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Melrose: Fine line separating Rangers, Capitals

by Barry Melrose / NHL.com

In a result that should really surprise no one, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will be playing a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four seasons on Wednesday. This has been a tight, tremendously entertaining series -- each game has been decided by one goal -- and if you've seen all the games, they're exactly alike. It's battles in front of the net, goaltending, who can get their power play going that night and who can make fewer mistakes. These games haven't been track meets and the play has been so close and physically tight that avoiding mistakes has been imperative.

If you look at Game 6, Washington gave up two goals in the opening two minutes of a period and one goal in the last minute. That's a cardinal sin. You just can't do that. Troy Brouwer took a bad penalty. You can't do that in a series like this. The Capitals lost a draw cleanly in the last 10 seconds of a period. You can't do that either. You've got to tie that up. On Sunday, Washington was guilty of some glaring mistakes. When the Capitals have won in this series, the Rangers have been the team making mistakes.

Those little things on the margins are where Game 7 will be decided. It will be battles along the walls, battles in front of the net and low scoring. I expect to see a carbon copy of the first six games.

KREIDER BREAKS OUT

Scoring first is always important, and you could see that Sunday. Chris Kreider's goal for the Rangers in the opening minute of Game 6 completely took the air out of that building before the Capitals fans had even had the chance to sit down. It took the Capitals seven or eight minutes to get any mojo back on the ice, and that's huge. That was an impact player making an impact play, and it showed you just how good Chris Kreider can be.

If you look at this series, he's arguably been the best Ranger. His goals, the hits he's laid out, the speed he's playing with -- he's really stood out so far. Some people want to know why he doesn't play like this in the regular season, and a lot of them are right. This guy should be a 30-goal scorer, but we're definitely seeing flashes of how good he can be.

What you have to wonder, though, is when will this translate to the regular season? Kreider just turned 24, so he's still young, but you're waiting for him to explode. He doesn't have the same intensity level in the regular season yet, and I think part of the reason for that is after a while, when you play this game, you realize the regular season is work. Playing well in the regular season really requires professionalism that takes some guys a few years to develop. It means showing up every night to play even if you're tired, you're beat up after three games in five nights, or maybe you have personal issues on your mind.

Young guys often have trouble being working professionals and then when you see them break out in the playoffs you know it's because the atmosphere is different. Every game is huge, every game is exciting. Perhaps Kreider hasn't yet become that kind of a professional, the guy who matches his regular-season intensity with his playoff intensity. I'm not worried about him though. He'll get there, and right now we're seeing signs of what kind of player he'll be when he does.

GETTING NASH ON TRACK

Rick Nash finally scored another goal in Game 6, and for many people that might be a sign the monkey is off his back. I'm not sure it's that exactly. It's difficult to fault Nash for the way he's played even without the scoring. He's played well and he's played hard throughout this series, but it's hard to ignore that this is what we saw last season too.

The other top teams in the League, their top scorers are still scoring. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews in Chicago, Tyler Johnson in Tampa Bay, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban in Montreal -- all of those guys are showing up on the score sheet. Nash is playing hard, but his job, at the end of the day, is to score. The Rangers don't need another 6-foot-4 checker. They need a scorer who puts the puck in the net.

Now you can debate how much this really hurts the Rangers. We had this discussion last season obviously, and the Rangers still reached the Stanley Cup Final. But it certainly doesn't help that he isn't lighting the lamp consistently. I don't think the New York Rangers are going to win the Stanley Cup if Nash doesn't start scoring more often.

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