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In tight series, bad bounces play large role

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- In the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals' evened-up Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Capitals hold a slim 12-11 scoring advantage in what has been the closest series so far of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Two games have ended overtime and most contests have been decided by the slightest of bounces.

Heading into Game 7 Monday night in Washington, that likely means that one player's bad bounce could mean the difference between advancing to the second round and going home for the summer.

That was the case in Sunday's Game 6, as Derick Brassard's point shot deflected off the glove of Capitals rookie Steve Oleksy and into the Capitals’ net. That one bad bounce would be the deciding play in New York's 1-0 victory.

"It's one of those things. You're in front. I don't know if it hit my glove or not," Oleksy said. "It's hockey. Throw it at the net and something's going to happen. Unfortunate bounce either way."

It's not the first time in this airtight series that a bad bounce has decided a game. Friday’s Game 5 ended in overtime when Karl Alzner's point shot bounced off Troy Brouwer in front of the Rangers’ net and right to the blade of Mike Ribeiro's stick. The bounce caught Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist badly out of position and a second later the puck was in the net and the game was over. It was remarkably similar to Mike Green’s Game 2 overtime winner, which deflected off the stick of Derek Stepan and past Lundqvist.

"It's happened a few times. That's what happens in these tight series. One bounce can determine games and one bounce can determine a series," Brouwer said. "You've got to work hard for that lucky bounce. You can't hope it's going to go your way. You have to work hard and try to create it so it does bounce in your favor."

The tight nature of this series has only been amplified by the tight-checking styles of the two teams involved. Both the Rangers and Capitals are also known for blocking plenty of shots. Washington's high-scoring star wing, Alex Ovechkin, even got in on the act in Game 6, blocking two shots on a single shift late in the first period. After Washington pulled their goalie late in regulation for an extra attacker, the game ended with a pair of big blocks from Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle.

So, it's hardly surprising that the Rangers and Capitals rank first and second respectively in blocked shots in the postseason.

"They're a shot-blocking team. They try to get in the way and they do a good job getting in lanes," Oleksy said. "Bounces aren't always going to go your way. Hopefully in Game 7, that goes a little different."

If the first six games are any indication, the series could come down to one timely bounce.

"The margin of error is very slim. You want to minimize it as much as possible," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Hopefully, we'll start off a little better [Monday] and draw blood first."


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