converting Korpikoski's centering pass.
UPDATE, 8:17 Second period: Good things are happening when Sean Avery is on the ice and that's, well, good for the Rangers. Great cycle on last shift, with Avery getting the puck to Callahan for a chance.
UPDATE, 10:35 Second period: Momentum surge back to the Rangers. Here's what I like about Lundqvist's play. He's at his best playing great positional goaltending, economy of movement and squaring to the puck. That's what I'm seeing this period.
UPDATE, 12:27 Second period: The Rangers definitely are getting some players to step up tonight. Avery, Staal, Rozsival, Callahan, Dubinsky, Antropov, very strong games thus far. Particularly Avery who's on the ice every time I look up.
UPDATE, 15:17 Second period: Lots of action, few shots on goal. Rangers up 13-10 for the game, meaning Caps have outshot them 8-5 this period.
AFTER SECOND PERIOD: Imagine if the Rangers had played with this level of passion, battle level and willingness to win the one-on-one battles in the last two games. This series likely would have been over before it got to Game 7. Gotta get over to radio booth, listen there.
UPDATE, 11:29 Third period: Place going nuts. Ryan Callahan's tip at 9:29 is the Rangers first shot of the period. Caps outshooting them 7-1.
UPDATE, 15:01 Third period: Wade Redden gave Sergei Federov way too much space to collect the puck in the neutral zone. Could be the series.
FINAL: CAPITALS 2, RANGERS 1: Reporters are, by nature and definition of their job, objective people. But as much as any fan, there is a sense of letdown whenever the hockey season ends. I'm sitting here thinking it seems just a couple of weeks ago that the players were reporting to Greenburgh, N.Y. for training camp - remember all those breathless stories about whether Petr Nedved might actually make the team. Then the great start in October and the undeniable slide afterwards. All over. And there is an emptiness. I get what the fans are feeling. I get what the players are feeling. I'm going to wake up tomorrow (OK, truth be told, I'm driving home as soon as I'm done here so there won't be much sleep involved) and not have a hockey game to go to until late September. That's a long freaking time. The best part of my job is I can't tell you how much I really enjoy going to hockey games.
As far as dissecting this game, I sort of agree with some of the comments. What's the point of looking back at this now. It's over. We all know what happened. The Rangers finally showed up. If they had showed up in either of the previous two games, maybe things are different, maybe not. I think we all saw the Capitals grow up a lot before our eyes the last three games. They're going to be a tough out.
Still no word on whether break-up day is tomorrow or Thursday so keep checking this blog. Don't abandon the blog in the offseason, it will be active, maybe not 5-6 posts a day active but there will be stuff.
And thanks to all of you who made this such a rewarding experience for me. Like Tortorella keeps saying, it's not about the coach, it's about the players. And you guys are the players.