Ducks quack the Rangers in third period outburst 6-3

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Ryan Getzlaf recorded his first four assist game of the season highlighting a Ducks 6-3 quacking of the Rangers in a game Gordon Bombay would’ve been proud of. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Anaheim Ducks.

Quack. Quack. Quack. Mr. Ducksworth. Oh how I miss those fun quirky days of The Mighty Ducks. That’s how hockey came to Anaheim. It’s almost like they want to forget that part of their history. They’re now the Ducks. But they’ll always be the Mighty Ducks to me or any hockey fans who have seen the Disney movie starring Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson. With coach Gordon Bombay telling Charlie Conway to take your best shot on the triple deke he’s been practicing against the evil Hawks.

If only the Rangers could borrow that Hollywood movie script after tonight’s debacle. They fell to the real NHL Ducks 6-3 at The Pond. Yes. That’s what I still refer to it. Not after a company that makes my car even though I love Honda. They were brutally terrible in a ugly loss. It was the second game of a back-to-back in California. But this was self inflicted.

In what was billed as Henrik Lundqvist’s return, the Rangers rolled out the welcoming mat for their number one goaltender by having a baker’s dozen of turnovers and blown assignments. This was bad. Lundqvist allowed five goals on 33 shots. None of what I would consider bad. He must’ve felt like going back on vacation. They didn’t treat Prince Raanta this way.

You have to wonder why they play fundamentally poorer in front of Lundqvist. If it continues, maybe they should seriously consider Raanta in Montreal when the first round starts. That’s assuming they remain in the first wildcard and don’t go in the tank completely. They need two points to guarantee the playoffs. That’s a certainty. Outside of that, I have no clue how far they’ll go with puzzling performances like this and the incomplete against the Islanders. Those are playoff caliber teams. Even if they don’t make it, the Islanders play hard and don’t mail it in.

There won’t be any blame game at Dan Girardi or Tanner Glass. Alain Vigneault ended that narrative by resting Girardi in the second game and reinserting Kevin Klein. He got his turn with Ryan McDonagh. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes. So, that’s a plus. He got over 20 minutes including 1:36 shorthanded in 25 shifts going even. However, both Klein and McDonagh were out for a Ducks power play goal from that jerk Ryan Kesler. But it was a nice deflection from distance that somehow found the back of the net tying the game at two in the first period. They reviewed it for a high stick but it looked like Kesler’s stick was crossbar height which made it a good goal.

The Ranger special teams were another sore spot. They allowed a power play goal in three chances to a bad Anaheim man-advantage and gave up a shorthanded goal to known offensive defenseman Josh Manson. The Hansons would be proud. So would father and former NHLer Dave.

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There also was a hellacious third period in which the Ducks dominated outscoring the Rangers 3-0. That included a odd go-ahead goal from iron man Andrew Cogliano off a Kesler face-off in which he went forward getting the shot on goal to surprise Lundqvist. Apparently it also fazed Brendan Smith and Mats Zuccarello, who didn’t bother to pick up Cogliano. Kesler beat Derek Stepan with the odd play resulting in a bizarre game-winner.

A couple of minutes later, Ryan Getzlaf picked the pocket of Michael Grabner by lifting his stick. The Ducks captain went the other way and helped set up a back breaking goal from Patrick Eaves. Getzlaf absolutely dominated recording four assists. He has been on fire lately. After a bad first half, the Anaheim captain is showing why he’s still a dangerous player. The four assists give him 52 on the season. In case you’re wondering, those 52 helpers are three less than Rangers scoring leader Mats Zuccarello (55). I was wrong about Getzlaf. He’s still got it. The pass he made to Manson for the shorthanded goal was a beauty.

Nick Ritchie added an empty netter with 1:38 to go. It made a winner of Jonathan Bernier. The former Leaf made 25 saves to pick up another victory. Given the current state of my goalies who are imploding at the wrong time, I regret not making that move. Lundqvist is now in the same company as Martin Jones and Corey Crawford. My team went from first to fourth in less than a week. So much for finishing in the money.

So, was there anything positive to take? Well, the Rangers started okay. You had Smith go back at Corey Perry eventually dropping the gloves in an entertaining scrap. Perry got the extra penalty for holding the stick. But the power play didn’t capitalize. I really like how Smith plays. He is engaged emotionally and physically. A welcome change from an otherwise weak blue line that rarely goes back at opponents. Smith also got a phantom trip which led to Kesler’s power play goal. The kind of weak call that is agonizing in a league where programmed refs ignore blatant slashes, cross checks, elbows and spears from untouchable superstars.

Rick Nash continued his hot play scoring in a fourth consecutive game. He was able to beat Bernier five-hole for his 22nd from Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad. Staal made a great read following killing off a Nash penalty. He led Nash with a perfect outlet off the side boards that allowed the speedy power forward to break in and get off a seeing eye shot that went through Bernier for the first goal of the game. It’s great to see Nash getting rewarded. This is encouraging moving forward.

The lead was short lived. It only took 3:01 later for the Ducks to answer back. Eaves scored the first of two when he was able to beat Nick Holden to a rebound of a Cam Fowler one-timer for his career best 26th. At one point, Eaves played under his father Mike at the 2004 World Juniors helping Team USA win their first ever gold medal at the IIHF Under 20 tournament in Finland. Now, he’s having his best season upping his goal total to 27 with the Stars and now Ducks following a trade. I always liked him.

With the game knotted, Stepan scored for a second straight night when he was the recipient of a wonderful cross-ice feed from USA buddy Chris Kreider for his 15th at 14:32. The top line took full advantage of a Ducks turnover with Zuccarello and Kreider combining to set up Stepan for the goal of the night from a Rangers perspective. Here’s how it sounded on MSG from Kenny Albert and Joe Micheletti:

It really was a well constructed play following the Manson turnover. It’s why I questioned Alain Vigneault breaking up Stepan, Kreider and Zuccarello a couple of months ago. It never made any sense. That cohesive trio carried the team for a month when Zibanejad was out with a broken leg. Not surprisingly, Stepan’s starting to score again since they were put back together. Zuccarello leads the team in scoring. Kreider had his most assertive game in a while. He was dangerous throughout using his game breaking speed to get four shots on goal and some high quality chances. They were easily the best offensive line but wound up on the minus ledger going a combined minus-five. They probably were caught on for the empty net goal. Plus that Kesler odd draw resulting in Cogliano’s winner. The other goal was the shorthanded one.

The game got away from them after Kesler’s power play redirect. He was his ornery self picking on Zuccarello, who jawed with him post-whistle. Zuccarello also went for a big hit on Kesler but missed leading to a dangerous Ducks chance which Lundqvist bailed him out on with a huge save. The sad part about the game was Anaheim got these kind of chances most of the night. The defense was much worse than Saturday. They left too many holes. It could’ve easily been 7 or 8 goals.

Following Getzlaf’s great pass on Manson’s shorty, rookie Brady Skjei continued his amazing play by converting on a one-timer for a nice birthday gift off a nice feed from Jimmy Vesey. Thinking back to how the Ducks got that shorthanded goal, it was Zibanejad’s fault entirely. He made a cute play forcing a pass that McDonagh had no chance on. He also was lazy on the back check not picking up Manson.

Zibanejad is a puzzling player. He can make brain farts like that or miss open shots wide or make good reads like the one that led to Skjei’s tying goal making it 3-3 with less than seven minutes remaining in the second. He recorded two assists. So, he’s back to putting up points. But the consistency is still lacking. At least he’s getting back on track. But sometimes, he makes head scratching plays. Is this why Ottawa dumped him on us for Derick Brassard?

Speaking of puzzling, has anyone seen the guy who wears number 13 on the Rangers lately? Kevin Hayes could be found on the back of a milk carton. I have no idea what’s going on. But even with J.T. Miller back on his line with Michael Grabner, Hayes isn’t doing anything. While Miller and Grabner are involved, Hayes has disappeared. Linda Cohn called him out on the post game saying that he played like he should be at the top of the Rangers unprotected list for the expansion draft. She knows of what she speaks. We haven’t found Hayes. But here he is!

Kevin Hayes

All kidding aside, the Rangers need him to be much better. That third line was so good. Without Hayes performing, it can’t get back to being an x-factor. They will need to be better once the first round match-up starts at Montreal. See how I’ve basically given up on Ottawa. They lost three meetings to the Canadiens. I don’t see them winning that division.

The real frustrating part is the Rangers actually had eight shots in that perplexing third. The Ducks scored three times on nine shots. Two which came 2:04 apart basically taking the Rangers out of the game. They seemed to be skating aimlessly. It wasn’t a lack of try. They just were discombobulated.

Well, they do get a day off before visiting the woeful Sharks. Losers of six in a row to suddenly fall behind the Ducks for first in the Pacific, they have killed my fantasy team. Martin Jones was left in for all seven goals by Dee Be Dah. He really does look like Andy Kaufman. I now have a new reason to hate Pete DeBoer.

Dee Bee Dah

Have you ever seen a more awkward photo than DeBoer and Taylor Stevens chest? Just saying. Imagine if Kaufman were alive. Insert dirty boob joke. There was nobody better than Latka Gravas of Taxi.

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Stepan remains a constant for Blueshirts

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When one takes a look at Derek Stepan, they immediately point to the salary he makes. In his seventh year for the Rangers, the 26-year old center remains a consistent performer. The 26-year old center ranks fifth in scoring from the 2008 Draft class with 355 points. It’s easy to forget that he was taken with the 51st overall pick in the second round. Unlike the four players ahead of him including Lightning first overall selection Steven Stamkos, he wasn’t a first round pick.

The Hastings, Minnesota native honed his skills at the University of Wisconsin for two years before entering the NHL as a 20-year old rookie in 2010-11. He flourished under demanding coach John Tortorella. From the very start when he had a stunning NHL debut recording a hat trick in a win at Buffalo, Stepan proved he was a reliable player who could be counted on. Playing all 82 games his rookie year, he tallied 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points. A total that ranked fourth on the team helping reach the playoffs after missing it on the final day of the previous season.

Playing in the second season of a six-year $38.5 million contract that pays him an average of $6.5 million per year, the ’16-17 season has been a challenging one for the always accountable and well spoken alternate captain. Following a strong stretch between December and the first part of January in which he totaled 22 points (8-14-22) over 21 games, he went into a big scoring slump. After recording two goals and a helper in a 7-6 home loss to Dallas on Jan. 17, he endured the longest goal drought of his career- going 23 games without one before finally ending it in a 4-1 win over the Red Wings on Mar. 12.

Through it all, Stepan remained positive. He was at his locker available to reporters. One of the team leaders, he’s spoken at length about the team’s home struggles. They haven’t won at MSG since Feb. 19 when they defeated the Caps 2-1. Coming off another Garden disappointment in a frustrating 3-2 loss to the Islanders due to a bad penalty kill, Stepan discussed at length the challenge they faced. He pointed towards winning the battle of special teams and taking a more simple approach like they do on the road. It helps explain why they enter tonight’s match at Anaheim an NHL best 27-9-1 away from home.

Even while continuing to struggle finishing, a goal in a 3-0 shutout over the Kings gave him his fifth 50-point season of his career. Stepan joins an exclusive list that includes Hall of Famers Brian Leetch and Mark Messier along with fan favorite Adam Graves. Somehow in a tough stretch that’s seen him total 13 points (2-11-13) since the All-Star break (26 games), Stepan still ranks third in team scoring with 50 points (14-36-50). Two behind J.T. Miller (52) and four behind linemate Mats Zuccarello (54).

Stepan will be the first to tell you that he has to be better from a production standpoint. He’s never stopped shooting the puck running into some bad luck hitting goalposts. The effort has been there for the smart two-way pivot who is trusted by the coaching staff to play in any situation. He leads the team in shots with 193. But his shooting percentage of 7.3 percent would be a career low.

Considering that he’s only hit 20 goals twice including last season when he put up a career high 22 despite missing 10 games, Stepan’s totals aren’t far off. His 36 assists are four off his career best set in ’13-14 during the team’s first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 20 years. The goals are a little low but he’s never been a great finisher. With him, it’s not always about goals or assists. But rather effort. He never stops working. That’s why he is a good penalty killer who’s totaled seven shorthanded goals in his career.

There’s been some heated debate about what his future holds. Should Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton consider trading Stepan before his no-movement clause kicks in this summer? If he does, who replaces Stepan? From a leadership aspect, maybe Miller who has been instrumental in the cohesive third line centered by Kevin Hayes with leading goalscorer Michael Grabner. But Miller is best suited as a wing where he can use his size and physicality to win battles and make plays.

For as good a first half as Hayes had, he’s struggled with consistency recently. He has one assist in the past seven games. Even Miller is without a point over four. Moved off the third line to a second unit with Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash, he fits in better with Hayes and Grabner who can take advantage of favorable match-ups.

Zibanejad has picked it up with three assists in the last two games. The ex-Senator remains a puzzle. Acquired for clutch playoff performer Derick Brassard and a second round pick which became defenseman Brendan Smith, the 23-year old right pivot has a lot of ability. It’s all about harnessing it. He hasn’t been consistent since returning from a broken leg. With 11 goals and 20 assists in 49 contests, Zibanejad will be a key to the team’s success in mid-April. He has to prove himself in the postseason. He’s restricted this summer and due to a raise.

Breaking it down, the Rangers’ most effective center has been Oscar Lindberg. A candidate who could be traded due to the expansion draft, it would hurt if they couldn’t keep him. The second-year Swede has had a strong second half. The 25-year old has centered a good fourth line. Whether it’s playing with kids Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey or currently Buchnevich and Jesper Fast, Lindberg has been a key contributor posting 12 points (6-6-12) since Feb. 7.

That includes a recent stretch prior to last night where he went 2-2-4 with a plus-four rating in three games. A Group II this summer along with Fast, it would be nice to hang onto him. Lindberg gives the Rangers four lines. He also wins face-offs. Along with Zibanejad, he’s over 50.0 percent for the season.

Back to the original topic. Subtracting Stepan would be tough. While I get the argument for it due to his cap hit and NMC, he’s not easily replaceable. Even if he’s not a number one center, he remains the Rangers’ best. Unless the plan is to shift Miller, who should get a significant raise in 2018, it’s hard to assess the team’s center depth without Stepan. A player who has good chemistry with USA buddy Chris Kreider, Zuccarello and captain Ryan McDonagh. Just in case you forgot, here’s a friendly reminder:

In Game 5 of the second round series against the Caps in the 2015 NHL Playoffs, the Rangers were up against it. They hadn’t solved Braden Holtby all night. I was lucky enough to be there with my family in our seats up top in 419. I uttered to my brother, “They need a miracle.”

Sure enough, off a rush Stepan found Kreider open for the game-tying goal with 1:41 left in regulation. It was then in overtime facing elimination, Stepan took a Fast feed and dropped the puck for McDonagh’s emotional OT winner sending the series back to Washington. After holding off the Caps late to get the series back to MSG, an epic goalie battle between Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist resulted in a great series needing sudden death to decide. It was Stepan who won it with this rebound off a face-off win:

Might I add that it was the rebound of a Dan Girardi shot? The thing about this team is they have a very likable core who have been through the wars. However, if part of that core has to go if they suffer an early elimination for a second straight Spring, so be it.

When it comes to Stepan, it’s never about effort. He is an honest player who plays both ends. What he lacks for in talent and face-off capability, he makes up for in hockey IQ. It’s why I remain iffy on whether they should move him in the off-season. It will probably depend on what happens with the team in the playoffs.

Can they go through the Canadiens and another potential Atlantic opponent to reach a fourth Conference Final with essentially the same group? That remains to be seen. Lundqvist returns tonight. He has the last few games to get ready.

If they do defy the odds and make a run, you better believe Stepan will be in the middle of it. He tends to Step up in big moments. For now, instead of killing him for what he isn’t, Ranger fans should embrace him for what he is. The team’s most consistent forward since Messier, Leetch and Graves were around in the glory days. The same for Rick Nash, who remains a constant in all three zones.

Let’s enjoy the rest of it.

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Prince Raanta blanks the Kings in Rangers 3-0 shutout

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Prince Raanta: Antti Raanta dons the Broadway Hat after making 30 saves for his fourth shutout of the season in a Rangers’ 3-0 win over the Kings. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

If Henrik Lundqvist is King Henrik, then Antti Raanta is Prince Raanta. That’s what I’ve been calling him lately. All he does is play well in net. With Lundqvist missing another game, Raanta made his eighth consecutive start and pitched his career best fourth shutout of the season. He blanked the Kings 3-0 to win a career best 16th game.

It’s Raanta who has two more shutouts than Lundqvist this season. It’s also the Fresh Finnish Prince who has a better goals-against-average and save percentage. Where would this team be without him? My guess is they’d be struggling just to make it fighting among the Bruins, Islanders, Lightning and even the resurgent Hurricanes <gasp>.

When the Steven McDonald Award is presented in April, Raanta will be one of the prime candidates. Along with J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner, the popular backup goalie is among the favorites to win the Extra Effort Award.

In a game they were out-shot 30-20 and out-attempted 70-41, it didn’t matter. The Rangers do what they always seem to do. Win on the road. Win when giving up more shots. It’s why I don’t put much stock in Corsi. This team never does anything the easy way. If they did, they’d win more consistently at home and win when outplaying opponents which means out-shooting them. It’s not in their DNA.

This game marked the return of Dan Girardi. After missing 12 games with a bad ankle, he was back on the top pair with sidekick Ryan McDonagh. The veteran right defenseman showed some rust as expected. He had three giveaways but got stronger in a steadier third period in which the Black & Blueshirt sacrificed his body to block a pair of shots while on the penalty kill. He also took a hit along the boards to make a play that led to Rick Nash’s empty netter which sealed it. That effort rewarded him with an assist and plus-one in 20:03.

There were moments where Girardi and McDonagh were pinned in for long stretches. One such instance occurred during the second period when they and the top line couldn’t get the puck out against the Jeff Carter line. Mats Zuccarello made a diving block and clear but the Kings got it back in forcing Girardi and McDonagh to stay out for about two straight minutes. They bent but didn’t break with Raanta making one key stop to get a stoppage.

But in a game that brought them two points closer to another playoff berth, the Rangers were opportunistic. They were able to combat the Kings’ heavy forecheck with speed and skill. One such play occurred when Zuccarello was able to set up Brendan Smith for a shot that rebounded out to Derek Stepan, who put it home for his 14th at 13:02. It had to feel especially good for Stepan, who leads the team in shots (193) but has had no luck. If it’s any consolation, Zuccarello paces the team in scoring with 54 points and ranks second in shots (186). He has 15 goals but leads the club with 39 assists including a pair tonight to overtake J.T. Miller for the team lead in scoring.

Speaking of Miller, he was reunited with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner on the cohesive third line. Grabner got some quality chances including a breakaway but missed the net. He also was denied point blank by Jonathan Quick. The former Conn Smythe winner is now on a declining team that will miss the postseason for the second time in three years. One that can’t score. They rank 25th in scoring averaging 2.40 goals-per-game. Astonishingly, the Kings are in the top five in average shots (31.4). You get the idea.

How bad is it? Anze Kopitar has only 11 goals in 68 games but ranks second in team scoring behind Carter (31-30-61). Tanner Pearson ranks second in goals with 23. He’s one of the few bright spots because he’s a young player improving. Tyler Toffoli has been miserable and Marian Gaborik looks finished. Dustin Brown has as many goals (11) as Kopitar.

If you can’t score, you can’t win consistently. That’s why the Kings find themselves 11 points behind the Flames and nine behind the Blues for the wildcard. LA has eight games left. They’re not running the table. There are big question marks surrounding them. Will Darryl Sutter be fired? He’s a superb coach who won two Cups, squeezing as much as he could out of a core that needs to be revamped.

As for the Rangers, they’re now up to 96 points closing in on the century mark with seven games remaining. A power play goal by McDonagh off a face-off from Mike Zibanejad early in the third gave them breathing room. Zuccarello helped set it up. MSG thought it was Zibanejad’s goal but it deflected off a King, giving McDonagh his sixth. A nice reward for the captain.

Chris Kreider took some ill advised penalties. One wasn’t his fault. He was somehow called for goalie interference despite being pushed in by Derek Forbort, who roughed him up along with an ornery Quick, who went after Oscar Lindberg too. How Kreider wound up with that penalty was mind boggling. It was even up. Quick of course got nothing. What would you expect from a hypocritical league that turns away whenever the golden prince Sidney Crosby gets away with dirty stuff that would have other players fined and suspended?

Even with Kreider doing his best to give the Kings a chance, it didn’t matter. The Kings couldn’t put the puck in the ocean. The end result was predictable. The Rangers improved to 27-9-1 away from MSG. They upped their mark to 28-6-1 when out-shot by opponents. This is who they are. An odd team that at least can win on the road.

BONY 3 Srars:

3rd Star-Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 assists, 2 blocked shots, +1 in 19 shifts-17:07)

2nd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (goal-14th of season, 5 SOG, 7 attempts, +1 in 21 shifts-16:16)

1st Star-Antti Raanta, NYR (30 saves, 4th shutout of season, career best 16 wins)

Dan Girardi talks about getting back in:

Goalscorer Derek Stepan assesses the team’s performance:

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Hungrier Islanders own MSG again with 3-2 comeback win over Rangers

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The Islanders celebrate a goal after once again owning the Rangers when it mattered most at MSG to post a big 3-2 win. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYIslanders.

When you have a wounded opponent down, you have to step on them. When it comes right down to it, the Rangers never finish anyone on what’s supposed to be home ice at MSG. Instead, they let opponents get up off the ropes and dictate play until they come away with two points.

In the latest installment of a classic rivalry between bitter foes, the Islanders again used The Garden as their personal stomping ground to come back and post a 3-2 win over the Rangers. It couldn’t have come at a better time. With the win, they stayed in play for the final wildcard. They had to win due to the Maple Leafs defeating the Blue Jackets 5-2 to vault over idle Boston into third place in the Atlantic. It’s now the Bruins the Islanders are chasing. They trail them by two points with one game at hand. Boston has nine left while the Isles have 10. It includes a pivotal showdown in Brooklyn this Saturday following a visit at Pittsburgh Friday night.

The Islanders didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch. But when it mattered most, their desperation and intensity came through outscoring the Rangers 2-0 in the third period. A period the Manhattan side is usually their best in. I guess it doesn’t apply when they’re home. They’ve now dropped seven straight games at MSG. The longest home losing streak in 24 years. In a word, pathetic. Emotionless and passionless hockey that never is 60 minutes. Had they kept up the battle level instead of taking their foot off the gas pedal, they’d be two points closer to the playoffs.

The game swung on two Rangers penalties. Special teams was a factor. The penalty kill continued to fail miserably allowing consecutive Islanders power play goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd to lose the hockey game. For some reason, they can’t kill penalties anymore. Not to say I told you so. But the penalty kill failure has come with Dan Girardi out. Does he make that much of a difference? One thing you know. Girardi will get his body dirty when they’re shorthanded.

The two goals scored by the Isles were almost identical. Kulemin’s coming in front off a second and third effort set up by rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang. Ladd’s also came thanks to some yeoman work from Anders Lee behind the net. Lee had a good game finishing with a goal and assist. Ladd simply parked himself in front and got rewarded with his 20th coming with 7:22 left in regulation.

The truth of the matter is it was a very winnable game for the Blueshirts. They played an emotional second period scoring both their goals sandwiched around a Lee tally. Mats Zuccarello started it when he finished his 15th in front off a Mika Zibanejad feed for a power play goal. Derek Stepan added a helper.

With the crowd still buzzing, the Islanders did what they always do. Come right back to silence the Ranger side. They used a good transition rush to draw even. Started by Nick Leddy, he passed for Beauvillier who cut in and got off a tough low shot that Antti Raanta couldn’t control. That allowed Lee to steer home his 27th less than a minute later. He beat rookie defenseman Brady Skjei, who didn’t have a good game. It happens.

As promised, Alain Vigneault made two changes following warm ups. Playing a tough rival who plays physical, he dressed Tanner Glass on the fourth line. He replaced rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who didn’t deserve to be scratched. He had assists in the last two games while finding chemistry with Oscar Lindberg and Jimmy Vesey. But the coach wanted more toughness also dressing Steven Kampfer in place of Adam Clendening as the sixth defenseman.

While much will be made of the two lineup decisions, both Glass and Kampfer played hard. They were the least of the team’s issues. With the game tied, Glass decided to drop the gloves with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. He easily won the bout landing some decisive blows especially with his left, energizing the building.

Interestingly, the Rangers responded. A couple of minutes later, Rick Nash scored for the second straight game. Taking a pass from Lindberg, he was able to squeak a shot through Thomas Greiss to put the Rangers back up 2-1 at 6:36 of the second. Greiss got a piece of it but it trickled in. Nick Holden drew the secondary helper.

The second period also featured a huge fight in the stands. It was over in the next section down below where two fans got into it. Everyone was distracted. It was a long fight before MSG security got there. I wonder what they could’ve been doing. Needless to say, both were ejected. There some heavy blows landed. Those type of fights haven’t happened at MSG in a while. It reminded me of the old days when rivalry games blew up.

In a period they got 14 shots on Greiss, the Rangers were unable to capitalize on momentum. They had some great chances including one point blank but a sliding Greiss made the save of the game. If he doesn’t make that stop, it’s doubtful the Islanders come back and win. He finished with 34 saves and deserved one of the game’s three stars. They gave Lee first and Beauvillier second while Nash got third star.

It wasn’t a good night for John Tavares. The Isles captain was very undisciplined taking three minor penalties. The second one the Rangers scored on with Zuccarello going to the hard area for the team’s one power play goal. They went 1-for-4. But it was a missed opportunity that really hurt.

Early in the third, Brock Nelson was off for tripping. It was a golden opportunity for the Rangers to extend the lead. Instead, the Islanders killed it off. When they got back to even strength, they immediately created chances with Kevin Hayes taking a bad slashing minor. That was where the game changed. Hayes had a very poor game on for a goal against and lost six of seven draws in 19 shifts (12:07). He has not distinguished himself since J.T. Miller was moved up to the second line. Honestly, Hayes and Michael Grabner shouldn’t be playing with Jesper Fast. It’s an awful experiment. At least you notice the other two when they’re not scoring.

The Islanders stuck with it. They scored with 30 seconds remaining on the Hayes penalty. How did they do it? By winning the battle down low. Ho-Sang and Beauvillier combined to set up Kulemin for his 12th at 5:01 of the third.

The second power play was set up by a needless Grabner delay of game minor. Honestly, I thought the puck deflected. But the refs ruled otherwise. And so, one of the cheesiest rules in the book cost the Rangers. Unable to stop their hungrier opponent in the trenches, they watched as Ladd slid home a perfect Lee backhand feed at 12:38. Tavares got a assist. It’s about the only positive thing he did. He really wasn’t a factor and stunk.

It says a lot about the Islanders’ character that they were able to still come from behind and win without a signature performance from their captain. They wanted it more.

I thought a big mistake was how the Rangers played with the lead. They sat back and were too passive. They let the Islanders grab momentum. At the end of the second, Raanta made a huge save on a Tavares feed at the buzzer to preserve the lead. The Isles continued to press the action and got the just reward.

Most of the Rangers’ 11 shots came once they fell behind. The shots were misleading. They didn’t get desperate until the Isles’ two goals put them down. Then they made a great effort to try to tie it. But they missed so many point blank chances, it was sad. Pathetic. At one point, they had the Isles pinned in for about 90 seconds. They were at their mercy. But the combo of Stepan, Zuccarello and Chris Kreider couldn’t score. When Greiss made an easy glove save with 2:57 left, I had seen enough.

How many times can we watch this team get outworked and out-hustled by the Islanders at MSG. It’s a joke. And with that, they lost the season series 3-1 to the harder working and more desperate team.

I’m done.

Ladd scores his game-winner on the power play:

Ho-Sang passes puck and it deflects off Beauvillier and Kulemin for the tying power play goal as Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal watch:

Derek Stepan tries to explain away another tough home loss in what he called a riddle they have to solve. Only three home games left.

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Game Preview: Desperation time for Islanders in visit at Rangers

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The Islanders will be desperate for a win at MSG against the Rangers as they battle the Leafs for the final wildcard. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

Tonight marks the final regular season meeting between bitter New York rivals the Islanders and Rangers. The big game will take place at MSG in an NBC Sports Network exclusive on Rivalry Night. That means the later start time of 8:10 PM. Something I could do without. But it will definitely have emotion and impact in the standings.

While the Rangers enter the second game of a back-to-back with Antti Raanta starting yet again comfortably locked into the first wildcard with 94 points, the Islanders find themselves in desperation mode. They had played so well under interim coach Doug Weight that it looked like the playoffs were a foregone conclusion. But a recent slip in play has cost them valuable points. They enter play having lost four of five only gaining three of a possible 10 points.

That’s allowed the Maple Leafs to take over the lead for the second wildcard. With Toronto able to post some big wins, they’re up to 81 points. Three ahead of the Islanders with each team having 11 games remaining. If you’re wondering about the first tiebreaker, both clubs have 32 ROW (regulation/overtime wins). They don’t play each other again. The Isles took the season series 2-1. But it won’t matter if they don’t beat Toronto out.

There are only three games on tap tonight. One includes the Leafs at the Blue Jackets. A game of interest to the Islanders. That one starts an hour earlier. If you don’t think they’ll be scoreboard watching, you’re wrong. They’ll have the corner of their eyes on it while doing what they usually do at MSG. Win an important game.

So far, the home team has won all three games in the season series. The Rangers prevailed on home ice back on 10/13 winning 5-3. The Islanders took the two meetings in Brooklyn winning by identical 4-2 scores on 12/6 and 2/16. Andrew Ladd leads the series with three goals including two in last month’s meeting at Barclays Center. John Tavares and Josh Bailey each have three points. Chris Kreider leads the Rangers with three points which tie him with rookie defenseman Brady Skjei. Jimmy Vesey has two goals in the series.

It won’t be Henrik Lundqvist in net against the Islanders. They’ve lit him up for 10 goals on 82 shots in 176 minutes. It’ll be Raanta, who has continued to play well since Lundqvist went down. With the starter close to returning when the Rangers head to California, this will be Raanta’s seventh consecutive start. He enters with a career high 15 wins with a 2.32 GAA, .920 save percentage with a team best three shutouts. As a starter, he’s 15-5-2 with a 2.19 GAA, .926 save percentage and three shutouts in 24 games.

Thomas Greiss has been a workhorse for the Islanders. The problem is he might be wearing down. Over his last 10 games, he’s given up four goals in half and at least three in seven. In other words, Greiss has slowed down. It’s tough having to start every game when your backup is unproven. Maybe the rest over the past few days will help. This is the first Islanders game since Mar. 18 which was a tough 3-2 overtime loss at home to the Blue Jackets. Greiss has still had a successful season posting a new career high in wins (24), shutouts (3) with a 2.69 GAA and .913 save percentage. His 44 starts and 46 games are career bests.

Tavares leads the team in scoring with 61 points (27-34-61). The top line featuring him, Josh Bailey (12-37-49) and Anders Lee (26-16-42) are dangerous. Actually, they made a switch with Ladd now replacing Lee on the first line. Lee will work with rookie Joshua Ho-Sang and rookie Anthony Beavillier. Since his recall, Ho-Sang has shown potential with three goals and three assists in 10 games. The former first round pick has great wheels and lots of skill. It’ll be his introduction to the rivalry. Here are the projected lines:

Ladd-Tavares-Bailey

Lee-Beauvillier-Ho-Sang

Nelson-Strome-Chimera

Kulemin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck

The Islanders are still minus defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was on the ice for a third straight day after not skating for two weeks. Nick Leddy anchors the back end. His 39 points rank fourth in team scoring just ahead of Nelson’s 38. After him, it really drops off from an offensive standpoint. You knew Dennis Seidenberg would cool down. Calvin de Haan remains a budding shutdown defenseman capable of contributing. He blocks shots and will see plenty of key shifts. Travis Hamonic has been a disaster with a minus-20 rating in 44 games. Thomas Hickey remains underrated. He sat out last game with both Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield playing.

If there’s one thing the Isles do, it’s forecheck. They have always given the Rangers fits in these rivalry games with their strong work ethic. They usually win the battles in the corners and out-hustle the Rangers. The Rangers need any combination of seven points to clinch an 11th postseason in 12 years. That’s any combo of games won with Islander losses. So, if they can match the Isles’ urgency and win in regulation, they could really do damage to their playoff hopes.

Alain Vigneault indicated that there will be some lineup decisions based on warm ups. If there are no changes, here are the projected lines:

Kreider-Stepan-Zuccarello

Nash-Zibanejad-Miller

Grabner-Hayes-Fast

Vesey-Lindberg-Buchnevich

McDonagh-Staal

Smith-Holden

Skjei-Clendening

Raanta

Dan Girardi is ready to return. It’s just a matter of when the Rangers decide to take him off the IR. Given that it’s the Islanders, does Tanner Glass make a cameo for Buchnevich? Hard to do with Buchnevich fitting in on the Kids Line. What about reuniting Miller with Hayes and Grabner? Hayes isn’t as effective without J.T. Miller has been working with Nash and Zibanejad mostly. Fast is a hard worker but is miscast in this role.

Clendening has played the last couple. When Girardi comes back, it’s probably for him. But Holden has really struggled. Maybe he should watch a game. Not that I expect the coaching staff to do it.

Here are some of Derek Stepan’s thoughts on what they must bring tonight to the table against a hard working rival:

Stepan is the real leader in that room. He may not be having much puck luck scoring. How many more posts can he hit? But he speaks loudly and truthfully about the team. Maybe he’ll get one tonight.

Posted in Game Preview, NY Islanders, NYRangers | Leave a comment

The Good, Bad and Ugly: Crosby and Ristolainen

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In yesterday’s Penguins/Sabres game, there was the good, bad and ugly in Buffalo. Let’s start with the good. The good obviously being the game’s best player Sidney Crosby scoring one for the highlight reel. How about a one-handed backhand goal to give his team a 1-0 lead in a game they won 3-1 to clinch the playoffs? Here it is in all its glory:

Undoubtedly, a world class play by a world class hockey player. Since falling behind Brad Marchand in the goal scoring race, Crosby has responded in epic fashion with six goals over his last three games including a hat trick to reach 40 in a shutout over the Panthers. Then for good measure, he abuses the Sabres who all just stood and watched for a ridiculous one-handed backhand that beat Robin Lehner. That gives him 41 goals in 66 games. Four ahead of Marchand with the Bruins suddenly reeling. Are they about to collapse again?

The bad would also involve Crosby who later gave an excuse me underhand swipe to Ryan O’Reilly’s groin area during a play in which nothing was detected. Why would there be any penalty? This is something Crosby has gotten away with before. Here it is:

MSG color analyst Rob Ray labeled it “dirty pool.” The former Sabres tough guy would know. Of course, no one took a number and retaliated. Unless you consider an undisciplined Evander Kane hi-stick double minor on Crosby some sort of twisted revenge. You have to wonder why no one ever goes back at Sid. Well, almost no one except Brandon Dubinsky, who could wind up facing Crosby in a first round match-up between the Pens and Blue Jackets. It all depends on who wins the Metro. With a 4-2 win over the Flames, the Caps are up by one on Pittsburgh with 10 left for each team. Columbus is two back with 11 remaining.

As bad as Crosby’s stick work was, it wasn’t the ugly. That would go to Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen during the same game when he nailed Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel without the puck causing him to leave the contest. The end result was a interference major and misconduct for 15 penalty minutes. He wasn’t ejected. The Sabres killed off the five-minute major penalty. Here is how it looked:

The puck was nowhere near Guetzel, who had no chance of avoiding Ristolainen. The Buffalo defenseman stepped up and leaned into him with one foot up for what amounted to a brutal hit that had Guetzel on his knees looking dazed and confused as the Pens trainer came out to help him off the ice.

That’ll be a suspension for Ristolainen. A talented blue liner for the Sabres who made a mistake. I would say three games. We’ll see what the league decides.

In case you missed it, this Nick Holden hit on Miles Wood which was dangerously close to the glass stanchion caused Wood to lose it during the Devils’ 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers in Newark. It resulted in Wood pounding Holden into submission with a line brawl resulting. Jimmy Vesey and Blake Coleman had a more evenly matched scrap while Brendan Smith and Nick Lappin wrestled but received nothing. It certainly livened up a dead rivalry giving it some added juice. Have a look:

Maybe Holden should have let up there on finishing his check. Wood was in a tough spot near that rounded stanchion. So, I certainly understood his reaction. The other stuff made it more entertaining for everyone. It still pales in comparison to this classic line brawl in 2012 with words being exchanged between the fiery John Tortorella and Pete DeBoer:

An exciting game I attended with my family and friend. I’ll never forget how loud MSG was for that. I miss those days. The building just isn’t the same since the renovation. Old time hockey! The Rangers won that night. But they didn’t win the war in late May. I would have traded that one. But our Devils contingent wouldn’t. Oh well.

And finally. Here was an interesting tweet from popular Rangers backup Antti Raanta on the atmosphere at The Rock in Newark for Tuesday night’s overtime loss. I don’t think this will go over well with the Jersey side. But it’s also a sign of the times in the Hudson Rivalry:

Once, it was the Devils who dominated the Battle of Hudson while the Rangers were missing the playoffs in seven consecutive years. Those were long and dark times on 33rd and 7th by Penn Station. I went to a lot more games and had to deal with a lot of crap. Now the roles have reversed. The Blueshirts are on their way to another postseason while it’ll be five straight years without one for New Jersey. Hard to fathom. When they finally do get better, I wonder if the Rangers will remain as good. When both teams are competitive, that’s when the rivalry is at its peak. It’s no fun when it’s not.

If it indeed was the final time Raanta played in net for the Rangers against the Devils, he will be sorely missed. With the prospect of the expansion draft with Las Vegas coming in and trade options possible, Raanta could land elsewhere. Whether it’s Dallas, Vegas or another destination, it’s hard to see him staying. He has been one of the classiest Rangers and has made the departure of now emerging Vezina contender Cam Talbot easier to forget.

With Henrik Lundqvist not going anywhere for another four years, Blueshirt fans will likely say goodbye to the 27-year old Finn. A player who has won 15 games while posting a 2.32 goals-against-average, .920 save percentage while pacing the team with three shutouts in 28 games (24 starts). He’s outperformed Lundqvist. Something that isn’t debatable. When he returns from injury for the California trip, it’ll be Lundqvist’s net again. He’ll get ready for the postseason.

If it ever came down to Lundqvist struggling in a first round match-up against Montreal or Ottawa because that’s where they’re headed, would Alain Vigneault actually dare consider the move to Raanta? I wouldn’t object. It likely won’t happen.

When Raanta leaves, who is the new backup? A great question for Jeff Gorton this summer. One we’re not looking forward to.

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Blandisi powers Devils past Rangers 3-2 in exciting overtime

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John Quenneville shows off the puck of his first career NHL goal following a Devils’ 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers. He also set up Joseph Blandisi’s winner. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NJDevils

The final installment of the Hudson Rivalry went to the Jersey side. The Devils earned it thanks to some top notch goaltending from Cory Schneider along with the brilliant play of two young players. John Quenneville scored his first career NHL goal and set up Joseph Blandisi’s overtime winner with 55 seconds left to give the Devils an exciting 3-2 win over the Rangers at The Prudential Center before 16,514.

After the two teams battled a tight checking affair for the first half, Quenneville got the scoring started with his first NHL goal. It came on the power play from Blandisi and another youngster Pavel Zacha at 15:16 of the second period. With Brendan Smith off for tripping, the Devils took full advantage of a Rangers’ penalty kill overload. Zacha passed for Blandisi, who then made a sweet dish across for a Quenneville shot into an open side past Antti Raanta. A well executed play by the Devils’ power play against a struggling penalty kill.

Finally awoken from a malaise, the Rangers responded. Oscar Lindberg continued his strong play by getting his seventh from Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan McDonagh to tie the score with 3:07 remaining. Off a strong cycle from the fourth line, McDonagh kept a puck alive getting it down to Buchnevich. Buchnevich came out and made a great centering feed for an open Lindberg, who was able to beat Schneider in front. Jimmy Vesey also did some good work down low. The newly minted fourth line looks like a keeper.

Sparked by Lindberg’s 10th point in the last 21 games, the Rangers nearly went ahead on the next shift. They threatened but weren’t able to untie the game. Instead, it was a relentless forecheck by the Devils which allowed Taylor Hall to put them back ahead. Kyle Palmieri forced Nick Holden into a bad giveaway. New Jersey’s top scoring line with Travis Zajac centering it had been dangerous all night. Raanta had previously robbed Hall and Palmieri on a few chances. This time, Palmieri passed across for Hall, who got everything on a laser of a shot going top shelf inside the bar for his 18th making it 2-1 with 2:38 left.

But before the period concluded, some nasty stuff took place. For much of the rivalry the past few years, that edge has been missing. Outside of J.T. Miller and Steven Santini exchanging pleasantries post-whistle, there really hadn’t been much. That all changed when Holden delivered a clean hit on Miles Wood near his bench. Getting hit close to the glass, Wood didn’t take kindly to it. Right away, he made a bee line for Holden and started pounding him earning a two-minute instigator along with five for fighting and a misconduct totaling 17 penalty minutes.

The rough stuff with 17 seconds remaining rubbed off as other Rangers and Devils squared off. Smith got into it with a Devil after trying to help out the over matched Holden. It was probably Santini, who plays with the edge the other Devils’ D lack. While Wood won his scrap with Holden to cheers, Vesey mixed it up with Blake Coleman on the other side. Vesey landed some punches but Coleman got the take down in an entertaining fight.

It was refreshing to see some animosity between the two rivals. It really has lacked that extra intensity for a while. Maybe due to where each team is in the standings. One thing was clear. The Devils played hard and didn’t want to get swept by the Rangers in the season series. They had played them tight the last two games but fell short. This one would have a different result in a building they don’t win in.

The extra two to Wood eventually resulted in a tying power play goal from Rick Nash. It was astonishing that the Rangers scored on it. That’s how pathetic the power play is. Their special teams continue to be an issue with the penalty kill stinking it up. Maybe it misses Dan Girardi. We’ll leave that up for debate. As for Nash scoring, he ended a nine-game drought. How did he do it? By going to the hard area and tying it on a quick backhand in front on a very good pass from Kevin Hayes. Along with Brady Skjei, who registered another point, Hayes was patient before passing in front for an open Nash, who turned and backhanded one home five-hole past Schneider for his 19th at 1:21.

It has to be a confidence boost for Nash, who really has struggled. He gets chances every game but hasn’t finished. So, for him to finally score is a good sign. He threatened to score again during a lopsided third period in which the Rangers controlled puck possession and shots, out-shooting the Devils 17-9. There were many long shifts that the Newark hosts spent extended time in their end, relying on big saves from Schneider to keep it tied.

They also caught some breaks with two shots going off the goalpost. The snake bit Derek Stepan rang one off the bar. So did Mats Zuccarello off a clean face-off win. At one point, Stepan was patted on the back by teammate Chris Kreider while on the bench. The good news is he’s getting chances. Hopefully, he’ll finish strong entering the playoffs.

Both netminders were brilliant. Schneider played one of his best games of the season finishing with 38 saves to win for just the 20th time this season. Raanta was superb in stopping 26 of 29 shots. His best coming during a Devils onslaught when through a maze of traffic, he dove on top of a shot and covered up. How he saw it, I don’t know.

The game was destined for overtime. The 3-on-3 was chaotic. The Rangers controlled most of it. Schneider came out and challenged a streaking Michael Grabner, who was in. He made a desperation toe save on an aggressive poke check. Raanta denied Hall in tight on a backhand.

But it was the Blueshirts who maintained puck possession. Eventually, it would be McDonagh, Hayes and Grabner caught out for over a minute. They were in the Devils zone pressing the attack. Hayes came the closest to ending it going in on Schneider and attempting a Forsberg only to be denied by a sliding Schneider, who wouldn’t allow the Rangers to win it.

Eventually, McDonagh got the puck and had room in the slot. He let go of a hard wrist shot that missed the net wide. Once that happened, the three Rangers were cooked. Having been out for an extended shift, it led directly to Quenneville and Blandisi coming two-on-one. With a tired McDonagh leaning, Quenneville was able to slide a pass across to a cutting Blandisi, who in one motion turned and beat Raanta with a beautiful backhand deke tuck job with Grabner watching at 4:05.

An excited Blandisi punched the glass to cheers. He was selected as the game’s first star with Schneider second and Quenneville third. In what’s been a trying season, it was a feel good win for the Devils, who got the better of their closest rivals.

For the Rangers, there’s no time for rest. They are back at it tomorrow night in the second of a back-to-back when they host the desperate Islanders at MSG in a Rivalry showdown on NBCSN at 8 PM. I really don’t care about tonight’s loss. I don’t care about the other eight games. I care about this one game. The Islanders have owned the Rangers for seemingly ever. It would be nice to get a win in regulation and further hurt their playoff chances.

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A happy bunch of Devils celebrate Joseph Blandisi’s overtime winner at the glass by an excited fan. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Devils.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Joseph Blandisi, Devils (OT winner on nice backhand deke-3rd of season, assist, 2 shots, +1 in 24 shifts-15:15)

2nd Star-John Quenneville, Devils (1st career NHL goal, great feed on Blandisi’s OT winner, 2 shots, +1 in 24 shifts-15:33)

1st Star-Cory Schneider, Devils (38 saves including 16/17 in busy 3rd)

Notes: Shots were 40-29 Rangers who fell to 17-18-3 when out-shooting the opponent. They’re 27-6-1 when out-shot and 1-0-0 in even shots. … The Rangers scored their 91st goal in the third. They have outscored opponents 91-65 in third periods. … Total attempts were 68-41 Rangers. But none of the fancy stats including beloved Corsi mattered. The Devils prevailed on the scoreboard by competing hard and getting clutch performances from Schneider and their kids. … Andy Greene blocked 6 shots. Devils totaled 11. The Rangers only blocked six shots. Key Stat: Missed Shots NYR-17 NJD-6. … Even face-offs favored the Blueshirts by a lot 43-27 with Lindberg a dominant 10-and-3 in 12:03 (19 shifts). Zajac was the Devils’ best going 13-and-14. … Mika Zibanejad tied with Hall for the lead in shots with eight.

Highlight Of Game: Quenneville to Blandisi for the OT winner:

Schneider on beating the Rangers:

Blandisi on the chemistry he has with Quenneville:

Nash discusses his goal in loss:

Raanta talks about the overtime loss and game-winner:

Posted in Battle Of Hudson, Devils, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What determines a coach’s challenge?

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Controversy surrounded a Jonathan Toews goal which was upheld by video review despite a valid offside challenge by the Avalanche who fell apart losing 6-3 to the Blackhawks. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Ryan Boulding.

As I sit here ready for bed, I am proposing a question to hockey fans. What determines a coach’s challenge? The reason for this is how controversial some of the NHL rulings have been following challenges.

Take for example during the Blackhawks’ furious rally in the final half of the third period in a stunning 6-3 win against the Avalanche (well maybe not). Trailing by two, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews got the second redirection for a goal which made it 3-2 with 9:43 remaining. The Avalanche immediately challenged for offside.

I didn’t get to see the replay until all the NCAA college basketball games were over. But by catching the highlights on NHL Network hosted by the wonderful Kelly Nash, I knew right away that Colorado had a good challenge which should’ve resulted in the goal being reversed. Even the Hawks’ announcers were in agreement that Toews didn’t get back in time to tag up before Richard Panik entered the zone with the puck on the blue line. However, as only the powers that be could do, they confirmed the call on the ice which meant it was a good goal.

Much to the disbelief of the Colorado bench, they never recovered. Let’s be clear here. They are a very bad team. The worst in the league. But that shouldn’t excuse the officials and Toronto from blowing the call. Here was the explanation handed out to CSN’s Tracey Myers who does a splendid job covering the Hawks:

Need further proof that the NHL messed up despite the cheesy standard explanation? Ryan Boulding of Avalanche website media relations provides it in this Gif:

You make the call? A blind person could do a better job. Of course, being that it’s the Avalanche and they are brutal, it went from 3-1 Colorado to 4-3 Chicago in a 34-second span. Goals from Panik and Artemi Panarin followed up Toews’ controversial goal. The Hawks captain would score one more for his 20th giving him 10 seasons of 20 goals or more. A Marcus Kruger empty netter was the final bookkeeping.

The Blackhawks clinched the playoffs with their win and a Calgary win over the Kings. They are now up to 99 points leading the slumping Wild by seven for the Central Division and the West’s top spot. Minnesota lost again despite rallying from a four-goal deficit before losing 5-4 at Winnipeg for their season high fifth straight loss- leaving coach Bruce Boudreau at a loss for words.

Can you blame him? I am not sure what’s happened there. But they looked like a mess against the Rangers even though they won by a goal 3-2 on Saturday in St. Paul. A game which saw the Wild come undisciplined with some unnecessary slashing minor penalties from a couple of their leaders. Congrats to Eric Staal on playing his 1,000th career game. Good for him having a great bounce back year. His 24 goals and 54 points rank second behind teammate Mikael Granlund. Staal’s seven game-winning goals lead the team.

Getting back to the original subject, why is there so much confusion on video reviews? Is it the technology they have available? Having the refs look at replays on I-Pad minis isn’t great. But what about Toronto? In some cases, it is hard to determine if a play can be overturned. Especially when it comes to an original ruling for say No Goal on the ice. Even with the benefit of replays, they don’t always have every conceivable angle or feed. Sometimes, you can tell if it should be overturned.

But we also know from the league standard that if there isn’t clear evidence, they won’t overturn a call. What is puzzling is when you have Gifs and videos like the one above that show Toews not onside which would make the whole play offside. Somehow, the original call stood. Based on what? The explanation was hideous.

What if this happens in the NHL Playoffs at a crucial moment in a game? That’s why there is growing concern. Some of the offside challenges take forever to figure out. It slows up the game which definitely can hurt momentum and frustrate fans. Of course, they want to get each call right.

I’ve been consistent in pointing out that I believe they need to make adjustments to the coach’s challenge. Especially when it pertains to offside. If it’s a millimeter off, then it’s a waste of time. In my view, that shouldn’t matter. If it’s clear as day, then by all means use the technology to overturn a call made on the ice.

I’m also not a big proponent of a coach losing their timeout for not winning a challenge. It really puts them in a tough bind. Do they challenge and take the chance of getting it wrong and losing their timeout or do they save the timeout for an icing when players are exhausted? I feel an extra timeout should be added. Especially during the postseason. Imagine you’re deadlocked and in the third overtime and you have to decide between using the timeout to rest your players or save it just in case. You can see the dilemma.

When it comes down to it, the coach’s challenge is good because it makes the game more interesting. There are instances where it’s good to have it like on goaltender interference. Though the standard remains inconsistent. The onus is still on the refs to make the right call. That means being in the proper position.

The feeling of seeing a team get the shaft like Colorado did Sunday night isn’t good. No matter how bad they are, the idea is to get it right. They clearly were screwed and momentum swung in Chicago’s favor. That’s not how it should work.

With that, my two cents is done. Onto another debate.

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The Road Warriors bounce back with 3-2 win over Minnesota

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Road Warriors: Rangers defense gets ready for the Wild in a game they would win 3-2 for an NHL best 26th road win. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers

What a rush! If you heard those three words in the 90’s and even early 00’s, you knew it meant wrestling’s greatest tag team The Road Warriors. Like the intro song that led Hawk and Animal to the ring, it certainly applies to the Rangers who continue to puzzle at home while dominating on the road.

After losing a very winnable game to the Panthers 4-3 in a shootout to increase their winless streak at home to six, they bounced back to defeat the Wild 3-2 in St. Paul, Minnesota tonight. The win was their league best 26th on the road improving them to a ridiculous 26-9-0 away from MSG. At The Garden, they’re basically .500 going 19-15-3.

It’s why I don’t care about home ice. For this team, it’s not an advantage. As long as the Blueshirts stay locked into the first wildcard, they will start the postseason on the road where they’re most comfortable. Considering that they’re at 93 points with 10 games exactly left trailing Columbus by five and Pittsburgh by four with each having two extra games, it looks like they’ll wind up drawing the Atlantic winner which means going through the Atlantic if they can make a run.

With Montreal pulling out a shootout win at Ottawa in the first of a home-and-home, they lead the Senators by two points. The Canadiens have 11 games remaining while the Senators have 12 left. Boston is six out with 11 to go and Toronto pulled back ahead of the Islanders by a point for the final wildcard. Each got a point in overtime losses. The Leafs have 12 left while the Isles have 11. The Lightning remain two behind after losing to the Caps, who finally hit the century mark to go two up on Columbus for the Metro.

The playoff race is heating up. For the Rangers, they seem locked in as the top wildcard a full 14 points up on the Leafs and 15 on the Islanders. They can take solace knowing they know how to win in enemy territory. Where they play a more straight ahead game instead of the fancy pants one that drives fans nuts.

After falling behind on an Eric Staal goal giving him 24 for his new team, they got the next three. Minnesota native Brady Skjei tied the game on a one-timer for his fourth of the season from Mats Zuccarello and Adam Clendening, who came out of the doghouse for an assist replacing healthy scratch Steve Kampfer. I’m not even sure what Kampfer did to get scratched. But at least Clendening got back in and contributed. What would it take for Alain Vigneault to sit Marc Staal out for a game?

It was a standout performance for Oscar Lindberg, who led the way with his sixth goal and a primary helper. Playing with rookies Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich on a more skating fourth line, the improving sophomore pivot showed his worth. In 16 shifts which amounted to only 9:59 of ice-time (why not more?), he was dominant centering the kids. That line scored the final two goals.

Lindberg buried home his sixth off a brilliant backhand feed by J.T. Miller from behind the net to put the Rangers in front at 7:46 of the second period. A play started by Derek Stepan, who was strong defensively throughout despite a mixture of players on his line which included the slumping Rick Nash. Vigneault is pretty desperate to get Nash going. He had both Miller and Chris Kreider take shifts on the line. Still nothing from the most disappointing $7.8 million man in hockey. He’s now without a goal in nine straight and has four since 2/5.

While the coach tries to solve Nash’s inability to finish, at least for one night he discovered a new combination that could make the Rangers tougher to play against. A sharp angle shot from Buchnevich with Lindberg in front was kicked out by Wild starter Devan Dubnyk right to Vesey, who scored his first goal in a month since 2/16. It was his first point of any kind since an assist on 2/26 (10 games). Buchnevich received 9:42 in 14 shifts all at even strength. Vesey took 16 shifts for 11:50 including an extra 1:31 on the power play which went 0-for-3.

If there was a bugaboo that’s plagued this team under different coaches, it’s poor line changes. From Tom Renney to John Tortorella to Alain Vigneault, they continue to take bench minors. Tonight, they were caught twice. The first led directly to Eric Staal scoring after a power play expired. The second allowed Matt Dumba to connect on a Wild power play at 4:51 of the third cutting the deficit to one. A play which couldn’t be reviewed despite Zach Parise making contact with Antti Raanta due to Vigneault having to use his timeout with his players gassed following an icing.

That’s the one sticking point with the coach’s challenge. If you use your timeout, you can’t challenge. Something that makes no sense. Ditto for the offside challenge that take forever to figure out. It slows down the game. They definitely need to make tweaks to the challenge system.

There wasn’t much else going on in the third. Outside of Nash taking Wild leading scorer Mikael Granlund with him following a wrestling match for two minutes, the teams were even in shots 8-8. Despite undisciplined penalties from Minnesota which included an unnecessary chop down from Ryan Suter breaking Marc Staal’s stick in half for an easy slashing call with 2:46 left in regulation, the Rangers were unable to take advantage. Why would they?

The power play was a mixed bag. At times, they were sloppy letting the Wild get shorthanded chances with Raanta forced to make crucial stops. In other instances, they created opportunities but failed miserably. This is who the Rangers are. A flawed, imperfect team with hideous special teams. That is why it’s hard to take them seriously as a contender.

In the playoffs, goals are tougher to come by. That’s where having a halfway decent power play could help. And the penalty kill which started off so positively has been below average for a while.

At least Prince Raanta was there to make 25 saves and get his career high 15th victory. The win came against a fading Minnesota team who hasn’t been the same since taking the lead in the West. They’ve now dropped four straight and six of their last seven with the only win coming against the mediocre Panthers. With the Blackhawks doing what they always do this time of year, they’re suddenly five up on Minnesota for the Central Division.

Maybe it’s a Bruce Boudreau thing. He’s a darn good regular season coach who can’t get it done when it counts. Mr. Haagen Dazs is very likable and is good at breaking down what’s wrong. It’s just whether he can fix it and adjust. The West is wide open. Even up and coming teams like the Oilers and Flames have a shot.

For the Blueshirts, they bankrolled two points in their hip pocket. Now, it’s two days off before a final trip to Newark for the last game against the Devils. Then the Islanders visit Wednesday where they usually play well. What teams don’t at MSG?

Good job out of Dolan raising those ticket prices through the roof for those poor suckers who sit lower than us. No wonder so many are canceling their season subscriptions. What an arrogant, greedy jerk he is. By the time he’s done ripping off loyal fans, there will be none left except us. See. We sit in the final two rows with an obstructed view. So, our seats went up a whole two bucks to $37. It’s not like I go much anyway. I hate the new MSG. It’s got no character or soul left.

A sore subject that will continue in another rant probably when the season ends. For now, there are 10 games remaining. Six on the road and four at home. I got to two. I believe one is the emotional night of the Steven McDonald Award in which our hero will be there in spirit watching over his son Pat present it. I voted for Miller over Michael Grabner. Jesper Fast is also a big candidate. He did what he does best blocking a shot to help protect the lead. Raanta should be in the mix too. Extra Effort!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (great pass for Lindberg goal-assist, leads team with 52 points but only plays 13:56 including 11:13 ES while Vigneault caters to the vets who don’t produce.)

2nd Star-Brady Skjei, NYR (goal-4th of season, 3 shots, 2 blocks, +1 in 27 shifts-17:25)

1st Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (goal-6th, assist-9 points in his last 20 games)

Play of Game: J.T. sets up Oscar

Rangers celebrate another road win

Hometown kid Brady talks about his goal and the team win

Miller discusses the victory and his pass

 

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Who’s On First?

Who's On First

If you’ve ever seen Abbott and Costello, then you know where the title of this post comes from. The memorable “Who’s On First?” sketch remains one that is still played on the radio airwaves on WFAN in New York by Steve Somers.

Of course, it’s a baseball reference. So, it has nothing to do with hockey. However, when you look at how coach Alain Vigneault manages the Rangers, it definitely applies. As his team gets healthier minus Henrik Lundqvist down the stretch, Vigneault has more options when it comes to the lineup.

With Jesper Fast set to return from a separated shoulder for tomorrow’s home match versus the Panthers, the gritty third-year Swede will do so at the expense of rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich. That is the decision Vigneault came to. Both puzzling and troubling. Not in the sense that the 21-year old Russian can’t be sat. He can. Vigneault is correct that he still needs work defensively to become a more consistent offensive player.

However, it makes you roll your eyes when Tanner Glass is still in the lineup. Nothing against the proud veteran who had a feel good return scoring a goal and assist in a win. But he’s not an everyday player. That’s why he plays on the fourth line and sees limited action. Glass brings a physical element and edge that’s been missing. But he shouldn’t be used daily.

Newell Brown, Raffi Torres, Alain Vigneault, Chris Higgins, Tanner Glass

Alain Vigneault and Tanner Glass in Vancouver with the Canucks. A combo the Rangers still have despite better forward depth. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NESN.

We’ve been here before with Vigneault and his favorite pupil who played for him in Vancouver the year they made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The ending at home against Boston was cruel. It had little to do with Glass. But rather Vigneault’s star players failing to perform up to expectation. What should’ve been the Canucks’ first championship instead was the Bruins’ sixth.

Since 2010-11, Glass has played for Winnipeg, Pittsburgh before signing a three-year contract with the Rangers in the summer of 2014. One that was met with plenty of opposition. Even I couldn’t understand it. But Vigneault played him in 66 regular season games with Glass scoring a goal with five assists to go with 98 penalty minutes and 213 hits, which ranked second on the team. During the Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, he played 19 games and had an assist with 31 PIM.

In his second season, he didn’t make the roster right away. Instead, Glass went down to Hartford after clearing waivers. By December, he was recalled and never went back. He improved his production scoring four times with three assists and 66 PIM. Glass led the team with 213 hits in 57 contests and got into four games in a first round loss to the Pens.

Last off-season, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton made some key additions to address the lack of forward depth by adding Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri while signing college rookie free agent Jimmy Vesey and Buchnevich. Along with a salary dump of popular Blueshirt Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad and a second round pick which became defenseman Brendan Smith, Gorton has done a good job.

The added depth meant Glass went down to Hartford because there was no room for him. He didn’t sulk. Instead, the 33-year old played in 57 games totaling six goals and nine assists with 86 PIM. It was following a humiliation a couple of weeks ago against an improved Montreal in which they pushed the Rangers around at home (why wouldn’t they?) that the organization had seen enough.

Up came Glass. He impressed in his first NHL game of the season by taking on the bigger Luke Witkowski in a fight that last 67 seconds at Tampa. He also delivered a couple of thumping hits and crashed the net causing a scrum. Something that rubbed off on his normally passive teammates, who played with more edge. Even Vesey went back at a Lightning player. It was a welcome change with the Blueshirts posting a 1-0 overtime win with Zibanejad the hero along with Antti Raanta (38 saves).

For an encore, Glass scored his first goal on a rebound by parking himself in front and helping set up Nick Holden’s goal in a 5-2 win at Florida. It was the gritty Glass who perfectly screened James Reimer allowing Holden to score.

When it comes to the player who has been widely discussed on social media, it remains a sore subject for many fans. Why did Vigneault have Glass out in the final minute over Buchnevich down a goal in a frustrating 4-3 loss at Carolina? He did get to a rebound but was stopped. But he’s not an offensive guy. Rather a role player who can inject life with his energy when it’s needed.

In a 4-1 win over Detroit, Glass had six hits in 16 shifts (11:05) while playing on the fourth line with Oscar Lindberg and Vesey. In a predictable 3-2 home defeat to the Lightning in which they allowed only 16 shots, Glass was on for a goal against with two hits in 10 minutes. In the same game, Buchnevich missed a point blank chance wide hanging his head on the bench. He wasn’t the only one. As usual, Rick Nash generated but frustrated. Zibanejad missed a wide open one-timer on a power play. That was the story.

Vigneault had gone back to a combo that worked earlier with Buchnevich and Nash playing with Zibanejad. While they have created chances, they haven’t finished enough. So, Buchnevich gets victimized while Glass stays in on the fourth line. To be honest, he’s a better fit on that line.

Someone will just have to explain to me how Fast is now on a third line with Kevin Hayes and Grabner while Vesey is mismanaged on the fourth line. Nothing against Fast, who can move up when necessary and give that extra effort in the corners. But if the coach isn’t gonna put his more talented first-year players in a position to succeed, there’s no hope for the future.

It’s the same old song and dance with Vigneault. Everyone knows that Glass is best suited as a 13th forward you can occasionally insert. The Rangers’ best lineup has to have Buchnevich and Vesey in the top nine. But the issue is Grabner has such great chemistry with Hayes and J.T. Miller, it’s hard to move him down. Vesey got a look on that third line with Grabner out but didn’t score.

Some have also wondered why Vesey never comes out while Buchnevich does. Maybe it’s because Vesey is a couple of years older and more mature. The coaching staff trusts him more. But not enough to elevate to the third line with Miller replacing Buchnevich on the second unit. It’s mystifying.

The concern is this. Are we about to see Vigneault again not utilize his lineup the right way in the playoffs? The way he miscast rental Eric Staal and stuck him on the wing with Hayes in a combo that never worked while not trying Staal on the point of the power play. Staal’s recovered just fine with the Wild tied for the team lead in goals (23) with his 53 points ranking second. Interesting, the 53 points would put him first on the Rangers. Three ahead of Miller, who’s 50 are a career best. So are Chris Kreider’s 26 goals and 48 points. Hayes has a career high 47 points.

What happens when Dan Girardi is finally healthy along with Kevin Klein? Obviously, Steven Kampfer comes out. A player who has impressed enough to make chart darling Adam Clendening the odd man out. But what about the D pairings? Girardi is higher on the depth chart than Klein, who’s looked broken all year from debilitating injuries.

Vigneault can’t be serious keeping Marc Staal paired up with Ryan McDonagh. It’s produced mixed results. The negative being the winning goal they allowed to Brayden Point on Monday. A play in which Staal over committed going for the poke taking him out of the play and McDonagh failing to check Point for a tap in. Staal just doesn’t have the foot speed anymore and is best suited as a third pair guy.

That would mean elevating Brady Skjei or keeping him with Staal. But Skjei is a rookie left D. He’s seen limited action with McDonagh late in games. A pair I’d like to see more of. Holden and Staal were effective in the first half but have fallen on hard times. Holden has worked better with Smith, who stays in the top four regardless. If not, then it’s a fail and poor reflection on the coach.

Maybe have Girardi play with Skjei on the third pair and Klein becomes the extra. Regardless, the Glass issue isn’t going away. No matter who the Rangers draw in the first round, it will be tough. It’s up to Vigneault to make the best decisions that give his team the best chance to be successful.

So, Who’s On First?

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