Deja Vu: Rangers blow lead to Kings and lose in overtime

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The Kings celebrate Tanner Pearson’s overtime winner in a 5-4 win over the Rangers. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson/Getty Images

In a game I barely paid attention to due to putting in some work time at home, the Rangers managed to blow one to the Kings falling 5-4 in overtime. Anyway you slice it, this was a bad loss. Sure. They earned a point. But save the bull crap for other blogs.

While I spoke to people and had the game up on my laptop on mute, it was hectic. The Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. Before I even checked, LA was already up one with Kopitar scoring 33 seconds in following a Marc Staal turnover. Staal had a forgettable period. He was in the box when Gaborik came out and snapped his 12th by backup Antti Raanta for a power play goal.

At that point, I concluded it’s gonna be one of those games. The Rangers responded to LA’s strong start by getting one back from Viktor Stalberg. He finished off a nice set up from Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg 1:34 later.

The turnaround continued in the second period. The second line did the damage with two consecutive goals in 1:37. First, Derek Stepan undressed the Kings defense and fooled emergency starter Peter Budaj for his 10th unassisted tying the score at 7:44. Then, as I looked up, Mats Zuccarello was already celebrating his team-leading 19th from Chris Kreider and Stepan at 9:21 for the Rangers’ first lead.

Like they had in the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings came back with Kopitar once more finishing in front off a Milan Lucic pass from Dustin Brown. Kevin Klein was beaten badly. Let’s just say it was a harbinger of things to come. It wasn’t one of his best performances.

With the game still tied, Stanley Cup hero Alec Martinez was almost the goat. He took a delay of game minor for LA’s only penalty of the contest. It came with 6:30 left in regulation. In miraculous fashion, the Rangers actually scored a power play goal. Considering the frigid weather conditions, this moment should be frozen in time. Zuccarello sped through the Kings’ zone and passed across for a wide open Hayes, who buried his second goal in two games. Keith Yandle drew the secondary helper. That gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead with 4:46 left.

But whenever they face the Kings no matter who’s in goal or playing, it’s never over until the final buzzer. In the Rangers’ case, they iced the puck and got burned. Off what else but a faceoff win from Kopitar, eventually Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty got the puck back to him in the right circle. He let go of a wrist shot that was headed wide until the puck bounced off Klein’s helmet and in past a helpless Raanta with 30 seconds remaining. That gave Kopitar a hat trick. He’s their best player for a reason. That’s why they shelled out the big bucks handing him an eight-year $80 million extension.

The three-on-three roller derby was more entertaining than most Ranger games. Each team traded early chances. With the Rangers coming close at one end, before I could check the video, the Kings were celebrating Tanner Pearson’s overtime winner at 3:10. He beat Raanta from way out for just his seventh. Some fans complained about Alain Vigneault having Dan Boyle out. It is three-on-three. You go for it. Boyle is high risk, high reward. So, I don’t take any issue. As if they wanted to play for a shootout with Raanta against Budaj.

Simply put, sometimes you get beat. Even if it was a awful goal for Raanta to allow (unscreened), it happened. End of story. That’s what you get when the coach refuses to play Raanta. He was rusty. So, it was expected. Some fans made interesting comments when Raanta got off to a good start. There were the usual veiled shots at Cam Talbot from a fan base that is quick to dismiss our former players. Since, Talbot has recovered regaining the number one job with Edmonton, who re-signed him.

These games happen. It was just aggravating because it was against the Kings. At least it wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist losing against Jonathan Quick. That would’ve been much worse. At the very least, they still earned a point moving four up on the Islanders for second. The next game is the final one against the Flyers and Wayne Simmonds. Tanner Glass has made it known how he’ll deal with Simmonds.

“You have to think team first, so you’re not taking a penalty,” Glass said. “You’re not trying to hurt your team in anyway. You just have to let [Simmonds] know that that’s not going to be tolerated. [McDonagh’s] our captain, he’s our best player, [Simmonds] can’t do that. He’ll know. He’ll know.”

That game can be seen on NBC Sports Network Sunday night. The most important part is for the Rangers to win on the scoreboard. Any payback should not come at the expense of getting a ‘W.’ However, it’s coming. Get yer popcorn ready.

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Game Preview: Kings visit MSG

Dustin Brown

Dustin Brown celebrates his double overtime winner giving the Kings a 2-0 series lead. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Later tonight, the Rangers host the Kings at MSG. It’ll be the first of two meetings. The other is next month on March 17 during a three-game Californian Western trip with stops in Anaheim and San Jose.

Two years ago, the Kings defeated the Rangers for the Stanley Cup in as close a five-game series as you’ll ever see. All three games at Staples Center went to sudden death. Each time, the Kings prevailed including the heartbreaking conclusion in double overtime from defenseman Alec Martinez. It was the most frustrating of the three OT losses because the Rangers blew a couple of golden opportunities that included a power play and also a breakaway for Chris Kreider. But the athletic Jonathan Quick stoned him.

Unfortunately, that’s sports. Especially hockey where it’s a game of inches. It’s also a game of luck. In that series, the Kings had it. Particularly in Game 2 when they had a call go their way that allowed them to rally from a two-goal third period deficit and win 5-4 in double overtime. Of course, maybe if the Rangers had actually attacked in the third period and scored goals, the outcome might have been different. Instead, we’re left to wonder what could’ve been.

Two years later, here are the same two teams entering Friday’s match with an identical amount of points (67) putting themselves in good playoff position. While the Kings lead the Pacific Division by six over San Jose and seven over Anaheim, the Rangers still have more work to do trailing the first overall Washington by 17 points. They have reeled off four in a row for their best stretch since before Thanksgiving. By putting together a winning streak, they are in second place and lead the Islanders by three points. Even better, by shutting down Sidney Crosby thanks to Henrik Lundqvist’s 58th career shutout in which he made 34 saves, they kept the Pens at 61 in the second wild card. A position they still own due to two less games played and one more regulation/overtime win than the Devils.

For the Blueshirts, they have been able to accomplish this without Rick Nash or Ryan McDonagh. Nash remains out with a bone bruise and McDonagh will miss a third consecutive game with a concussion. Other key players have stepped up including J.T. Miller, who connected for his ninth goal in the last 10. His 17 goals are third trailing co-leaders Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello by one for the team lead. Miller ranks fourth in club scoring with 30 points. Brassard leads with 40 while Zuccarello has 39 and Nash has 33.

In McDonagh’s absence, Keith Yandle has picked it up both offensively and defensively. Getting more responsibility and ice-time from Alain Vigneault, he has proved his worth. Even with his pending unrestricted free agency this summer, there’s no way the Rangers can trade him. He has points in two of the last three games including the game-tying tally with 12.9 seconds left in an emotional 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia. Yandle was one of four defensemen the coaching staff used to blanket Crosby, holding the Pens’ superstar without a shot and a minus-three rating. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein also drew the tough assignment limiting Crosby’s time and space.

The defense also sacrificed for the cause blocking 25 shots including five from unlikely source Dan Boyle, who continues to shift to the left side when aligned with rookie Dylan McIlrath. It’s not just the blue line who are more committed. The forwards are as well with Brassard winning the match-up against Crosby. No small feat.

One of the stories coming out of that win was the play of secondary players. Kevin Hayes has had a big time struggle in his sophomore year. But he scored the winner for his eighth on a Tanner Glass rebound from Yandle. About as unlikely a combo for any goal. Glass’ third point and Hayes’ second goal in 14 games were huge. Just as large was Dominic Moore’s fifth goal of the season which came thanks to a great defensive play from Derek Stepan, causing a two-on-one with Chris Kreider. Moore went top shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury for a huge insurance marker in the third.

Jesper Fast closed the scoring with an empty netter despite taking a Kris Letang cheap shot into the boards. He’s played some of his best hockey fitting in on a second line with Stepan and Kreider. The second-year Swede has four points (1-3-4) over the last five games. His tenacity has helped keep plays alive in the offensive zone. Not the most skilled, Fast brings a solid work ethic which Vigneault prefers.

With the top two lines performing better, it’ll be interesting to see what Vigneault does when Nash is ready. For now, there’s no reason to rush him. Would he consider trying Nash on a third line with Hayes and Lindberg? Viktor Stalberg has done a admirable job on that line. But imagine if he was on the fourth line with Moore and either Glass or penalty kill specialist Daniel Paille.

One thing that must change is the current state of the power play. Even though Hayes scored from Glass and Yandle after it expired, the man-advantage is now a dreadful 2 for its last 50. There really is no rational explanation. It is a Rangers Tradition. Ever since the days of Perry Pearn and Mike Sullivan, power failure has been common. At some point, they need to have success on it.

As far as tonight’s match-up, neither starter is playing. Lundqvist is getting a rare night off with backup Antti Raanta starting.for the first time since allowing four in a 5-2 loss to the Caps on Jan. 17. It’ll be his 10th start. He’s 4-4-1 with a 2.30 goals-against-average and .909 save percentage. For LA, Quick will miss a second straight game due to a lower body injury. Emergency recall Peter Budaj gets the call over Jhonas Enroth. The last time the Rangers saw him, they pelted him for five foals on eight shots after Budaj relieved the injured Carey Price in Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. However, his last start against them was with Montreal when he made 27 saves in a 1-0 shutout on Oct. 28, 2013 at MSG.

The Kings boast Norris contender Drew Doughty and Selke competitor Anze Kopitar. They are two of the best players at their position. Each can beat you offensively and defensively. Kopitar is one of the premier two-way centers in the game who also paces LA in scoring with 47 points (13-34-47) and a plus-20 rating. Doughty is having a superb season with 33 points (11-22-33) and a plus-15 rating. Eight of his 11 markers have come on the power play.

Tyler Toffoli has been a breakout star with a team best 23 goals and plus-26. He can play any situation including shorthanded. Something the Rangers better watch out for. Toffoli has eight power play goals and one shorthanded goal. With Justin Williams now playing the same role in Washington he played in Hollywood, the Kings went out and acquired power forward Milan Lucic from Boston. He’s had a solid first year registering 14 goals and 20 assists with 66 penalty minutes while pacing the Kings in game-winners (5). His size and strength has always been a problem for the Rangers. That should be a tough match-up along with Jeff Carter (14-24-38).

Marian Gaborik tormented us in the Stanley Cup Final with some big goals. He returns to the Garden with just 11 goals and 21 points in a disappointing season. However, his eyes will light up under the Broadway lights. In four seasons as a Blueshirt, Gaborik totaled 114 goals including a career high 42 in ’09-10. He was successful eclipsing 40 twice and scoring a big overtime goal against the Caps in the second round of 2012. Even though former coach John Tortorella was responsible for his trade to Columbus, it netted the Rangers Brassard. John Moore was also part of that deal and eventually used as an extra with Anthony Duclair, first and second round picks for Yandle. Derek Dorsett spent a couple of years here and had a nice role on the fourth line during the 2014 postseason. Eventually, Columbus re-routed Gaborik to Los Angeles. The same way they hooked them up with Carter. What a top notch organization that is.

The Kings blue line also boasts Jake Muzzin. A lanky Russian who can play his end well and contribute offensively. He has 31 points (6-25-31) along with 122 hits and 79 blocked shots. If there is a team strength, it’s LA’s size where they love to pound the opposition with physicality. Six different Kings have over 100 hits led by Lucic (179) and royal pain in the ass Dustin Brown (136). After losing badly to the Islanders 5-2 in Brooklyn, they’re going to be mad.

By contrast, the Rangers are more of a skating team that plays finesse utilizing stretch passes and skill to beat opponents. However, Miller is not only a factor offensively but physically as well pacing the club with 131 hits, including seven against the Pens. Four Blueshirts have registered over 100 hits including Kreider (125), Glass (120) and Girardi (108), who would probably like a do over in the Stanley Cup Final against these Kings. It wasn’t memorable for him with a couple of bad giveaways causing goals including a Williams’ OT winner that turned fan bloggers against him. This fan base is fickle. Granted. Danny G isn’t what he once was. But the amount of hate he gets is pathetic. He’s about to play his 700th career game. That should be acknowledged by the same fans who cry constantly over a heart and soul player who has given everything to help the team be successful. That goes ditto for Staal.

Of course, each has bad contracts. That’s no secret. They contain no-movement clauses which will make it hard on new GM Jeff Gorton to move either. For all his stubborness with the vets, Vigneault is right. This team won’t go anywhere without Girardi or Staal. Girardi’s game has come up recently. Staal’s has in spurts. But each is still turnover prone and can be beaten to the outside by speed. Don’t forget how much these two have given. They’re warriors. That should be respected.

As for what to expect tonight, figure the Kings to come out with one intent. To get the puck deep and finish checks testing our D minus McDonagh. It’ll be a good challenge.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Vinny Lecavalier, who LA acquired along with Luke Schenn from Philly in a salary dump. Lecavalier has indicated that he’ll retire after this year rather than finish his contract. Since coming to Tinseltown, he’s been impressive scoring five goals including four on the power play. Playing a secondary role under coach Darryl Sutter, Lecavalier has proven he still has something left. With five goals and three helpers in 14 games and a 94-and-91 faceoff record, he’s been a nice addition. Looking for one more Cup before he rides off into the sunset, the 35-year old ex-Lightning might get his wish.

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A night fit for a King

Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist makes one of 34 saves en route to career shutout number 58 on a record breaking night. He passed Martin Brodeur for the most wins (366) for a goalie in the first 11 seasons. AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

Leading up to Rivalry Night, the talk centered around Sidney Crosby, who entered on a roll with a seven-game goal streak (10 goals) and 11-game point string (12-10-22). By the night’s conclusion, both Crosby’s streaks were kaput and the discussion was about Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped all 34 Pens shots in a big 3-0 shutout win that gave the Rangers a fourth consecutive win.

Somewhat fittingly, on a night he passed Martin Brodeur for the most wins by an NHL goalie in their first 11 seasons with victory number 366 in game 666, Lundqvist did it in style recording his 58th career shutout.

”I just liked the way we competed,” the 33-year old King Henrik said after being named the game’s first star. ”I felt like we were getting to loose pucks and rebounds. You need guys to step up when they get the opportunity to play more minutes and that’s what we’re having now.”

Using timely scoring from Kevin Hayes and Dominic Moore, the Blueshirts were able to prevail thanks to sensational goaltending from their bread and butter. Lundqvist was especially clutch in a tough second period. Down by a goal, the Pens had most of the play controlling puck possession while generating higher quality chances and outshooting the Rangers 11-6. However, they were unable to take advantage.

”We had some good chances,” Crosby said after being held without a shot while on for all three goals against in 28 shifts (19:48). ”They capitalized on theirs and we didn’t. That was the difference.”

When Lundqvist wasn’t stopping the puck, he also had some luck from the goalposts. The Pens hit two including one from Conor Sheary in the second on a dangerous chance. He went around Marc Staal and was in on Lundqvist beating him top shelf only to see the puck go off the crossbar and stay out. Crosby also nearly set up Phil Kessel, who mishandled the puck in front failing to get a shot off. That’s the kinda season it’s been for the former Maple Leaf who remains an enigma with only 15 goals in 53 games.

Despite being outshot 21-13 through two, the Rangers had the only goal thanks to Hayes, who patiently stayed with a rebound of a Tanner Glass shot and went upstairs on Marc-Andre Fleury at 8:34 of the first. Both Glass and Keith Yandle picked up assists. An unlikely trio considering that Hayes hasn’t scored much. It was just his first goal in 13 games. The assist for Glass was his first point since Dec. 17. Just his third of the season. He has a goal and two assists in 30 games. As for Yandle, he’s been instrumental. The assist gave him six points in the last nine.

Without captain Ryan McDonagh for a second straight game, the Rangers got big performances from Yandle, Staal, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. The quartet all logged over 20 minutes while contributing offensively and defensively. For Yandle, he finished with three shots and nine attempts while going plus-one in 29 shifts (22:43). Outside of getting beat badly by Sheary and bailed out by a goalpost, Staal did a sound job with Girardi for most shifts at even strength while matched against Crosby. They went plus-two each blocking eight shots. As a team, the Rangers paid the price blocking 25 including five from Dan Boyle. Klein blocked three and took 32 shifts (23:04) finishing plus-one.

”When you miss some of your top people, it’s an opportunity for some other guys to step up,” coach Alain Vigneault said.

With the game still hanging in the balance, a good defensive play by Derek Stepan inside his zone sent Moore in on a two-on-one with Chris Kreider. Using Kreider as a decoy, Moore sniped a perfect laser over Fleury high far side for his first goal since Dec. 30. A nice reward for a hard working checking center who probably won’t return. If it is his final go round, the original Ranger who was drafted out of Harvard has been a consummate pro. It’s easy to forget that he was here when Lundqvist arrived as an unheralded rookie in ’05-06. Moore centered the HMO line flanked by Ryan Hollweg and Jed Ortmeyer.

They were able to protect a two-goal lead with steadier defense and the last line of defense with Lundqvist stopping 13 shots. Vigneault opted to go with the top line of J.T. Miller, Derick Brassard and Jesper Fast against the Crosby line. They didn’t do a ton offensively but were effective at five-on-five during the match-up. Miller finished with a game high seven hits and Brassard won 11-of-16 faceoffs. All Fast did was take a cheap Kris Letang run sending a backhand into an empty net with 1:31 left to seal the victory.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Kevin Hayes, Rangers (game-winner-8th of season, 3 blocks, +1 in 18 shifts-14:29)

2nd Star-Dan Girardi, Rangers (3 shots, 5 blocks, +2 in 29 shifts-20:47)

1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (34 saves-3rd shutout-58th career, 366th win in first 11 seasons most all-time among goalies)

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A night worthy of a legend

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After all the hype and anticipation that had been building for months to yesterday’s number retirement ceremony for the legendary Martin Brodeur, the hour between 6:15 and 7:15 last night actually managed to live up to the advance buildup, if not surpass it.  Last night had pretty much everything you could have ever envisioned and more – joy, laughter, surprises, poignance and reverence.  Before I get to that however, I’ll recap a busy weekend that set the stage for Tuesday.

For me, last night was the culmination of an entire weekend where the buildup crested as the night approached and we, the fans got pieces of what was to come Tuesday throughout.  At Saturday’s game against the Capitals they started selling some of the Brodeur memorabilia that fans would line up around the Prudential Center to get three nights later.  Fortunately I only really wanted either a program or a t-shirt if not both, but given the t-shirts were $40 and I already have plenty of Devils t-shirts I opted for the $18 program ($20 sticker price, but the 10% sth discount knocked it down to $18).  It’s a good thing I got the program at Saturday’s game since it was supposedly a commemorative edition that they only made 3000 of.  Probably not the smartest business decision since they could have sold ten times as much, even if the program was mostly pictures with the occasional quote from a former player or other hockey VIP interspersed throughout…some of the pictures were pretty unique and not highly circulated though.

My main concern for both Monday’s season ticket holder event at the Prudential Center and Tuesday’s ceremony was twofold – hoping for good weather since there were intermittent reports of snow on both nights, and getting there on time since both events were slated to start at 6-6:15…not to mention actually finding parking there.  Even for Saturday’s sellout game against the Caps (a rare weekend matinee game, and a promo day at that with a Mike Cammalleri bobblehead giveaway) my usual lot was nearly filled a half hour before the game, a $7 lot that’s a few blocks away from the arena and almost never close to filled.  Fortunately weather proved to be no concern on either night, and on Monday me and my friend got to the arena around 5:30ish but the garage where everyone was offered $5 parking for the night – normally a $30 lot – was predictably filled, so we had to park across the street in a lot that also had a reduced price of $10.

When we got there on Monday it took us a while to get to the free food since the club wasn’t designed to handle the amount of people that were crammed into there all at once.  Despite the ice level being open and also having food and drink there there were just too many people around and before Marty came out to do a brief Q/A with NBC’s Bruce Beck everyone wanted to eat and/or pick out their spot near the stage.  Fortunately for us the Q/A didn’t actually start till 6:30 even though it was supposed to begin at 6 so we had plenty of time to finally get some food and pick out a seat to watch it from, but the Q/A was extremely brief for obvious reasons and when Beck asked if he had anything he wanted to say to the fans, Marty himself started with ‘I gotta save something for tomorrow’ <giggle giggle chuckle chuckle> before making a few brief remarks.  Fans could get pictures with the Marty statue which was unveiled and on display, as well as the Stanley Cup but the line looked a little intimidating so we passed – we would get a picture with the Cup the next night though, and since the statue itself’s going to be just outside the Prudential Center for at least the next twenty years we weren’t in any rush for that either.

Mostly we just watched the game, and I ate more food once we were at ice level and the lines cleared.  They even had chicken parm pieces which I almost never resist eating as well as hot dog balls and a few other little things here and there.  They even offered free wine drinks, though I had a few sips of that I mostly stuck to water, and everyone got a commemorative coin upon leaving which was nice.  Marty and Bruce Beck came out one more time during the first intermission of the Devil-Ranger game to play a trivia contest with factoids around Marty’s own life (I had no idea his middle name was Pierre for example), where fans could play along and win prizes.   Me and my friend left in the third period with the game 2-0 mostly cause of the long night ahead of us the next day.  And since Tuesday’s usually one of my late days at work I was anxious as to when we’d be able to leave and get there.

Fortunately that proved not to be a concern either, as it was not very busy at work for once on a Tuesday so I left normal time, and me and my friend managed to get to Newark at 5:30 where there were still spots in our usual lot on Halsey Street.  No such luck for my friends in 120 who sit two rows below me since it took them at least a half hour to find a lot as theirs was filled up, though they actually got to Newark earlier than us so they still were able to make it on time for the ceremony on time at 6:15.  Pretty much the only thing I knew about the ceremony beforehand was who was going to speak and of course the fact that the masterful Doc Emrick would be emceeing.  Just seeing the ice you could tell this night was going to be special, as the stage itself had a big goal net with 30 in it and a big stick and mask around it, with all of the awards Marty won yards away in front of him on five different podiums and all of the visiting digniataries and family members seated off to the right of the stage, including the current Devils and staff who were either standing or sitting around the bench area.

As usual Doc had a sense of the moment and how to use something little known but easily understandable that everyone could relate to, such as when he made reference to the fact that in Marty’s rookie season five goalies held eight important records (including wins in a season, wins in a career and shutouts in a career), all of them Hall of Famers and finishing with ‘and now…only one goalie holds all eight records!’.  Of course he didn’t have to say which goalie that was.  Doc went on to introduce the family members and former teammates and coaches in attendance with one of the most heartfelt ovations of the night going to Jacques Lemaire, the coach who brought the Devils to prominence in 1994-95.

Perhaps seeking to get the awkwardness out of the way early, the first speaker after Doc was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman who was met with predictable boos.  And as usual the commissioner powered through the booing with his usual sardonic humor thanking the fans for their enthusiastic welcome.   After a few minutes, Bettman turned the mic over to Devils ownership and some dude I never heard of that works for the Prudential company who made some bizarre comment about how they were happy Prudential was going to be on the jersey raised to the rafters.  Devils co-owner Josh Harris also made an odd remark when he said the Marty statue would be stationed outside Championship Plaza ‘for the next twenty years’.  Where, exactly is it going after that?  Of course it isn’t the first time Harris has sounded a bit…on his own planet when speaking in public.

Getting that awkwardness out of the way, eventually Ken Daneyko came to the podium to say a few words and also Patrik Elias made an appearance later on.  When the fans started standing for him Elias said somewhat kiddingly ‘okay you guys can sit down now….this is like the Oscars where I only have 45 seconds to say something’.  Ironically, the real zinger of the night came from Lou Lamoriello, who was the last speaker before Marty.  Taking the stage to chants of ‘Loooouuu!’ in his first public appearance at the Prudential Center since leaving the Devils, Lou remarked, ‘Commissioner, that’s not the same reaction that you got!’, much to the delight of everyone and the amusement of Bettman himself.  After Lou’s remarks and a scoreboard montage narrated by Kiefer Sutherland (which even mentioned the trapezoid rule being put in because of Marty), then the moment arrived where Marty walked toward the stage, past the current Devils – all wearing 30 jerseys for the warmup skate that would take place after – with sticks raised, and around all of his friends and family.

After taking the stage to thunderous applause and chants, Marty attempted to get through his speech quickly, perhaps showing his nervousness.  It was Doc himself who had enough of a sense of the moment to go up to Marty with a tap on the shoulder and tell him to take a breath while the fans laid out all of their emotions.

“Doc said, ‘Stop a little. Let them cheer you on,’” Brodeur recalled. “It was great. The response from the fans was something special for me. I played lot of years and got to know these fans a lot throughout my career and I don’t know if I expected that ovation and it was really overwhelming.”

Perhaps it was the night’s biggest irony that with the world’s most accomplished goaltender in the building and one of the best currently in the NHL also wearing a Devils uniform, it was Doc who came up with the night’s biggest save.  After another few moments, the noise finally died down enough for Marty to make his speech where he displayed the same humility he had as a nineteen-year old rookie, acknowledging everyone from behind the scenes people like doctors and PR people to family to ex-teammates on all his Stanley Cup winning teams, even speaking to his family in French fulfilling a wish of his late father.  Brodeur ended his speech with a message to the fans:

“And finally to you, the fans…I value and I cherish the relationship I had with you guys.  I’ll remember it forever.  Thanks for the memories, thank you for all the Marty’s Better chants, and keep on being one of the best fanbases in the NHL.  Good night and thank you!”

After the speech came the banner raising, then another poignant twist as Marty exited the ice….with his Devils jersey on he gave one more salute pose right next to his statue to the entrance of the tunnel before fading to black, in an exit that was somewhat reminsicent for me as a Mets fan of when franchise legends Mike Piazza and Tom Seaver were the last two men off the Shea Stadium field, exiting via the warning track a la the movie Field of Dreams.

Once the ceremony was finally finished I knew I was a part of something special, despite the fact that I was at the number retirements of all three prior honorees (Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko) last night trumped all of them in terms of emotion and meaning, especially given the length and breadth of Brodeur’s career.  It seemed pretty hard for the crowd to remain emotionally engaged for the game afterward, but in the end the current Devils delivered the only acceptable result – two points in yet another hard-fought 2-1 game.  Fittingly Cory Schneider was one of the game’s three stars though Reid Boucher was the man of the match with a power play goal in the third period that took teammate Jacob Josefson off the griddle for shanking an open net seconds before.

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Rangers look to slow down Crosby, Pens

Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist and Sidney Crosby face off again on Rivalry Night. Getty Images

A while back, the Pens were underachieving. Then they fired coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan, who had been coaching AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

It took some time for them to get on track. Finally, Sidney Crosby is back to being one of the best players in the world. During a stretch that’s seen the Pens win six of their last seven to pull into the second wildcard with 61 points and within four of the second place Rangers, Crosby has been on fire. He carries an seven-game goal streak in which he’s scored 10 goals into tonight’s match on Rivalry Night. He has points in 11 straight games totaling 22 (12-10-22) including a cool dozen (7-5-12) over the last four.

With Crosby back, the Pens are a much more dangerous team. They’ve scored 20 goals over the last five and have been very explosive led by their captain. Even minus Evgeni Malkin, who will miss the next three games with an undisclosed lower body injury, Crosby and top defenseman Kris Letang have carried the Pens back into playoff position. Letang also has been on fire tallying seven points over the last four including the overtime winner from Crosby in a stirring 3-2 comeback overtime win over the Panthers. In fact, he has 15 points (5-10-15) over the past 10- climbing his way back into the Norris conversation.

Somewhat interestingly, the Pens became a lot better after acquiring Carl Hagelin from Anaheim for David Perron, who has also fit in quite well with his new team. Sometimes, a scenery change works. In Hagelin’s case, it was for the best. He struggled to fit in under Bruce Boudreau totaling 12 points (4-8-12) in 43 games. In nine games with Pittsburgh, he has a goal and five helpers. Before Malkin’s injury, Hagelin was fitting in quite well on a line with the lanky Russian and Phil Kessel. Speaking of which, Kessel has had a disappointing first season in the Steel City. With 15 goals in 52 games, more goal production was expected. He has been a bit better lately with 10 points over the last 10 including three goals.

For whatever reason, the Pens couldn’t score under Johnston. Playing for the tougher Sullivan, they are playing their game transitioning more. With their best players hot, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz have seen a hike in production. The pesky Hornqvist who always battles in front of the net has 12 points (2-10-12) over the last 10. Playing with Crosby, Kunitz has had a resurgence with 10 points (3-7-10) in the last six and 12 over the last nine.

The offensive support has made life a lot easier on starter Marc-Andre Fleury. He brings in respectable numbers with 21 wins, a 2.42 goals-against-average, .920 save percentage and four shutouts. For a long time, he was asked to carry the load. But backup Jeff Zatkoff also chipped in with a 42-save performance in a 3-2 win over Florida. He won’t play much down the stretch but that was a big win.

The Rangers have their work cut out. Minus captain Ryan McDonagh, the make shift defense Alain Vigneault and Ulf Samuelsson put together in Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils will have to contend with a much more explosive offense. My guess is Crosby will be seeing plenty of old nemesis Marc Staal with Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein mixed in. Especially without Malkin. Since they’ll see the Pens three more times in March, it’ll be interesting to see how they plan to slow down Crosby.

With Letang at his absolute best, the Blueshirts must remember to account for him on pinches. He’s like an extra forward on the forecheck. Partner Olli Maatta isn’t as potent offensively but can chip in with six goals. His plus-21 leads all Pens’ defensemen. A solid steady puck moving type, Maatta has a bright future. Only in his third year, he should continue to improve.

The best recipe for success is a strong forecheck. In order to have a chance, the Rangers must use their speed and get pucks deep. The Pens aren’t the best defensive team. They can be exploited. Trevor Daley was a nice pickup from Chicago for Rob Scuderi. He’s good offensively with a big shot. So far, he has four goals and 10 points in 23 games with his new team. However, Daley and other veteran D Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole can be attacked. So can Letang.

It’s up to the Blueshirts’ top three lines to establish a consistent cycle. So far, Chris Kreider has looked better since Mats Zuccarello joined Derek Stepan. Zuccarello’s skill set has allowed Kreider to do what he does best using his speed and size. Stepan always seems to save his best for these kind of games. It’s coming for the two-way pivot who is finally looking 100 percent.

If there’s a line that can do damage, it should be the one centered by Derick Brassard. With the red hot J.T. Miller continuing to emerge as a scorer and tireless forechecker, they should have a good night. Jesper Fast has fit in well. He makes plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Whether it’s outracing someone to negate an icing or winning a board battle by not giving up on a play, Quickie has shown improvement.

The play of Kevin Hayes remains an uncertainty. There are times he does a solid job carrying the puck and protecting it using his size and skill to bring possession. Then there are odd moments like the one on Monday where he got a silly unsportsmanlike conduct for firing a broken Devil stick out of play. Hayes can be a effective player. He and Oscar Lindberg don’t quite fit together because they play the same position. But they are an important part of the team. Along with Viktor Stalberg, that’s your third line. When Nash returns, it’ll be interesting to see what Vigneault decides. Maybe try Nash with Hayes and keep Fast on the top line. Lindberg or Stalberg could move down to the fourth line.

If they’re to win, Henrik Lundqvist will be a big reason. Up to 26 wins and a 2.37 GAA with a .921 save percentage and just two shutouts, he’s looked better recently. Even with the bad goal he allowed to the Flyers, it was his clutch saves in a hectic second period that held the Rangers in. Against the Devils, he withstood an onslaught the final 2:17 following Travis Zajac’s shorthanded goal. The big stop on Lee Stempniak saved the game and got the team a big win. He’ll definitely be under pressure tonight.

The defense played about as well as it could Monday minus McDonagh. How will they hold up against a much better offense featuring Crosby? Obviously, match-ups will be important. Keith Yandle has a bigger role logging the most ice-time the past two games. He was over 25 minutes Monday following 27:33 in an emotional 3-2 shootout comeback win at Philadelphia thanks to his clutch tying goal at 19:47. He also had a hiccups that caused Zajac’s shorty and then turned it over again on the same power play leading to Stempniak’s dangerous chance.

With McDonagh sidelined for an unknown time, it looks like Yandle isn’t going anywhere. He is unrestricted this summer. But right now, there’s no way the Rangers can even consider trading him. They remain with only two left D. To his credit, Dan Boyle shifted to the left side and did a decent job in Newark. Eventually, they have to make a move. And no. I’m not keen on bringing in the recently waived Christian Ehrhoff. If the Kings got rid of him, there must be a reason. Ehrhoff has been on the decline. Remember the Rangers’ last claim? It was Roman Hamrlik. How’d that work out?

For now, Dylan McIlrath stays in the lineup. I still don’t know why Vigneault doesn’t fully trust him. He uses his size effectively pushing players off the puck and clearing the crease. Big Mac also has shown an uncanny ability to make smart pinches and get his lethal shot on goal. I’d like to see him get more than 12-14 minutes.

If they could ever figure it out on the power play, it would be a lot easier to win games. The power play remains a abomination. It’s basically pray they don’t screw up and give one up shorthanded.

Tonight’s game is on NBCSN with a special 8 PM start time. And no. I don’t hate Doc Emrick like the others. I don’t get how anyone can. The guy is all class and is a great listen who makes the game fun. If you can’t like Doc, maybe you need to find a new hobby.

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Devils legend Brodeur made Hudson Rivalry great

Martin Brodeur

Marty’s Better: For 20 years, nobody has been better than Martin Brodeur with the Devils. This is his moment.

It will be a special night in Newark. It’s already been memorable for Devils legend Martin Brodeur, who finally saw his statue unveiled Monday before a gathering full of a sea of black and red at The Prudential Center. As the Devils battled the Rangers across the Hudson in Manhattan, their fans were treated to An Evening With Marty. Doors opened at 5:30 PM and it didn’t end until the conclusion of the latest installment of the Battle Of Hudson.

When it comes down to it, Brodeur defined perfection. From the time former Devils architect Lou Lamoriello traded down with the Flames to select Brodeur 20th overall in the 1990 NHL Draft, he became the cornerstone who would turn the franchise into one of the most successful over the past three decades. Along with a smart trade with Toronto that allowed the Devils to grab Scott Niedermayer in the 1991 Draft third overall for Tom Kurvers, the seeds were planted.

The clincher was future captain Scott Stevens, who Lamoriello was rewarded by an arbitrator from St. Louis as compensation for signing Brendan Shanahan. The Blues countered with Rod Brind’Amour, Curtis Joseph and two draft picks. The decision came on September 4, 1991. The link between Stevens and Shanahan is legendary. While Shanahan went on to score 656 goals and win three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings after forcing his way out of Hartford following being dealt by the Blues for Chris Pronger, Stevens became the emotional leader of the Devils, leading them to three Stanley Cups while winning the Conn Smythe in 2000. Both are Hall of Famers. In another twist, Lamoriello and Shanahan are back together running the Maple Leafs with former Detroit coach Mike Babcock behind the bench.

It’s almost as if all the pieces fell into place. One by one, the Hall of Fame general manager turned the Devils into a juggernaut. With the Big Three on the same roster along with mainstay Ken Daneyko between ’93-94 thru ’03-04, New Jersey only missed the playoffs once winning three Cups, reaching four Stanley Cup Finals and winning five Atlantic Division titles. Following the retirements of Daneyko and Stevens plus the departure of Niedermayer to Anaheim, Brodeur led them to four more first place finishes and five straight postseasons. He also won his final two Vezina Trophies as the league’s best goalie in ’06-07 and ’07-08.

Due in large part to Dominik Hasek, he didn’t win his first Vezina until age 31 capping off a memorable ’02-03 in which he backstopped the Devils past the Senators to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in hostile territory, and then shutout the Ducks at home 3-0 in Game 7 for the franchise’s third championship. Even though the Conn Smythe was awarded to Jean-Sebastien Giguere drawing boos from the crowd at Continental Airlines Arena, a sarcastic Brodeur made a cool gesture with his arms raising them to the roof in reference to the most prestigious trophy being handed out which turned the jeers to cheers. That kind of moment is what made him fun. He got it.

Following a disappointing ’10-11 in which they missed the playoffs for only the second time since ’89-90, Brodeur had one more run in him. At the advanced age of 40, here was the all-time winningest netminder and all-time shutout leader proving to doubters, he still had it. After the Devils ousted the Panthers in a tough seven-game first round with Adam Henrique playing the overtime hero, they took care of their Turnpike rival Flyers sweeping them to set up one more Conference Final versus the hated rival Rangers. Facing Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, the elder Brodeur outplayed a goalie 10 years younger helping the Devils pull the upset in a closely fought six games- finally avenging his worst defeat when the Blueshirts got the better of him as a rookie in an emotional seven games en route to the Cup in ’93-94. The Rangers didn’t go down easily, coming back from two goals down in the third forcing overtime. However, there was no Stephane Matteau this time. Instead, Henrique ended the series with former Hall of Fame Devils’ announcer Doc Emrick making the famed “Henrique! It’s over!” call that’s still replayed in Jersey living rooms.

Even though they fell short losing to the Kings in six for the Stanley Cup in 2012, Brodeur was brilliant. He only allowed two goals in bitter overtime defeats in Games 1 and 2. After the Kings blitzed the Devils 4-0 to go up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, Brodeur and his teammates wouldn’t go down easily. Winning the next two behind Marty, who only allowed two goals on 48 shots, they forced the Kings to close it out at Staples Center. It took a controversial Steve Bernier major penalty and game misconduct for the Kings to finally put the Devils away cruising to a 6-1 win. In what felt like the passing of the torch, another goalie Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe. He’s since led the Kings to a second Cup in 2014 and they are strong contenders to win a third after missing the playoffs last year.

For Brodeur, it was the final time he ever made the postseason. Injuries limited him to 29 games in ’12-13. It was during the 2013 Draft that Lamoriello changed the direction of the team trading the Devils’ first round pick (Bo Horvat) to the Canucks for Cory Schneider. A move that was applauded by Devil fans at the Draft in Newark. The writing was on the wall. Eventually, the franchise needed to replace Brodeur in net. After an uncomfortable season in which he and Schneider split duty, the Devils didn’t re-sign him. He didn’t retire instead waiting until the Blues had a spot available signing with them. Though he only lasted seven games winning three while posting his 125th and final shutout, it was still odd to see him in another jersey. The experience gave him an opportunity to move upstairs and become the Blues assistant GM.

The list of accomplishments are endless. He also won Olympic gold twice with Canada helping his home country finally win gold in ’02 defeating classic rival Mike Richter and USA in the Salt Lake Winter Games. The all-time leader in games played (1,266-1,259 with Devils), wins (691) and shutouts (125) also holds the regular season record for most consecutive seasons of 30 wins-or-more (11) and most 40-win seasons (8) and 30-win seasons (14). He also has the most career losses (396). Brodeur’s playoff record 24 shutouts including the most in a single postseason (7) and series (3) in ’03 give him a record 149 combined shutouts regular season and playoffs.

He’s also one of only two goalies to ever score a goal in the postseason doing so against the Canadiens in ’97, joining the Flyers’ Ron Hextall. Brodeur’s amazing puck handling skills gave opponents fits. Eventually, led by former Flyers GM Bobby Clarke, they changed the rule post-lockout forcing goalies to adjust to the trapezoids which limited their ability to come out and play the puck. Known as the “Brodeur Rule,” it didn’t hinder Marty much. He found a way to get to pucks in the corner quicker before they reached the designated lines which allowed him to transition with smart outlets.

There’s so much to this man. His competitiveness and fire are second to none. His pride certainly was on display any time he faced the Rangers. Losing to them twice (’94 and ’97) made him want to beat them more than any other opponent. For a while when the Rangers became bad following the departure of Mark Messier, it was easy for Brodeur and the Devils to win games versus their Hudson rival. At one point, he held a long unbeaten streak (15-0-8) in which he never lost a game. It started on Feb. 17, 1997 and ended Mar. 31, 2001.

The rivalry intensified after the lockout. Lundqvist became Brodeur’s adversary bringing the Blueshirts back to respectability. At one point, he dominated Brodeur head to head in the regular season. In their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade, Brodeur and the Devils exacted revenge sweeping their rivals in the first round.

Following ’05-06, the rivalry heated up due to the Rangers’ acquisition of Sean Avery. A known pest throughout the league, he made an imprint right away crashing into Brodeur after a scoring chance. The play in question saw Avery go around Colin White and force Brodeur into a difficult save. Unable to come to a full stop, Avery collided with Brodeur knocking him over. The Devils’ goalie shoved Avery resulting in Avery shoving Brodeur down. Avery quickly became public enemy number one for the Jersey side.

In a first round playoff rematch in ’07-08 also featuring ex-Devil Scott Gomez, Avery was again the story. During Game 3 at MSG, while on a 5-on-3 power play, Avery waved his stick at Brodeur in an attempt to screen him. The odd tactic worked with him eventually getting set up for a goal. However, Avery was harshly criticized by announcers and of course Brodeur and the Devils. It led to the NHL creating the Avery Rule preventing opposing players from waving their stick like that at a goalie ruling it “unsportsmanlike conduct.” After the Rangers won the series in five games, Brodeur refused to shake Avery’s hand dodging him. That only led to Avery ripping him.

There’s no doubt the rivalry was at its best with both teams competitive. Whether it be the mid-90’s featuring key actors Richter, Messier, Brian Leetch, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Esa Tikkanen and Alexei Kovalev on the Ranger side compared to key Devils Brodeur, Claude Lemieux, Bobby Holik, Randy McKay, John MacLean and Stephane Richer. Or the past decade with the Rangers featuring Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander, Martin Straka, Petr Prucha, Michal Rozsival, Avery, Gomez, Ryan Callahan, Shanahan, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and the Devils featuring Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner, John Madden, Gomez, Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, Jagr, Andy Greene, David Clarkson.

It always felt bigger and better with Brodeur part of it. He went from going mono y mono with Richter to going up against Lundqvist and getting the better of him in two of three playoff series despite the age gap. Even with the Devils having a nice season under rookie coach John Hynes due in large part to Schneider and key contributors Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and the injured Mike Cammalleri, the games don’t have the same juice. Perhaps it’s due to there not being as much hatred on the ice. While the stands haven’t changed much, there’s a missing ingredient. Aside from no Marty to spice things up, you no longer have coaching adversaries John Tortorella and Pete DeBoer with each sending out fourth lines to start games with fireworks. There’s no Brandon Prust, Stu Bickel or Mike Rupp on the Ranger side. Just as there’s no Carter, Cam Janssen or Eric Boulton.

The constant to the Hudson Rivalry was Brodeur. Love or hate him, he made the rivalry great. Honestly, Devils/Rangers hasn’t been the same since. I really enjoyed attending games at MSG knowing the familiar “Mar-ty” serenade was coming. It was all in good fun. Though one fan always let him have it drawing stares and laughter from the regulars. There was an intensity to those games as soon as each team took warm ups. Both on the ice and in the stands. When the teams met in Jersey, the familiar “Marty’s Better” was the chant. The same one he’ll hear tonight when his number 30 joins former Devil teammates Daneyko, Niedermayer and Stevens in the rafters. Call them the Four Horsemen. They are the Devils. Adjoined at the hip. Eventually, Elias will join them. Maybe one day MacLean will too now that Lamoriello works for Toronto.

Brodeur is special. Even from the other side, I saw and respected it. Tonight is all about one of the all-time greatest goalies. Marty finally gets his moment. It should be cherished.

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Rangers hold on against relentless Devils 2-1

Kevin Klein

Kevin Klein celebrates his first goal in 28 games during the second period of a Rangers’ 2-1 win over Hudson rival Devils. AP Photo/Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Well, they sure didn’t make it easy on themselves. Can this schizo team ever? Even after controlling most of the game, the Rangers to hold on for a 2-1 win over the scrappy Devils at MSG. What should’ve been an easy two points turned chaotic due to the awfulness that is the power play.

Handed a fifth straight man-advantage which was drawn by their best forward J.T. Miller, who also notched the game-winner earlier in the third period- the Rangers did what only they could do to get the Devils back in the game. Keith Yandle lost control of the puck at the point due to Henrique forcing him into a turnover and came two-on-one with Travis Zajac with Girardi back. Henrique was able to slide a pass by Girardi to Zajac for a shorthanded goal with still 2:17 left. It was his second goal in the last 32 games.

Still on the power play, the Rangers panicked. Suddenly alive, the desperate Devils continued to pressure the point forcing Keith Yandle into another miscue. Lee Stempniak came in the opposite direction and nearly tied it but Henrik Lundqvist got just enough of a good shot from distance with his glove to preserve the lead with two minutes remaining.

Under duress even a man up which is typical of how useless the power play is, the Devils looked like they were on one keeping the puck in the Ranger zone. A huge battle ensued between Kyle Palmieri and Girardi with Palmieri knocking Girardi down in front of Lundqvist. Meanwhile, Mats Zuccarello got away with one causing the Devils bench to be hot. They didn’t get a single power play and probably deserved an abbreviated one late.

Once captain Andy Greene returned from the penalty box, the Devils applied the heat. Adam Henrique won a offensive draw which allowed coach John Hynes to pull Cory Schneider for an extra attacker with 40 seconds to go. Despite a relentless effort, the Devils couldn’t find a way to tie it. A sliding Girardi blocked a John Moore attempt. There was a huge battle in the corner. But the Rangers were able to come out with the puck and hold on for the victory.

For the most part, there were a lot of positives. The Rangers dominated the Devils in a lopsided first outshooting them 17-9. That included another 16 shots attempted giving them a ridiculous 33. They were all over them. But Schneider was unbelievable stopping everything. That included two power plays which of course couldn’t convert. Even with Yandle running it and them getting opportunities, it didn’t matter. It’s like they might never score on a power play ever again.

Continuing to carry the play in the second, the Rangers jumped out in front thanks to Kevin Klein converting off a pretty feed from Zuccarello at 4:47. Fractured thumb and all, Klein got into position following a strong forecheck from Zuccarello, who came out with the puck and beat three Devils before finding Klein for his fourth.

The play was made possible due to a brilliant rush from Chris Kreider, who went from point A to point B in about three seconds breaking in and forcing Schneider to make a big stop. When he plays like that, he’s impossible to stop. And Kreider was really good tonight playing maybe his best game of the season.

After killing off a Stempniak cross-check minor for knocking down Marc Staal, the Devils finally got going in the second half of the period. They started forechecking more and tested Lundqvist, forcing him to make 13 saves. To his credit, he was really sharp despite going minutes without action. He made 27 saves overall and matched Martin Brodeur for the most wins by a goalie in their first 11 seasons with his 365th victory (34th against the Devils).

It looked like it would be an easy win. Especially following a strong defensive sequence from Kevin Klein that led to Jesper Fast transitioning the puck to Derick Brassard who backed off two Devils and dropped for Miller, who quickly shot beating Schneider five-hole for a two-goal lead with 15:23 left in the third. It was Miller’s 17th overall and ninth over the past 10 games. He continues to be the team’s most consistent forward. It was also his tenacious forecheck that forced Greene to take him down for a power play with 2:39 left.

Unfortunately, it was abominable. It’s like they don’t even practice it. Of course, that can’t be true. But the Zajac shorthanded goal ruining Lundqvist’s shutout was so predictable. And Stempniak was this close to tying it. I wonder what Alain Vigneault thinks of him now.

At least they won. The victory was important because the Pens just don’t lose anymore. Not with Sidney Crosby on fire scoring twice more and setting up another in a 6-2 blowout of the Ducks. The Rangers lead the Pens by four points for second place. They are up to 65 with 29 games left. Pittsburgh went ahead of the idle Islanders for third with 61 and 30 left. The Isles hold down the second wildcard a point behind Detroit, who beat Tampa Bay. The Devils remain at 59 with 28 left. Carolina has 57 with 28 left. With a big win, Ottawa is up to 56 tying Montreal. Both have 28 to go.

It’ll continue to be a huge fight to the finish. For the Blueshirts, they have now won three in a row for the first time since a nine-game win streak in November. The games only get tougher with the first of four against the red hot Pens Wednesday. The rivals meet three more times in March. It should be fun.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marc Staal, Rangers (assist, 2 blocked shots, very assertive, +2 in 26 shifts-20:06)

2nd Star-Cory Schneider, Devils (35 saves-another strong performance for Vezina candidate)

1st Star-Kevin Klein, Rangers (goal-4th despite fractured thumb, six attempts, +1 in 25 shifts-18:44)

Key Stat: Blocked shots Devils 27 (Larsson 5) Rangers 13 (Yandle 3)

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Enough whine over McDonagh and Simmonds

King Henrik Stands Tall: Rangers Edge Caps 1-0 To Force Game 7

It’s time for the Rangers to respond to the challenge minus captain Ryan McDonagh. It starts with Henrik Lundqvist, who must return the favor against Devil adversary Cory Schneider tonight.

Since their match against the Flyers on Saturday, plenty has been said in the aftermath of Wayne Simmonds’ sucker punch that KO’d Ranger captain Ryan McDonagh. To their credit, the Rangers dug deep rallying back for an emotional 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers in the City of Brotherly Love. It was a critical two points earned thanks to Keith Yandle’s tying goal with 12.9 seconds left in regulation and then Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan each beating Steve Mason in the shootout.

As they enter another crucial match against a classic division rival in the overachieving Devils, the Rangers must turn the page. It won’t be easy minus McDonagh, who suffered a concussion from Simmonds’ short left hook with his glove on which led to his dismissal. At the time, I felt it wasn’t worth a match penalty. But in hindsight, the appropriate call was made. Given the nature of McDonagh’s injury, Simmonds got the rest of the day off- leaving both benches without a key player. With the Flyers opting to go full prevent mode, the Rangers took advantage despite four of their five defensemen logging over 24 minutes including 27:33 from game hero Yandle. He’ll now play a larger role until McDonagh recovers.

While the team turns its focus to tonight’s game against Hudson rival New Jersey, coach Alain Vigneault erupted at the league following the morning skate. Still hot over Simmonds not facing any discipline with the Flyers’ power forward in the lineup for Sunday’s loss to Washington, he went after the NHL Department of Player Safety. He even went full John Tortorella referencing if McDonagh was Sidney Crosby, would the league have ignored it entirely.

“What I didn’t expect was the reaction from the league,” Vigneault told reporters following team practice courtesy The Journal News’ Rick Carpinello. “An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down. I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens.”

He’s referring to Simmonds’ overreaction to getting tossed from the game. He lost his cool breaking a stick and tossing it in the direction of the officials. A no no. Per a tweet from the always outspoken New York Post’s Larry Brooks, he cites Rule 40.4 which states that any player who physically threatens an official by either throwing a piece of equipment or stick at them is subject to an automatic three-game suspension. Somewhat curiously, Rule 39.5 contradicts Rule 40.4 because it’s not viewed the same.

Perhaps the league felt the match and game misconduct were enough in this case. Whatever the reason, they decided not to further discipline Simmonds for his actions. It’s easy to forget that he reacted to McDonagh’s crosscheck to the head. Something first-year Flyer coach Dave Hakstol didn’t take kindly to. As Simmonds went for a check, McDonagh got his stick up and then gave him a whack in the helmet, earning two for hi-sticking and two for crosschecking. He reacted angrily with a gloved punch McDonagh never saw coming.

Sadly, some Flyers’ pundits accused him of “acting.” Well, he stayed down and is now hurt. The same fans and media are now using Crosby taking a Marc Staal two-handed to the back of the neck in the playoffs as their defense. Kind of ironic considering how much hate there is for Crosby and the interstate rival Pens. By the same token, Vigneault uses Crosby as a crutch when Staal wasn’t disciplined for that crosscheck in a series the Rangers came back and won.

The whole thing is nonsensical. The usual arguments on social media are silly. It’s time to stop complaining. What’s done is done. Whether the league got it right is another story. However, there isn’t anymore time to spend on McDonagh and Simmonds. The Rangers do face the Flyers once more at The Garden this Sunday. That could be interesting.

As for what’s important, it’s the remaining 30 games starting with the Devils tonight. A team they haven’t beaten losing twice in two tries including a deflating 3-2 loss on Feb. 2 in which they blew a one-goal third period lead. The other loss came way back on Oct. 18 with Ranger killer Lee Stempniak winning it in overtime. That was the first Devil victory under rookie coach John Hynes. Since, they’ve been a factor entering play tied in points (60) with the Pens but out of the second wildcard due to one less regulation/overtime win and two more games played. Both New Jersey and Pittsburgh are a point behind the Islanders for third in the Metro and trail the Rangers by four.

The Blueshirts must concern themselves with life without McDonagh. If the second period Saturday was any indication, it’ll be challenging. Right now, they have four right defensemen and two left. That means Vigneault must rotate one right D. For now, that includes rookie Dylan McIlrath, who he still won’t commit to which is puzzling. The Rangers will be recalling a defenseman from Hartford with either Raphael Diaz or Brady Skjei the likely candidates.

Yandle and Staal will receive big minutes as the two naturals lefts. Dan Girardi and Dan Boyle will be leaned on heavily. In his return after missing one game with a fractured thumb, Kevin Klein struggled in 19-plus minutes. He’s clearly not 100 percent. But then again, neither is Girardi who continues to play with a battered kneecap. The defense will be tested this week by the Devils, Pens on Wednesday and Kings Friday. Then the rematch with the Flyers is on Valentine’s Day.

They’re also still minus Rick Nash, whose bone bruise still isn’t fully recovered. He hasn’t played since Jan. 22 against Carolina. Astonishingly, his 33 points rank third in team scoring behind Derick Brassard (39) and Mats Zuccarello (38). J.T. Miller has picked up the slack with eight goals and an assist in the last nine games. Chris Kreider scored for a second straight game and is up to 11 goals and 25 points. He is on a line with Zuccarello and Derek Stepan. They’ll need to continue to contribute.

Jesper Fast has been a key contributor during this stretch. He had the key primary assist setting up Yandle’s tying goal. The second-year Swede quietly is playing well with four helpers over the last four with a plus-seven rating. He hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 11 but does other things including getting in on the forecheck and penalty killing which is still a work in progress on a struggling unit. However, Vigneault trusts him enough to keep him on the right wing with Brassard and Miller.

The lines remain intact. Kevin Hayes will continue to be between Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg. Hayes remains a disappointment with seven goals and hasn’t recorded one since Jan. 9. Lindberg has no goals in the last nine. However, his fight with Matt Read sparked the Ranger revival in Philly. He still isn’t fully trusted by the coaching staff. Stalberg kills penalties and has been a tireless worker. The fourth line will continue to be Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore and Daniel Paille. They must become more of a factor at 5-on-5. But it’ll take a total team effort with a tough schedule.

That means Henrik Lundqvist must be at his best. He’s facing Vezina candidate Cory Schneider later. He was outperformed by Schneider in the last meeting. If he can deliver a win, he’ll tie Martin Brodeur for the most wins in the first 11 seasons. He’s won 364 thus far with 33 coming against the Devils in 55 starts. For his career, he’s 33-15-7 with a 1.88 goals-against-average, .931 save percentage and eight shutouts versus New Jersey in the regular season. It would be fitting if he tied Brodeur tonight. Especially with the Devils set to honor the all-time winningest netminder tomorrow in Newark.

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Yandle’s tying goal with 12.9 seconds left sparks big shootout win over Broad Street Bullies

Dan Boyle, Steve Mason

Dan Boyle stands in front and watches a Keith Yandle shot beat Steve Mason for a huge tying goal with 12.9 seconds left. AP Photo by Tom Mihalek/Getty Images

It would’ve been easy for them to just give up after the loss of their captain. In an emotionally charged game that saw Wayne Simmonds knockout Ryan McDonagh literally with a left hook leading to a match penalty, the Rangers dug deep for a huge 3-2 comeback win over the Broad Street Bullies in a shootout.

The fireworks started early with Chris Kreider catching Simmonds with a tough hit. Seeking retribution, the Flyers’ power forward took a McDonagh crosscheck and went right after him. In a controversial play that refs Dave Lewis and Kelly Sutherland ruled a match which led to an automatic ejection, Simmonds punched McDonagh with his glove still on knocking him to the ice. The emotional leader stayed down leading to a furious Simmonds tossing his stick in protest. No doubt he’ll be getting a phone call from the NHL Department Player Of Safety.

Was his sucker punch worth a game? Probably not. But McDonagh left the game and didn’t return. So, both teams lost a key player. For a majority of the heated contest, especially in a lopsided second period that saw the Flyers get the game’s first goal and outshoot the Rangers 20-8, the Philly hosts held the territorial edge. They forechecked the heck out of a shorthanded Blueshirts who were down to five defensemen.

Minus McDonagh, it was ugly. Coach Alain Vigneault was forced to play Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Dan Boyle heavy minutes. They all received over 24 minutes with Yandle leading the way with 27:33. It was fitting that he got the tying goal with 12.9 seconds left in regulation. Especially after I critiqued him. More on that later.

In what was a oddly officiated game that saw McDonagh get two for crosschecking and two for hi-sticking along with Simmonds major, the Rangers wound up with a rare one-minute power play. Of course, they got nothing off it. Almost immediately, Henrik Lundqvist stoned Jakub Voracek on a breakaway getting a piece of his backhand. He also made two more saves afterwards keeping the game scoreless. Voracek never should’ve been on the ice. The Flyers didn’t have anyone serve the penalty. He came off the bench too soon. Bang up job there.

After surviving the early part of the second when the Flyers turned the heat up, a bogus “hooking” call on Dominic Moore led to what else but another penalty kill failure. Both Daniel Paille and Girardi left the front of the net vacated. Staal also wasn’t in the picture. The mass confusion allowed Flyers’ rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to fake and then snap a seeing eye shot through a maze of traffic past Lundqvist for his ninth on the power play, breaking a scoreless tie at 7:16 from Voracek and Claude Giroux.

Pinned in their own end for long stretches, the Rangers could only thank Lundqvist for keeping them close. He made 19 saves in the period. Things continued to escalate when Oscar Lindberg had enough of Scott Laughton and Matt Read. After being hauled down with of course no call, he took matters into his own hands knocking down Laughton to jeers and then getting into his first fight against Read. A wrestling match Read wanted no part of. Lindberg did get an extra two for a crosscheck handing the Flyers another power play.

This time, it was short lived. Thanks to a superb defensive read from Derek Stepan, he went around two Flyers drawing a Laughton hook 1:16 late later to even it up. Despite not making Steve Mason work for two periods, they still trailed by one. At that point, Mason had stopped all 15 shots. Aside from the usual Chris Kreider chance, he didn’t face much pressure.

The third was a different story. With the Flyers opting to sit back, they allowed the Rangers to dictate. With the Stepan line applying pressure, Kreider struck for a second consecutive game notching the tying goal at 3:16. Off a Mats Zuccarello cycle and pass back to Girardi at the point, the alternate captain got a wrist shot through that Kreider redirected in for his 11th. Girardi’s shot was headed wide until Kreider neatly deflected it over Mason for a important goal.

But with the Rangers searching for more, Kreider had a great opportunity in front with Mason down. Rather than shoot, he passed. It soon became another Ranger power play of toss the puck around like a grenade. Eventually, Gostisbehere hit Ryan White with a nice outlet allowing him to pull up and beat Lundqvist short side, allowing the Flyers to retake the lead 2:30 later. It looked like a crusher similar to the one Lundqvist gave up to Devils’ rookie Joseph Blandisi. Just about every Blueshirt fan was up in arms over that softy. Something that’s becoming a bad trend for our franchise netminder.

Even with White’s shot being the only one the Flyers got all period, it looked like it would stand up. They went into prevent mode. After struggling to get Lundqvist off, the Rangers finally got enough forecheck pressure to get a chance. Vigneault went with his best two offensive defensemen. Minus McDonagh, that’s Yandle and Boyle, who hasn’t done much since December. But this time, he was involved in the key sequence. Getting the puck to Jesper Fast, who passed across for a Yandle one-timer that found twine at 19:47. A huge tying goal with Boyle standing in front.

Given the circumstances with the Devils getting a point in a tough shootout loss to the Caps and the Isles losing badly to the Red Wings, it was imperative for the Rangers to come away with points. Had they not, the Flyers would’ve been up to 56. Of course, the Pens found a way to come back and stun the Panthers with three goals from Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby, further damaging my team’s chances at first place in our fantasy hockey league. It didn’t help that Martin Jones got pelted by normally low scoring Nashville. Yikes. Anyway, the Pens are up to 59 points as are the Devs. But Pittsburgh holds the edge for the second wildcard due to the tiebreaker. Detroit has 60 and is the first wildcard.

The three-on-three overtime was oddly played. The Flyers didn’t get one shot meaning they had one total shot in the final 25 minutes. Yet that one shot went in. Had they won, it would’ve been sickening. Especially with Simmonds injuring our captain. Who knows what McDonagh’s status is. Ironically, Yandle was also involved with former Ranger Michael Del Zotto. Each battled getting matching minors in the final minute. The Rangers got the lone two shots but didn’t score.

For the third time in the season series, the bitter rivals went to a shootout. It was the Blueshirts who prevailed for the second time thanks to goals from Zuccarello in Round 1 and Stepan in Round 2. Following Sam Gagner’s miss, Zuccarello completely faked out Mason tucking in a forehand for a 1-0 lead. Lundqvist then stuck with Giroux kicking out his low shot setting the stage for Stepan. A player who usually steps up in the clutch, he did just that skating in and going top shelf to give the Rangers a big win.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (his first scrap earns him this-thought it was great)

2nd Star-Mats Zuccarello, NYR (assist, sick shootout winner, +1 in 23 shifts-18:21-game seems to be coming)

1st Star-Keith Yandle, NYR (game-tying goal at 19:47-4th, 13 shot attempts, +1 in 33 shifts-27:33-proved his worth)

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Brodeur honored with statue, number retirement

NHL: Boston Bruins at New Jersey Devils

While the next few days are crucial to the Devils’ present playoff chase, they’ll also be celebrating a big part of their storied past by honoring legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur early next week with both a statue outside the Prudential Center (to be dedicated before the Devils’ game against the Rangers at MSG on Monday night) and by retiring his number 30 before Tuesday’s home game against the Oilers.  In fact, Brodeur will make an appearance before this afternoon’s game against the Capitals to drop the puck, kicking off a nearly weeklong celebration of the future Hall of Famer.  For many fans – including me – of a particular age demographic who didn’t see the early-day Devils, Brodeur was the only starting goaltender we ever watched for nearly two decades.  And for all Devil fans, while GM Lou Lamoriello was the brains of the Devils when they were perennial contenders, Brodeur was the face of that team.  Many big-name and key players came and went but Brodeur outlasted them all by many years including the only other players to have their numbers retired by the Devils…Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer.

Of course each of those men and Lou will be at the Rock on Tuesday to celebrate a player who’s career was peerless.  Just by virtue of having the most games, wins and shutouts in NHL history Brodeur presents a convincing argument for being the best goaltender of all time.  When you add in his three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and four Vezina trophies to the mix, that only enhances the argument for Marty.  Of course contemporary fans might still favor Dominik Hasek or Patrick Roy, while old-time fans might pick Ken Dryden, Glenn Hall or even Vladislav Tretiak.  While all were elite puck-stoppers, none were able to handle the puck like Brodeur – which also helped the forwards break out of the zone, helped reduce wear and tear on the defense and even added to the offense on occasion as evidenced by yet another NHL record Marty holds…most goals scored by a goaltender with three including his most famous one in the 1997 playoffs against his hometown Montreal Canadiens at the Continental Airlines Arena.

In fact Brodeur’s puckhandling famously resulted in the contreversial trapezoid rule being put in after the season-long lockout in 2004, where no goaltender was allowed to play the puck behind the goal line other than in a trapezoid-sized area directly behind the net.  Generally only great players get rules made to stop them and at Marty’s peak when the rule was enacted there still weren’t very many other goaltenders that could play the puck well.  In spite of that nonsense, Marty’s puckhandling was still an asset in the latter part of his career – even in 2012 when as a 40-year old he led an underrated Devils team to their fifth Stanley Cup final in seventeen years, though it was the team’s first appearance in the SCF since 2003.  Of course, 2003 represented the last of Marty’s three ultimate triumphs, which he finished with a flourish getting a 3-0 shutout over Anaheim in Game 7 at the CAA.   Yet, despite a playoffs where he had a 1.65 GAA. .934 save percentage and seven shutouts it was the other goalie (Jean-Sebastian Giguere) who would win the Conn Smythe that year.  While many fans were bitter about that diss, booing commissioner Gary Bettman – it was Marty who turned the boos back into cheers making a lifting motion, signifying the real important trophy that would be making its way onto the ice next.

One of the key attributes that seperated Brodeur from his peers was his durability.  Marty played 70+ games in an unfathomable twelve different seasons and didn’t suffer a major injury until 2008, fifteen years after his career began.  As if his 691 wins and 125 shutouts wasn’t impressive enough, his 1266 games played might actually be just as hard if not more so to top, particularly with more and more teams splitting games among their goaltenders.  Roy played 1029 games and never 70+ in even one season.  And that’s including losing nearly two full seasons’ worth of games due to three different lockouts (thanks again, Gary).  A goaltender would have to average 63 games played, 34 wins and 6 shutouts a season just to get close to Marty’s totals in all those categories.  For twenty straight seasons.

Another thing that seperated Marty from many of his peers was his cerebral level-headedness.  Back when goalies had a reputation for being nutty (just look at Roy for a prime example) Brodeur was a breath of fresh air for teammates, fans and media alike.  Perhaps that atitude was a reason Marty had so much more staying power, always keeping things in perspective and yet always looking for ways to get better at his craft.  Between work with his goaltending mentor Jacques Caron and his own desire to study the league and other players, Brodeur relied every bit as much on his brain as his skills, if not more so.  Given that work ethic it’s little surprise Marty’s getting into the management side of the business now.  Even as a player he was a resource Lou used, albeit surreptitiously as Marty recalled in his 2006 autobiography Beyond the Crease.  According to Brodeur:

Lou never asked for my opinion on a specific player he might be interested in acquiring, although he might have thrown out 10 names for my thoughts without letting me know which ones were of particular interest.

At one point Marty also required making a comment to Lou about how having centers who could win a key faceoff was invaluable during his Olympic experience, and then weeks later the GM traded for Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk, with the latter being that extra faceoff-winning center the Devils lacked after Bobby Holik’s departure.

I could talk all morning about Marty’s dominance as a player, heck I could talk about my own personal memories for the next little while.  One of the first Devils games I went to was in 1997 when Marty got one of his 125 shutouts, blanking the Bruins 2-0.  I still recall after the game the Bruins coach, some guy named Pat Burns who said something to the effect of we played very well and thought we should have scored a number of goals but Mr. Brodeur wouldn’t let us.  Of course Burns would later become a beloved Devils coach, winning the team’s third Cup in 2003 before his career and eventually his life got cut short by cancer.  Widow Line is going to be one of the many honored guests on Tuesday coming together for the number retirement ceremony, which will start at approximately 6:15.

I’ve already alluded to a couple of my other favorite Marty Memories, as I was in attendance for the 2003 Cup clincher despite a bad flu, though the team’s win made everything worth it that night.  I was at arguably Marty’s easiest shutout ever, the six-save blanking of the Leafs in 2000 that clinched a second-round series.  Of course, being a season ticket holder since before 2012 I was at Game 6 against the Rangers where a 40-year old Marty turned back the clock and kept a sagging Devils team level with the Rangers late before Adam Henrique’s quick strike in OT sent the Devils’ biggest rival home while Marty got one more trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and the fans in the stands got easily our biggest moment of joy since 2003.  Though I sit in section 120 now, I was in 208 for the first few seasons at the Rock but ironically by a fluke I was sitting in 120 during the St. Patrick’s Day game in 2009 where Marty broke Roy’s all-time record for victories with #552 while our own Patty (Patrik Elias) broke the team’s all-time scoring record.  I had wanted to get tickets behind Marty’s net for a game and got a few tickets in 120 before the game wound up having the meaning it did and wound up flipping a couple of extras for a huge profit on E-bay, while I got a birds-eye view of Marty cutting out the net after the Devils hung on for a 3-2 win against an ascending Blackhawks team.  And I was also there for Marty’s final game as a Devil in 2014 against the Bruins, again won by a 3-2 score when he saluted the crowd after the game, and that salute will be the pose used for the bronze statue which will be in Championship Plaza starting on Monday.

Ironically one of the key principals of the current Devil team – head coach John Hynes – admitted he’d never seen Brodeur play live.  Of course Hynes still has an appreciation for Marty’s significance as a player:

“It’s a big weekend,” Hynes said. “He’s one of the pillars of the organization. I think when you think of the New Jersey Devils, you think about a strong culture and a championship culture and excellent goaltending and defense and Marty was a huge part of that. It’s special to even to be part of it.”

I’ll recap the Marty weekend probably on Wednesday when I get a chance to breathe again after going back and forth to the Prudential Center on both Monday and Tuesday for the seperate ceremonies.  As a STH I certainly have no complaints with the Devils for the way they’ve handled not only this but also season ticket renewals (only a nominal – 1% – price increase if you renewed by a certain date which I did already).  Everyone knows what kind of night Tuesday’s going to be but Monday itself should be fun as well with that ceremony starting at 6 PM.  The team’s offering free food/drink and a viewing of the Devils-Ranger game inside the Rock after the dedication for all sth’s and their guests.  Of course with snow in the forecast Monday night I might not stay too long but hopefully Mother Nature doesn’t throw too much of a wrench into the next few days.

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