A day later, I’m still feeling the after effects of a thrilling Rangers 2-1 overtime win over the Penguins in Game 5 to eliminate them. Carl Hagelin scored at 10:52 of sudden death sending the Blueshirts into the second round where they’ll await the winner between the Capitals and Islanders who are facing off now for Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum.
Rather than do a recap, I’m just going to talk about my fun overtime experience. As anyone knows, playoff overtime can be mentally and physically draining not just on players but fans as well. We live and die with our teams. Anything can happen once it’s next goal wins. That’s exactly what my mindset was when the Pens and Rangers headed to OT for a second straight game.
I was pretty nervous. Why? Because as I told my brother Justin, “‘I want no part of a Game 6 against this team.'” As stingy as the Rangers were with Henrik Lundqvist allowing only eight goals in the tightly contested five-game series, it felt like the Pens had the momentum. They played their best hockey last night. Even if their lone goal came of the fluky variety with video review confirming Nick Spaling’s goal from Steve Downie and Sidney Crosby at 17:23 of the second that tied it.
The Pens played loose in the third. As that was happening, Justin and I were headed to celebrate a friend’s birthday at sports bar on the other side of the Island right by the Ferry. As we’re driving, we got the radio on. I’m listening pretty closely to Kenny Albert and Dave Maloney while Justin is calling friends and sending texts. Just from the tone, I could tell that Pittsburgh was dominating. At one point, shots were 12-2 with the Pens getting all sorts of chances only to be denied by Lundqvist, who was excellent saving 37 in another 2-1 victory. That was the magic line with the Rangers winning all four by that identical score.
The third included two goalposts. One hit by Crosby, who heard the boos and the all too predictable chant from angry fans after he drew a penalty on Dan Girardi. We didn’t see it. Of course, our fans felt he dove. You know what. I’m a little sick of a few of them. Crosby doesn’t gripe to officials much and outside of that elbow to Lundqvist which he embellished, he didn’t do anything illegal other than playing hard nosed. He finished with four points to lead his team in a low scoring series. The teams totaled 19 goals with the Rangers holding an 11-8 edge. That’s how closely fought it was.
Following Crosby’s goalpost, the Pens were all over the Rangers. You could sense it just from listening to Maloney. They had the momentum and attacked. Exactly what you’d expect from a desperate team trying to send the series back to Pittsburgh. The only reason there won’t be a Game 6 tomorrow is due to Lundqvist, who saved his best for last. He’s great when it comes to closing out teams at MSG. Last year, it was the Flyers in Round 1 by that same 2-1 score. In Round 3, it was the Canadiens with Lundqvist shutting them out 1-0. You could also point to his success in 2012 against the Senators and Capitals in deciding Game 7’s. How many goalies could come back from a serious injury and not miss a beat? That’s Hank.
Back to my story. As we got closer to our destination, J.T. Miller hit a goalpost too. The Rangers started to play better towards the tail end of regulation. The trouble was they couldn’t beat Marc-Andre Fleury who was outstanding again making 34 saves. For a goalie who takes it on the chin, he had a very good season leading the league with 10 shutouts. He was the biggest reason the Pens were here. Fleury’s play is why this series was so close. He kept last night 1-0 by making big saves including two on Derick Brassard and a third. He stoned Dan Boyle, who blew a golden opportunity with Fleury down fanning on a shot and slamming his stick against the boards.
That’s how tight it was. It was also the one game Evgeni Malkin was dangerous getting six shots. He played on the wing with Brandon Sutter centering the second line. Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston loaded up his top two lines and double shifted Crosby and Malkin. When the game reached OT, it felt like they were always out there.
At that point, we had made it to Pier 67 beating our friends. The game was on and we stood and watched. Justin asked me what I thought and I told him, “‘I got a bad feeling. I think Crosby gets the winner.'” His response was, “‘I hope not.'”
A few minutes in, my prediction almost came true. Following a tough Lundqvist save on a Patric Hornqvist shot, Crosby was in front and redirected a shot pass right into a sprawling Lundqvist’s pads which came together. Pretty nerve racking. Fortunately, the refs blew the play dead. The puck was still loose. So, it was a break. Phew.
Every shift was so intense. At any moment, someone could play the hero for either side. I stood there talking to Justin. My legs felt like jello. As it went on, the Rangers had a couple of close calls with a low shot giving Fleury trouble causing a rebound. The reaction at the bar was the nervous “Ohhhhh.” It wasn’t too crowded. This wasn’t a big place. So, you had maybe 20 people with most rooting for the Rangers. The lone exception was this Pens fan who stood out with a classic road Penguins throwback Lemieux jersey. Which Justin praised him on. You always have that one fan from the other side at these places. It makes it more interesting. What if his team had won?
There was also a nervy moment when Sutter came in on a rush and dropped the puck for Blake Comeau in the slot. A perfect chance to win it. But his shot never made it. It was blocked into the corner. I don’t remember who but if I had to guess, probably Dan Girardi who had a excellent series. Danny G is a warrior. He’s the heart of this team. That’s why I can’t stand the fans who still don’t like him. Whether it be his contract or the Kings series, they need to shut up and appreciate how valuable he is. Signed by Slats as an undrafted free agent. I tweeted the other day that that was one of his best moves. A turning point for this franchise. Look how competitive they’ve been since.
Following a stoppage for the 10-minute break so they could clean the ice, Ryan McDonagh got a puck in deep which was kept alive by Dominic Moore. Talk about underrated. The fourth line center cycled it behind the Pens’ net before getting checked. Hagelin then retrieved the puck and skated to the right circle where he took a good wrist shot that beat Fleury with Moore distracting him in front.
Game over! The bar went wild. We’re all high fiving and a “Let’s Go Rangers, Let’s Go Rangers” chant breaks out following the “GOAAAAALLLL, GOAAAAAALLLL” song. Justin gives me a hug and says, “‘I can’t believe they won like that.'”
It was pretty cool the way it happened. So much more fun at the bar than at home like we were for Purple Hayes. The best way I can describe it is it’s both jubilation and relief. You’re glad they won because if it goes back to Pittsburgh for Game 6, anything’s possible. We knew that from last year. I was glad to hear Marc Staal echo my sentiment about not wanting to get on a plane and go back to Pittsburgh.
Now, they get to rest. Something that should be beneficial for Mats Zuccarello, who took a McDonagh shot to the side of his helmet. He didn’t return with the Rangers taking every precaution. There’s no doubt they’re a different team without him. But still, Alain Vigneault elevated Martin St. Louis to the top line and double shifted Jesper Fast. Both played well. Especially St. Louis, who didn’t have a goal in the series. He had his best game with six shots. It’s worth pointing out that it was his play in Game 4 that allowed Hayes to win it. Hopefully, that’s a good sign moving forward.
Kevin Klein didn’t play in the first round. Now, he’ll have a couple of more days to get ready for Round 2. If he is ready, a big thank you to Matt Hunwick, who was steady in his place. The vet deserves a ton of credit. As Vigneault likes to say, they aren’t here without good depth.
I’m just glad they got it done. For once, the Rangers closed a team out without stressing everyone out. They didn’t need seven games like last year’s first round before finishing the Flyers. It’s better for everyone.
Oh. And our friends including the birthday gal finally showed up at 11:30 and we had a great time. Time well spent. All worth it.