The Garden of Heartbreak

Within 24 hours, the Garden faithful saw both of their home teams get knocked out in their first round playoff matchups. The New York

Rangers lost Game five to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, losing their series 4-1. The Boston Celtics took out the battered and bruised New York Knickerbockers on Sunday, ending the series in a 4-0 sweep.

The Blueshirts made a series that ended in five games as exciting as it could possibly be. For the most part, the Rangers and Caps played a very close series with plenty of back and forth scoring and last second victories.

Game one set the scene for the rest of the series. The Caps tied up the first game at one goal a piece with about six minutes left after Alex Ovechkin, one of the league’s best players, kept poking at a puck between Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s legs and eventually got it through. This was a questionable play because it could have easily been whistled dead by the officials when the puck was out of sight, but for whatever reason, it was not. Approximately 18:24 into the overtime, Caps’ winger Alexander Semin netted the game-winning goal after Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal made an errant pass straight to the opposing team.

The Caps would shut out the Rangers 2-0 in Game 2, taking a 2-0 series lead after the two home victories. The Rangers would turn the tables in game three and bring momentum back their way with a dramatic 3-2 victory at Madison Square Garden. Rangers’ winger Brandon Dubinsky scored on a brilliant move with 99 seconds left that sent the Garden crowd into a frenzy and gave the Blueshirts their first victory of the series.

Game four was the matchup that decided the series. The Rangers rode the crowd’s enthusiasm to a 3-0 lead after two periods, but things would quickly change. About 12 minutes into the third period, the Capitals scored their third goal of the period, tying the game at 3. This would be the score for another 40 minutes. In the second overtime, as the puck was gliding slowly toward Lundqvist who wanted to ice the puck, Marian Gaborik and Lundqvist had a miscommunication leading to Gaborik knocking the puck away from Lundqvist and straight into the stick of the Caps’ Jason Chimera, who put the puck into the net uncontested, giving the Caps the win in Game 4.

Game five quickly turned into a joke for the Rangers. They were outskated and outplayed from the first minute of the game and deserved the 3-1 loss they suffered. The Rangers seemed lifeless all game and the Caps took advantage of the momentum from the previous game and the hometown crowd.

The Rangers head to the offseason with plenty of questions. Head Coach John Tortorella has been given a three-year extension, so he will be back. The Rangers do need another superstar though, which may be found in Dallas Stars’ veteran center, Brad Richards, who the Rangers will target in free agency. The young team showed a lot of heart throughout the season, but had difficulty scoring at times, something that will be addressed. We will see what comes of this team come October.

The Knicks had a rougher time than the Rangers in their series against the Celtics. In the two games in Boston, Mass., the Knicks looked like the better team. In the two games at the Garden, the Knicks looked significantly outmatched. Injuries to point guard Chauncey Billups and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire definitely had an impact on the team as well.

The first game of the series seemed to be going just as the Knicks hoped it would. They held a 12-point lead at the end of the first half and were playing better defense than they had all year. Unfortunately, they let Boston slowly climb back and would eventually fall after Celtics’ guard Ray Allen hit the game winning three-pointer with 11 seconds left on the clock, giving the Celtics the 87-85 win.

Chauncey Billups was hurt in Game 1, forcing him to sit for Game 2 and the rest of the series. Even without Billups, the Knicks came into the next game with plenty of fire and held a one-point lead at the half. Stoudemire would leave in the second quarter with back spasms, leaving the Knicks without two of their top players. Carmelo Anthony stepped up in Stoudemire’s absence, scored 42 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, but they would not be enough after Kevin Garnett hit the game winner with 13 seconds to go. Boston would take a 2-0 series lead after the 96-93 victory.

Game 3 was rough on the Knicks. A very injured Stoudemire played almost a full game, but was basically a non-factor. The Knicks were within eight points at the half, but an awful third quarter would put them too far back as they would fall 113-96 in the first Knicks’ playoff game at MSG since 2004.

The final game of the series seemed like it would be the most dreadful of all. The Knicks were down 17 at the half and did not seem to be playing with any heart. They would slowly creep back in the third and rallied in the fourth behind reserve guard Anthony Carter and would find themselves within four points, but this was as close as they came. The Celtics would take Game 4 by a score of 101-89, completing the four-game sweep of the Knicks.

This will be an interesting offseason for the Knicks. The only regular players that will remain under contract are Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Toney Douglas and Landry Fields. The team has the option to pick up the final year of Billups’ contract, but could choose to let him go. Center Ronny Turiaf has a player option for another year, and will likely decide to stay with the Knicks. After this, the Knicks will still have plenty of spots to fill on their roster. Another question is if head coach Mike D’Antoni will keep his job or not. He has been under plenty of scrutiny all season. There will likely be an update on D’Antoni’s job before the NBA Playoffs have concluded.