My Overtime Experience

Happy Hags: Overtime hero Carl Hagelin celebrates his series clinching goal that eliminated the Penguins in Game 5. The Rangers now await the winner between the Capitals and Islanders.  AP Photo by Julie Jacobson/Getty Images

Happy Hags: Overtime hero Carl Hagelin celebrates his series clinching goal that eliminated the Penguins in Game 5. The Rangers now await the winner between the Capitals and Islanders.
AP Photo by Julie Jacobson/Getty Images

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.

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Video Of Day: McDonagh Mic’d Up For Hagelin’s Series Clincher

How cool is it for a hockey play when one of their teammates scores in overtime to wrap up a series? Here’s how it looked through the eyes of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh when Carl Hagelin scored at 10:52 of overtime beating Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot short side to eliminate the Penguins 2-1 at a rocking MSG.

That level of excitement is what makes the NHL Playoffs so great for players, coaches and fans. There’s nothing quite like playoff overtime. Where anything can happen. The Rangers hadn’t won two consecutive OT games in the postseason since 1971. The magic score was 2-1 in Games 4 and 5 with Kevin Hayes and Hagelin playing the heroes.

My favorite part of this video is seeing McDonagh shake hands with the Pens including Fleury and Sidney Crosby and hearing the Pens captain say, “Great series. Good luck.”

When it’s over, the camera takes us inside the Rangers locker room where Hagelin is presented the Broadway Hat for his heroics. At the tail end as he fills the fourth piece out of 16 to the Stanley Cup, we overhear a teammate call him, “Carlos.” So, now fans are referring to him as Carlos.

Pretty cool for the most under appreciated Ranger. With two goals in the first round, that gives Hagelin 12 since the 2013 playoffs. The most for any Blueshirt. He went ahead of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan, who each are tied with 11.

”The guy is at his best in games like that,” teammate J.T. Miller said. Who could disagree? At age 26, the hard working Swede has been a constant during their success. Not bad for a guy taken 168th overall in the sixth round in 2007. Four years at Michigan and some fine tuning in Hartford prepared him well.

”It’s unbelievable,” Hagelin said. ”One of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced on the ice. An unbelievable feeling.”

Well deserved Hags.

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Kuznetsov, Capitals put Islanders on brink

Evgeny Kuznetsov had the breakout performance with two goals and an assist highlighting the Caps' 5-1 win over the Isles in Game 5.  AP Photo by Alex Brandon/Getty Images

Evgeny Kuznetsov had the breakout performance with two goals and an assist highlighting the Caps’ 5-1 win over the Isles in Game 5.
AP Photo by Alex Brandon/Getty Images

The Islanders season is on the line. They were put on the brink by the Capitals in a 5-1 loss in Game 5 at Verizon Center. It wasn’t star tandem Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom that did them in. Instead, rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov was the breakout star scoring his first two career playoff goals and adding a assist for a three-point night.

”Everybody wants to score the goal,” Kuznetsov said. ”But if you do the right things, stay in the plan, all the goals, passes and Cups come. One guy never (wins) the Cup. Only (teams) win the Cup.”

It was the 22-year old Russian forward who delivered a big performance to give the Caps a 3-2 series lead. For the Islanders, that could mean playing for the final time at Nassau Coliseum. Until Backstrom won Game 4 in overtime to square the series, that possibility didn’t exist.

”We know what it means to our fans. … It just can’t be the last game for them,” Thomas Hickey said. ”So we’re going to come with our heads on and be ready to play, and make sure that it’s not the last game there. We’ve got to find a way.”

They’ll have to play much better to force a deciding Game 7. Oddly enough, it started well with Josh Bailey getting the game’s first goal when he took a John Tavares feed and beat Braden Holtby at 5:48. Nick Leddy added a secondary helper.

Bailey’s goal followed rookie Anders Lee fighting Tom Wilson as retribution for his hit that injured Lubomir Visnovsky. Lee did alright getting a couple of early shots in. But Wilson earned the decision with some hey makers.

A few minutes later, Kuznetsov showed some skill batting a Marcus Johansson rebound out of mid-air for his first to even the score. The game remained tied nearly halfway through the second. It was the play of Jaroslav Halak that kept the Isles tied. Facing a Caps’ onslaught, he made some big stops robbing John Carlson and denying Kuznetsov.

The turning point came on the next shift. Halak made another strong save on Troy Brouwer but before he could fully cover the puck, Brouwer freed it loose and went around the net and centered for Karl Alzner, who one-timed the puck into an open side for the go-ahead tally at 10:31.

Despite being outplayed severely and outshot 18-8, the Isles still trailed by one after two. Even with Halak tripping up Alex Ovechkin to hand the Caps a full two-minute power play to start the third, the Islanders killed it off. However, they were unable to grab momentum. Instead, a Halak turnover resulted in Brooks Laich rebounding home a Jay Beagle shot from Jason Chimera at 2:42 making it 3-1.

”Huge,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. ”That got the ball rolling, in terms of momentum and stuff.”

It only got worse. Following a clean takeout by Joel Ward on Casey Cizikas, Matt Niskanen sent Kuznetsov in on a breakaway and he deked Halak tucking a backhand in for his second of the game. Chimera would add further insult taking a Johansson feed and beating Halak through the wickets to chase him.

”For whatever reason tonight, the brain wasn’t working. We just turned pucks over and gave it right to them, and they came back the other way,” explained Isles’ coach Jack Capuano said after replacing Halak with Michal Neuvirth. ”I wanted to let him know that it has nothing to do with him.”

At that point, the Isles lost their cool. Matt Martin was given a misconduct for complaining to the officials. Following that, Cal Clutterbuck slashed Laich and was assessed a misconduct ending his night.

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. The Isles will have to play desperate hockey to avoid elimination. They don’t want it to end in their historic barn. Feed off the energy of what will be a wild atmosphere and they can force a seventh game. Anything can happen if they get there. We’ll see what they’re made of.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Jason Chimera, WSH (goal, assist, 4 SOG, 3 hits, +3 in 26 shifts-15:52)

2nd Star-Karl Alzner, WSH (game-winner, assist, +3 in 26 shifts-16:50)

1st Star-Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH (2 goals, assist, 7 SOG, +3 in 23 shifts-16:28)

Notes: Hits were 49-49. Johnny Boychuk led all skaters with 10. Brooks Orpik had six. The Isles got destroyed on faceoffs with the Caps going 31-for-49 led by Backstrom (11-and-3). Tavares was ineffective losing 11-of-15. … Halak finished with 30 saves and backup Neuvirth turned aside all six in relief. Holtby made 22. … The Isles continued to struggle on the power play going 0-for-2. They’re 0-for-12 in the series. The Caps went 0-for-3. They’re 1-for-10 overall.

Reinhart Struggles, Grabovski Returns: Making his playoff debut, former number one pick Griffin Reinhart had a tough night finishing minus-two in 20 shifts (12:42). He dressed in place of Visnovsky. … Mikhail Grabovski returned to the lineup. Dressing in place of Brock Nelson, he took 21 shifts (15:38) with three shots, two hits and went 5-and-6 on draws.

Key Stats

SOG Isles 23 Caps 41

Shot Attempts Isles 60  Caps 67

Blocked Shots Isles 16 (Leddy 3) Caps 18 (Carlson 5)

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Purple Hayes Delivers The OT Winner

Purple Hayes: Rookie Kevin Hayes celebrates his first career playoff goal. He scored the OT winner at 3:14 to send the Rangers to a 2-1 Game 4 win over the Penguins.  AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

Purple Hayes: Rookie Kevin Hayes celebrates his first career playoff goal. He scored the OT winner at 3:14 to send the Rangers to a 2-1 Game 4 win over the Penguins.
AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

Kevin Hayes needed a goal. At least that was the sentiment expressed by MSG’s Steve Valiquette. One I agreed with. Hayes’ first career playoff goal couldn’t have come at a better time. His goal at 3:14 of overtime lifted the Rangers to a 2-1 Game 4 win over the Penguins allowing them to sweep the two at Consol Energy Center.

”It will be a memorable one, for sure,” the OT hero said in the winning locker room to MSG’s John Giannone while wearing the Broadway Hat.

”I thought two of our guys worked hard and got the puck to the net and it just kind of ended up on my stick,” he added.

They now lead the first round series 3-1. Indeed, the Rangers will have a chance to wrap it up Friday at home for a Game 5. If they can, it would be that short series they’re looking for. Especially with what potentially lies ahead. That said, they must realize the Pens will come with everything. They’re facing elimination and in the identical position the Rangers were in last year. They’ll need their best effort to eliminate Pittsburgh.

Tonight wasn’t good enough. But they got away with it. Dominated by a determined Pens in as lopsided a first period as they’ve played all season, the Rangers quickly fell behind. Off some strong play from Sidney Crosby, he helped Paul Martin get a loose puck to the point where Ben Lovejoy fired a wrist shot that Patric Hornqvist deflected past Henrik Lundqvist at 2:22 to give the Pens a 1-0 lead.

Even with Steve Downie handing them a power play 17 seconds later, the Rangers power kill struck. They couldn’t get anything against an aggressive Penguin penalty kill. Astonishingly, the Rangers went through a long stretch where they didn’t register a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury. In fact, it took them over 10 minutes before Marc Staal got a shot. Sadly, it was one of two the entire period.

That wasn’t the only problem. The Pens were much hungrier to the puck and generated some tough shots on Lundqvist. Fortunately, he was up to the task turning aside seven of eight shots.

Uncharacteristically, Derek Stepan took a bad penalty tripping up Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole to rev a pumped up Pens crowd even further. Despite good set up time, the home team was unable to get any shots through. That included a nice set up for Evgeni Malkin, whose one-timer was high and wide. That’s the kind of series it’s been for Malkin who again was held off the score sheet.

Blake Comeau handed the Blueshirts another power kill which was so hideous, it made one wonder which team had the power play. The Pens have done the job on the penalty kill. Despite being shorthanded 17 times, they’ve killed off 15. The only Ranger chance came off a broken play with Rick Nash unable to control a loose puck sending it wide.

As usual, Max Lapierre was at his best drawing a phantom rough on Dominic Moore. On this one, Moore hit him in the chest and Lapierre dropped his stick like he was shot and fell to the ice while covering up his face. That it duped refs Francois St. Laurent and Kevin Pollock was sad. Be that as it may, the Rangers calmly killed it off to limp to the locker room only down one.

When the period concluded, coach Alain Vigneault was incensed. He was still on the refs for the call. You knew he was hot already due to his team’s lethargic play. Something Marc Staal referenced. In the post game, Staal indicated that Vigneault channeled his inner Tort letting them have at intermission.

At the start of the second, they immediately responded by getting the puck into the Pittsburgh zone. Martin St. Louis drew a boarding minor on Cole for the Rangers’ third power play. At least they were able to get some attack time. It wasn’t enough and they were way too predictable.

Following a Pens kill, Moore got nabbed for his second penalty. This one was legit as he tripped up David Perron. But as has become common in the series, Pittsburgh wasn’t able to take advantage. With an 0-for-3 showing, their power play is 2-for-10. Both power play goals came in their Game 2 win. They went 0-for-5 at home.

Once they settled in, the Rangers began making crisper decisions to come out of their own end and through the neutral zone. Starting to use their speed, they began attacking the Pens. Able to finally sustain a consistent cycle, they forced Fleury into some tough saves. That included a steal in the neutral zone leading to a St. Louis chance but his wrist shot from the right circle was gloved by Fleury. For the fourth consecutive game, he gave his team a chance finishing with 32 saves.

After being badly outplayed and outshot, the Rangers took control outshooting the Pens 13-8 in the middle stanza. Based on how well Fleury was seeing the puck, they had to get a dirty goal. It finally happened thanks to a great Ryan McDonagh pinch. Joining the rush, he dropped the puck for Nash, who wisely sent a low tricky show on Fleury that the Pens goalie couldn’t handle. With the puck on the goal line, Derick Brassard was able to stuff it in for his series leading third goal to even it with 2:45 left.

The third was easily the best of the series. Both teams skated hard, attacked and played tight defensively. Of course, the goalies did their job as well. Fleury’s best save came on Nash, who let go of a good shot in the slot that Fleury kicked out with under three minutes left in regulation. After denying Malkin on the backhand earlier, Lundqvist had an anxious moment. After Hornqvist sent a puck in, he came way out and made a diving save. With Lundqvist down, Dan Girardi rescued him clearing it out of trouble with over 30 seconds left.

”If you look at the way the whole series has gone, it’s just a fine line,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.

OT Hero: Kevin Hayes celebrates his OT winner with Carl Hagelin and Keith Yandle. AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

OT Hero: Kevin Hayes celebrates his OT winner with Carl Hagelin and Keith Yandle.
AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

Ironically, I made my OT wish. It was for a Hayes winner. He obliged. Having missed a great chance in regulation, the 22-year old rookie was able to score his first career playoff goal in dramatic fashion. Off a cycle, Carl Hagelin sent the puck back to Matt Hunwick, who kept it in and sent it down to St. Louis behind the net. He then turned and beat Ben Lovejoy centering in front for Hayes. With the puck loose, Hagelin nearly put it in. But it was Hayes who finally stuffed it home for the dramatic winner.

”This was his best game of the series,” Vigneault said. ”We need him to play the way he’s played for us throughout the year. Obviously, this is playoff hockey on a bigger stage, but he’s learning how to deal with it.”

”There’s not a lot of room on the ice and both teams are battling extremely hard,” Vigneault added. ”We were able to tie it up in the second and get it done in overtime.”

Now they’ll attempt to wrap it up tomorrow. It will have to be their best effort to oust the Pens.

Marc-Andre Fleury can only watch along with fallen teammates as Kevin Hayes scores the OT winner. AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

Marc-Andre Fleury can only watch along with fallen teammates as Kevin Hayes scores the OT winner.
AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Patric Hornqvist, PIT (goal-2nd of series, 3 SOG, 5 attempts, 3 hits in 26 shifts-19:28)

2nd Star-Derick Brassard, NYR (series leading 3rd goal, 3 SOG, 5 attempts, 5 hits, +1 in 24 shifts-18:04-always steps up in playoffs)

1st Star-Kevin Hayes, NYR (1st career playoff goal-scored at 3:14 of OT, 3 SOG, 3 hits, +1 in 23 shifts-15:39)

Quotable

”We need to make sure that we’re desperate. Really the only thing you can do is go out there, be desperate and get it back here.”-Pens captain Sidney Crosby on facing elimination

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Sabres sign Eichel’s college teammate Evan Rodrigues

In lieu of the Sabres finishing second in Saturday’s NHL Draft Lottery, the club signed Evan Rodrigues earlier today to a two-year entry level contract. A teammate of expected second overall pick Jack Eichel, Rodrigues tallied 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points in his senior year for Boston University.

“Evan is a very talented young player who has displayed exceptional growth during his four years at BU,” Buffalo GM Tim Murray said of Rodrigues who totaled 121 points (42-79-121) over a four-year collegiate career. “We look forward to adding another talented piece to our group.”

In his freshman year, the 18-year old Eichel didn’t disappoint leading the nation with 71 points (26-45-71) and a plus-51 rating to become only the second freshman in the 35-year history to win the Hobey Baker Award. He led the Terriers to the Frozen Four Championship where they lost a heart breaker to Providence 4-3.

Expected to be selected number two overall by the Sabres following the Oilers’ selection of prize prospect Connor McDavid, Eichel still hasn’t made a decision on his future. Will he spur the Sabres and return to school for one more year or be swayed by Rodrigues’ addition and turn pro?

Buffalo fans are hoping Eichel comes. With Sam Reinhart likely ready following another junior season at Kootenay that included helping Canada win the gold medal at the U20 World Junior Championship, the Sabres could be vastly improved.

Might they be in on college free agent goalie Matt O’Connor? Eichel’s BU teammate who went 25-4-4 with a 2.18 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage. With several teams interested including the Rangers, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Rangers need killer instinct against chippy Pens

Keith Yandle battles Sidney Crosby during Game 2. AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

Keith Yandle battles Sidney Crosby during Game 2.
AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar/Getty Images

When the puck drops for Game 4 at Consol Energy Center, the Rangers will look to win their second straight road game from the Penguins. If they can, they’ll be able to return to MSG for Game 5 Friday with a chance to close out the first round series.

It would be wise for them to show some killer instinct against the chippy Pens. Unable to beat Henrik Lundqvist without going to the dirty areas, Pittsburgh will continue to make life difficult on Lundqvist. Legally or illegally, they’ll take it as far as they can. He’ll continue to see Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz in his crease. Even if that means post whistle as Crosby reminded by elbowing Lundqvist, who embellished despite some of our fans’ complaints.

So far in the series, all six of the Pens’ goals have come from in front. That included Crosby’s two-goal performance in their lone win in Game 2. Patric Hornqvist was able to finally beat Lundqvist with 6:48 remaining in Game 3 making the final six minutes nerve racking. The Pens pushed hard but were unable to get the equalizer.

In order for the Rangers to come out victorious tonight, they’ll have to match the Pens’ intensity. Pittsburgh will be desperate. They don’t want to go down 3-1 with Game 5 at MSG. Even if they are aware that you can come back from that deficit as the Rangers proved against them last year, it’s still not an enviable position to be in. Expect them to do whatever it takes to even the series.

That’s why the Rangers must be ready for anything. They don’t want a drag it out long seven-game series in this round. Last year against a similar opponent, they made life harder on themselves by winning one game and losing the next against the Flyers. Eventually, they advanced with a 2-1 win in Game 7. That shouldn’t be the recipe. Despite their recent success closing out series, it’s not advisable.

Even without star defenseman Kris Letang, the Pens still boast two of the game’s best players in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Though Malkin has looked out of sorts, he can awaken at any moment. The Rangers have held the lanky Russian without a point and four shots in the first three games. Crosby has been better posting two goals and an assist tying him with Chris Kunitz for the Pens’ team lead with three points.

Brandon Sutter has been effective with a goal and assist while doing a solid job on the forecheck and defensively. He’s overlooked along with pesky Max Lapierre, who plays a hard nosed game. You don’t have to like him but he’s effective. Blake Comeau remains a pain in the ass. For some reason, he’s the kind of player that gives our team fits. Ian Cole’s been a bright spot on the Pens’ D with two helpers while playing a strong two-way game. Paul Martin has been a workhorse.

By now, the Blueshirts know it won’t come easy against Marc-Andre Fleury. The much maligned Penguins netminder has followed up a good regular season in which he led the league with 10 shutouts with a strong performance. Thus far, he’s allowed seven goals on 90 shots posting a 2.36 goals-against-average and .922 save percentage.

By comparison, Lundqvist has permitted one less goal stopping 65 of 71 shots. Obviously, he’s got the better defense. Aided by stingy top pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi with Marc Staal on the second pair and Keith Yandle on the third pair, he hasn’t had as heavy a workload. However, the Pens have gotten traffic when they’ve had attack time. It hasn’t been consistent due to the Rangers’ puck possession.

Entering tonight, no Ranger has stood out offensively. At present, Rick Nash is tied with Girardi for the club lead with three points. The top finisher and point getter during the season has found little space in what’s become a tight checking series with refs letting go of obstruction. Nash has had good puck possession but is still searching for that breakout postseason performance. It would be nice if it happens later.

Yandle has provided a spark with two assists including a wonderful pass that caught the Pens in a change to set up Carl Hagelin’s breakaway goal. He also set up McDonagh’s game-winning power play goal in Game 1. The former Coyote has been a factor. He’s settled in and is playing well on both sides of the puck. Just ask Crosby after he was impeded by Yandle on one rush. So far, so good for Glen Sather’s big deadline acquisition.

Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello have been excellent. Brassard leads the team with two goals and has been solid in the faceoff dot going 36-and-27. Zuccarello has been his usual feisty self mixing it up with the Pens while coming hard on the back check. He also has two helpers and his speed has been a factor.

Derek Stepan has been fine. His big performance came in Game 2 with a goal and helper. Of course, you’d like it to be in a win. Defensively reliable with Alain Vigneault using him shorthanded with Nash when he’s not in the penalty box, Stepan is a heady two-way pivot that continues to grow. J.T. Miller didn’t see much time late in Game 3 with Vigneault opting for Jesper Fast instead. However, he’s been involved leading all Ranger forwards with 10 hits. Chris Kreider finally surfaced with his crucial game decider getting to Staal’s rebound. He be even better.

Maybe Kevin Hayes finally gets his first postseason goal or point. After an ineffective Game 2, he was much better. More noticeable, he generated chances on the forecheck and looked more like the player we saw in the second half. It was his line mate Hagelin who had a great game scoring and wreaking havoc with his game breaking speed.

The Rangers need more out of Martin St. Louis. He remains without a point with only three shots. He did have some opportunities in Game 3 but didn’t finish. Similar to the third period of Game 2 when he had a great chance to tie it. At some point, he needs to contribute. Especially if Vigneault’s going to continue to use him on the power play.

Speaking of which, if the power play was better it would be easier. The Rangers are 2-for-14. They only had two opportunities on Monday. The Pens are 2-for-7 with both their power play goals coming in Game 2. The Rangers have had twice as many due to their speed and the Pens lack of discipline. Until they make them pay, they’ll continue to take liberties.

The Rangers have gotten steady play from Dominic Moore, who has anchored an effective fourth line with Fast and fan favorite Tanner Glass. Say what you will but Glass has played well in this series. He’s picked his spots finishing checks and been solid. As usual, Moore has been effective when he’s had the chance to forecheck with his line mates. Fast hasn’t looked out of place with Vigneault trusting him in the final minutes to protect a lead.

There hasn’t been a need for deterrent James Sheppard, who still is a good insurance policy. Figure him to get in if the Rangers advance and face the Islanders in the second round. They have their own work to do with that series all tied with Game 5 in D.C. tomorrow.

Kevin Klein is getting closer to returning. As soon as he’s ready, Vigneault will insert him. It’ll be for Matt Hunwick, whose ice-time has been cut. In 18 shifts, he received 9:44. Despite Dan Boyle’s adventures in the D zone, he’s still someone the coach trusts. He played over 20 minutes and made a couple of good defensive plays late in Game 3. Boyle can still be an asset if he contributes offensively and figures it out on the man-advantage.

For a team that scored well most of the season, the Rangers have found it tougher. When they have had the puck in the Pens’ zone, they have generated plenty of chances. It’s about breaking through. They haven’t had an easy game yet. As Lundqvist reminded following Game 2, they’re facing a really good team. That said, it’s still a opponent that lacks their defensive acumen. It’s time to put them away.

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No hearing for Tom Wilson on Visnovsky hit, Grabovski could play in Game 5

The NHL decided against having a hearing for Tom Wilson following his hit on Lubomir Visnovsky that injured the Islanders defenseman in the second period of Game 4. The Caps’ forward charged Visnovsky going back to the penalty box. Unfortunately, Visnovsky didn’t return playing only 7:50 in 10 shifts.

The Islanders aren’t too happy with Wilson. Kyle Okposo called him “an idiot.” Isles’ captain John Tavares said, “we could’ve hit their guys like that but we play within the rules.”

With Visnovsky unlikely for Game 5 tomorrow, Isles’ coach Jack Capuano hasn’t indicated if Griffin Reinhart will make his playoff debut if Visnovsky can’t go. However, he said there’s a “real good chance” Mikhail Grabovski plays Thursday.

The former Cap who signed with the Isles last summer missed the final two months due to a concussion. A play making pivot, he could add some needed offense. With goals hard to come by, he’d be a good addition to the lineup. If he plays, figure him to slot in for Tyler Kennedy on the third line.

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