Devils pick Nico Hischier #1 overall

After nearly two months of speculation, rumors and hype – finally it was time for Ray Shero and the Devils to choose between Nico or Nolan.  Although the initial pre-draft hype had Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick being the top-rated prospect in the 2017 NHL Draft, most of the ranking lists had shifted over to the shift-y Swiss center Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads being #1 toward the end.  In recent days the whispers of Shero and his scouting staff leaning towards Nico started to leak out so it was little surprise when the Devils’ GM went to the podium to officially announce Hischier as the top pick of this draft and the newest New Jersey Devil.

Of course that meant that Patrick went to the division rival Philadelphia Flyers at #2, adding another dimension to an already hot rivalry – though one that’ll have to wait till mid-January to heat up on the ice, since in its infinite wisdom the NHL packed all four Devil-Flyer games into a one-month stretch from mid-January (more than three months into the season) to mid-February.  Being drafted #1-2 and playing with division rivals ensure that Nolan and Nico will always be compared.  Of course tonight for both these young men, they’re just excited over the opportunities that lay ahead.

For Hischier, the first Swiss player to ever be drafted #1, it’s been a meteoric rise since the wintertime when he was ranked as a mid first-rounder until an outstanding WJC (seven points in five games against top competition) and a terrific first season in the QMJHL for Halifax (38 goals-48 assists-86 points in 57 games) rocketed him up the rankings, first on a par with Patrick, and then slightly above him.  Perhaps the only serious question about the offensively gifted and speedy Hischier – besides the obvious skepticism about him only being in the spotlight for one season – is whether his skillset will ultimately translate as a center or as a wing at the highest level.  Of course his size isn’t a disqualifier in today’s NHL of being a pivot and one of the Devils’ main needs is for a franchise center.  You can watch YouTube for a number of highlights, here’s the best of his WJC in the wintertime (Hischier’s #18 for the Swiss):

In addition to all his tangibles, one intangible reason to like the newest Devil is his sense of humor and command of the English language.  During the pre-draft interview with the team, at one point someone with the organization – making light of the catfish-throwing during the Stanley Cup Finals – joked with the youngster that if you threw a catfish on the ice we’d pick you #1.  Hischier didn’t say anything until after the interview ended and they asked if he had any questions, then he said ‘Where can I buy a catfish?’

There hasn’t been a lot to be excited about as a Devil fan in recent years but this young man’s imminent arrival in a Devil uniform hopefully will signal the way out of the wilderness the team’s been in the last few years since the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals (was that really just five years ago?  Seems like longer with everything that’s happened with the team since then).

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Say goodbye to Stepan and Raanta: Traded to Coyotes for DeAngelo and 7th overall pick

Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan played his final game for the Rangers against Ottawa. He was dealt to the Coyotes with Antti Raanta today. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

As expected, the player movement is coming rapid and crazy. Today, the trades got kickstarted with NHL Draft host Chicago stunning the hockey world with two big moves that’ll change their team.

First, they sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. This was a deal that was about saving money for the future. Hjalmarsson will turn unrestricted in two years while the younger Murphy is locked into a long term deal.

The even bigger shockwave was when they sent Artemi Panarin with Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick this weekend in exchange for a reunion with Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth round pick. Panarin is a breathtaking player who formed amazing chemistry with Patrick Kane turning him into a 100 point guy who won the Hart. But the electrifying Russian is already making $6 million over the next two seasons. So, by 2019 he’ll command a huge payday. Saad is locked into a longer term deal which also pays him the same $6 million average thru 2021.

With the hockey world still stunned by those trades, the Rangers made a predictable one sending Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for 21-year old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick tonight.

It’s a thought provoking move that begs the question why they didn’t get more. Stepan is locked into a long term deal that averages out to $6.5 million thru 2021. His no-movement clause was due to kick in this July. After a inconsistent season which still saw the number one two-way center go over 50 points, he was a huge disappointment in the postseason. Unlike past performances highlighted by that drop pass to for Ryan McDonagh’s overtime winner and Stepan scoring in sudden death on a Dan Girardi rebound to stun the Capitals in a memorable second round in 2015, he was unable to find his form this past Spring.

Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan takes the winning shot to beat a sprawling Braden Holtby scoring at 11:24 of overtime to send the Rangers to the Conference Finals where they’ll meet the Lightning. Game 1 is Saturday. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

A prideful guy who takes things to heart, he admitted that he sucked and wished he had played better following a second round elimination to the Senators in six games on home ice. His brutal honesty is why I respected him. He never passed blame and was one of the team leaders who helped them make three Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup appearance.

Even for his shortcomings in the face-off dot and for not being able to hit 60 points, Stepan was a reliable player who was fully trusted by the coaching staff in any role. He was splendid on the penalty kill forming solid chemistry with Rick Nash. They were a lot of fun to watch often creating shorthanded oppportunities and a few nice goals.

It will be odd not to see number 21 in a Blueshirt this Fall. I’ve been a huge Stepan fan since he was drafted in the second round 51st overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. He teamed with Chris Kreider to win gold at the 2010 Under-20 World Junior Championship. Something I’ll never forget.

Stepan was a very good Ranger. In seven seasons, he finishes with 128 goals and 232 assists totaling 360 points with a plus-109 rating in 515 games. In 97 postseason games which are a Rangers franchise record for forwards trailing only Marc Staal (104) and Dan Girardi (122), he tallied 19 goals with 30 assists for 49 points. Now 27, he’ll be counted to lead the rebuilding Coyotes in the future.

Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan

New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan (21) encourages goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) as goalie Antti Raanta (32) replaces Lundqvist during the second period of the Rangers’ NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, April 2, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In two seasons, Raanta was terrific as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. After winning 11 games and posting a 2.25 goals-against-average with a .919 save percentage in ’15-16, he was even better establishing career bests in wins (16), shutouts (4) while posting a 2.27 GAA and .922 save percentage in a career high 29 games. Signed for another year at a bargain basement $1 million, Raanta will get the chance to become a starting goalie for the Coyotes. A great locker room guy, the likable Finn with the quirky personality will be missed.

It’s up to GM Jeff Gorton to find a suitable replacement that can back up Lundqvist and give him much needed time off. Undoubtedly, he’ll be busy working the phones. Thanks to goalie coach Benoit Allaire, the Rangers have turned Cam Talbot into a good starter and now Raanta. He’s not the best in the biz for nothing.

A big thank you goes out to Stepan and Raanta for their time spent on Broadway. Especially Stepan, who meant plenty to the franchise. Without him, they don’t reach three Final Fours or make a Stanley Cup appearance.

At the end of the day, it’s a business. Like many fans, I hate to see my favorite players go. But in a hard cap era that is unforgiving, this is the reality. Any success comes with a price. We saw it last year with Derick Brassard and two summers ago with Carl Hagelin. It’s why I dislike the current system. It’s not fair.

I don’t think Gorton is done. Even though in a interview with MSG’s Amanda Borges, he told her they aren’t trading their 21st overall pick, that could change. By acquiring the number seven overall from Arizona, I think he’s setting up up for something bigger.

Don’t be shocked if the Rangers beat the Islanders to the punch on Matt Duchene. They now have two first round picks and can part with players in good contracts to get the coveted franchise top center they lack. It’s a necessity. I expect the rumors to be rampant once the Draft starts tonight.

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Lindberg selected by Golden Knights in busy NHL Awards night in Vegas

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At last night’s NHL Awards in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena, the new expansion Vegas Golden Knights revealed the 30 players they selected along with some trades that allowed them to stockpile draft picks for this weekend and 2019.

While the award show itself was the usual assortment of odd humor and forced jokes including the line of the night from Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne to co-presenter Aly Raisman, “Look at those legs,” which drew the usual overreaction, at least they got the winners right.

To quickly recap, Connor McDavid swept the Pearson and Hart while Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina, Brent Burns the Norris, Patrice Bergeron the Selke, Johnny Gaudreau the Byng, John Tortorella the Adams and Auston Matthews the Calder. The biggest highlights were the emotional moments for Bryan Bickell and Craig Anderson along with Deanna Laing. Nick Foligno was recognized for the King Clancy and Messier Leadership Award. Travis Hamonic won for the NHL Foundation Player Award.

All were very deserving and gave good speeches with Anderson’s exceptional after receiving the Masterton with the likable Ottawa goalie saluting wife Nicholle in overcoming her cancer fight. Bickell’s farewell with wife Amanda was very emotional. He paid special thanks to the Blackhawks where he won a Cup.

As for the expansion draft, breathtaking host Kathryn Tappen revealed the players selected in segments with Darren Millard, who definitely was nervous making some mistakes. If you saw how wonderful Tappen looked, it could explain why.

Among the biggest reveals were Marc-Andre Fleury, who received thunderous applause from excited Vegas fans. He was so cool showing off his new Golden Knights threads after being taken from the Penguins where he won three Stanley Cups. Fleury is just a classy dude. He should do well.

The Panthers lost Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, who they traded to Las Vegas. The Islanders lost J.F. Berube and dumped Mikhail Grabovski’s contract along with first and second round picks to clear room to acquire Jordan Eberle in a deal completed today with Edmonton for Ryan Strome. They’re after Matt Duchene with Hamonic on the block.

The Devils lost defenseman Jon Merrill, who was replaced by recent acquisition Mirco Mueller. Nothing else to report on the Devils for now with them slated to take either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick first overall in Friday’s first round.

As for the Rangers, they wound up losing center Oscar Lindberg. A underrated checking pivot who raised his game in the postseason, he is now a Golden Knight. For Vegas, it made sense with Lindberg a solid two-way center who is strong on draws and a diligent forechecker. He definitely didn’t get used enough in his second year under Alain Vigneault. Don’t forget it took Lindberg a while to get full healthy and recover from hip surgery. He should fit in nicely under new Vegas coach Gerard Gallant.

The Golden Knights also made a splash by tabbing ex-Predator James Neal. A capable scorer who plays with edge, he’ll be reunited with Fleury after losing to his former team for the Cup. Most interesting was the odd bromance between Carl Hagelin and Sidney Crosby. They sure make a good Odd Couple. I was glad Hagelin stayed with Pittsburgh for now. That doesn’t mean he won’t get moved.

I thought Las Vegas GM George McPhee did a good job adding defensemen. He was able to land Shea Theodore and acquire Clayton Stoner so the Ducks could retain Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson. He also drafted Alexei Emelin from the Canadiens and Marc Methot from the Senators. A tough loss for Ottawa. They opted to keep Cody Ceci.

One player McPhee took but didn’t keep was ex-Hawk Trevor van Riemsdyk. He sent him to the Hurricanes today. Former Devil David Schlemko is now a ex-Shark joining the Golden Knights. Apparently, he’s not staying in Vegas going to the Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Aside from Fleury, who naturally was the home run pick, the Golden Knights took former Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard and Berube as their other goalies. They passed on Petr Mrazek, whose stock plummeted on Detroit slipping to third on the depth chart after signing a new contract. He’ll probably get moved.

Two other veteran D Las Vegas added are Deryk Engelland and Jason Garrison. Engelland plays tough and can fight while Garrison hopes to rediscover his offense with Vegas if he stays. I liked the Brayden McNabb pick from the Kings, who got plenty of jeers along with the Blackhawks and Flyers. I guess hate travels.

Colin Miller and Luca Sbisa were also taken. Two younger right defenseman. Former Cap Nate Schmidt was the final selection. I have to believe they’ll keep him as he’s a solid D. Islanders failure Griffin Reinhart was also added for depth.

Some of the other forwards taken who should comprise the top four lines included Cody Eakin, William Karlsson, David Perron, Erik Haula, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris Thorburn and Teemu Pulkkinen. The rest included William Carrier, Brendan Leipsic and Tomas Nosek.

With some trades having taken place already, there’s sure to be plenty of player movement. The activity over the next 72 hours should be fast and furious.

With the Islanders making upgrades, it’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers do. Will Jeff Gorton pull off a blockbuster for a badly needed right defenseman? They currently don’t have one and Brendan Smith remains unsigned. The Rangers have been linked to Arizona and Winnipeg hoping to land Jacob Trouba. Derek Stepan is coveted by the rebuilding Coyotes. Who else goes in a package if that happens? Antti Raanta didn’t get drafted. I have to think he’ll be moved.

Stay tuned for plenty more this weekend with the NHL Entry Draft this weekend.

 

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Devils trade for Mirco Mueller

After a quiet offseason I was looking forward to the expansion draft leadup.  I admit I was as guilty as anyone of thinking the Devils would be able to get something big done this week before the draft.  I underestimated the impact that Vegas’s secret side deals could have on the pool of available players though, especially in the first post-cap expansion draft.  Once Tampa finally traded Johnathan Drouin that reduced the number of teams jockeying to get back assets for potential unprotected players, and defensemen Jonas Brodin and Sami Vatanen weren’t even traded – unless it was to Vegas themselves, since Vegas’s deals can’t be announced till their roster is on the night of the NHL Awards Wednesday night.

Given the biggest name players to move yesterday were Mike Smith and Nathan Belieau – an old journeyman goalie and a meh defensemen who was a healthy scratch at the end of the playoffs, perhaps it was inevitable yesterday would end with a dud for most teams.  Although the Devils did make a trade in the end – dealing 2nd and 4th (picks #49 and 123) rounders for Mirco Mueller and a 5th rounder (pick #143) from the Sharks – I’m honestly less than enthused about it.   Yes Mueller is only 22 and a former first-rounder who still has time to break out, and the parallel to how our one-time high pick Adam Larsson fell off the map here with the same head coach is uncanny.  But his production both at the NHL and even AHL levels hasn’t really been there.  To me Mueller’s a cross between two guys we already have, the pedigree of John Moore (also a former first-rounder) and the game of Jon Merrill (a stay-at-home guy who isn’t adding much to the offense).  Or at least had since Mueller’s acquisition means we’ll probably lose one of those guys – or RFA forward Beau Bennett – in the expansion draft, unless we cut a deal for Vegas to take Mike Cammalleri.

It’s not even so much giving up the 2 that bothers me since we still have a high 2 and ten picks overall, or the fact that we have to expose Merrill or Moore in the expansion draft, it just seems like this is yet another solution to the D we bought at Sanford and Son – and didn’t exactly pay a discount on for a guy who was likely to be exposed in the expansion draft in San Jose – because we don’t/can’t spend any real assets to fix the dumpster fire that was our D last year, which seems to be getting worse by the season.  Even if you think Mueller has something to offer under the right staff, I’m not exactly confident in OUR staff being the one to develop him.

The results of two years with this staff working with our younger D have been extremely mixed, they let Larsson continue on the upward path he’d been on the previous season last year before trading him for Taylor Hall.  Damon Severson is still making the same mistakes defensively and his offense (particuarly on the PP) is still a bit underwhelming at times though he at least adds something on the other side of center ice unlike almost everyone else on the D.  To the staff’s credit when he played Merrill looked back to being the solid stay-at-home guy he showed as a rookie but with the same limited upside he’s always had, and the same penchant for missing twenty games a year.  Eric Gelinas completely flamed out and was eventually traded for what turned out to be the first pick in the third round this year.  Moore adds goalscoring potential that nobody else on the D has, but little else besides speed.

With expansion draft lists being due out in an hour I’m not expecting major surprises.  Given the Devils traded for a defensemen it’s even more likely they’ll go with the eight skater method of protection and protect Severson, Mueller, captain Andy Greene and one of Moore or Merrill, along with forwards Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.  Anything else would be a major surprise and worth a post revision.  I’m not expecting this to be GM Ray Shero’s last move before the draft concludes this weekend by any stretch.  But I’m not going to lie – I’ll be very dissapointed if we make no major additions to the roster in UFA or at the draft.

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Rangers quiet before roster freeze for Vegas Expansion Draft

Jonathan Drouin

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) is congratulated by the bench after scoring a goal during the first period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Islanders, Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The last two days, plenty of trade rumors were the focus with the roster freeze coming in anticipation of the Las Vegas Expansion Draft. The Golden Knights will begin selecting players from all 30 NHL rosters beginning tomorrow. The expansion draft will last three days with the final Vegas roster to be revealed at the NHL Awards show at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday.

Among the teams rumored to be in discussions are the Rangers. However, GM Jeff Gorton wasn’t able to finalize anything before today’s 3 PM deadline. There had been talk that Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta could be moving to the Coyotes. But it remains just that for now.

Negotiations take time. Something there wasn’t a lot of entering the trade freeze. So, not many major deals went down. The Canadiens made the biggest splash yesterday landing Jonathan Drouin from the Lightning for Montreal D prospect Mikhail Sergachev with an exchange of a conditional second round pick going to Tampa with the Habs receiving a conditional sixth in 2018.

Montreal stayed busy today sending puck moving left defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to the Sabres for a 2017 third round pick. A nice move by new Buffalo GM Jason Botterill. He gets a solid second pair D who can fly for a third rounder in not a deep draft. Beaulieu should bolster the Sabres’ blueline. Along with the smart hiring of new coach Phil Housley, who was terrific as an assistant with Nashville, it’s been a good week for Buffalo. Things are looking up.

In another deal, Calgary acquired starting goalie Mike Smith from Arizona in exchange for Chad Johnson, Brandon Hickey and a conditional third round pick which can become a second if the Flames make the playoffs next season. The Coyotes did the Flames a favor by retaining 25 percent of Smith’s salary. He is set to earn $6 million in ’17-18 and $5 million in ’18-19 with a cap hit of $5.67 million.

The Ducks bought out defenseman Simon Despres. Acquired from Pittsburgh a couple of years ago for Ben Lovejoy, he was often injured and bitten by the concussion bug. He played in only one game this past season. Despres is 25. Given the state of his health, I wonder if he’ll retire. That would be sad. But it might be best long term.

There really hasn’t been much else going on. Just a lot of talk but little action. Minnesota was in on Drouin but lost out. They were unable to unload any of their defensemen. Both Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella could be on the move. The Bruins were said to be targeting Brodin, who’s signed thru 2021 to a nice contract. Boston could send the Wild their first pick (18th overall) for Brodin. We’ll see. Supposedly, Montreal had interest in Scandella after dealing Beaulieu.

Also of note, Ottawa didn’t move any defensemen either. The candidates are Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf. Ceci has one year remaining while Phaneuf is signed thru 2021.

Aa far as the impatience with the Rangers from some fans, relax. It takes time. I have no idea what this means for Raanta. It’s worth noting soon to be former Pen Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t moved yet either after waiving his no-trade clause following their repeat. He said he’ll miss everything about Pittsburgh. He sounds like a great teammate and would be a good pickup for anyone.

Las Vegas is going to wind up with a good goalie. It’s just a question of who GM George McPhee wants.

I would like to see Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg stay Rangers. Both are key components on the checking line who add depth. I also love Michael Grabner. If you have to follow one current Ranger, follow Grabner’s account. He’s a riot.

 

 

 

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Goodbye to you: Thank you Dan Girardi!

Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi

New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan, left, is congratulated on his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets by teammates Marc Staal, center, and Dan Girardi during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. The Rangers beat the Blue Jackets 4-2. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

In sports, we get attached to players as fans. When they leave, it’s always sad and emotional. The news came today that the Rangers bought out Dan Girardi. They made it official on Twitter.

It was a announcement that was expected. Even if for myself and other Girardi supporters, it was bittersweet. When it comes down to it, sports are a business. From a economical standpoint, the Rangers couldn’t afford to keep Girardi anymore. He was still owed $13 million over the remaining three years of his contract at a average cap hit of $5.5 million.

The 33-year old proud veteran gave everything to the franchise. One of Glen Sather’s best moves as GM was signing the undrafted free agent from Welland, Ontario. Nobody knew who he was when he joined the organization in 2005. After spending a year and a half honing his skills in the AHL with Hartford, Girardi got the call to the big club during ’06-07.

In the fun days of the Henrik Lundqvist Era featuring Jaromir Jagr and the cohesive European top line with Michael Nylander and Martin Straka, those teams gave the Garden Faithful hope. In Year 2 of the post-lockout new NHL, the Rangers made the second round of the playoffs for the first time since ’97. A good roster that also featured Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, Ryan Callahan, Pete Prucha, Sean Avery, Marek Malik, Michael Rozsival and Fedor Tyutin swept the Thrashers.

When Straka scored with over two minute shots left to break a scoreless tie in the third period of Game 5 at Buffalo, it looked like the young Rangers were a team of destiny. But Chris Drury’s goal with 7.7 seconds remaining followed by Maxim Afingenov’s power play goal in overtime broke Blueshirt hearts. Despite a heroic performance from Jagr, they fell a goal short in Game 6 to lose the series.

As time went on, Girardi graduated to top pair status with Marc Staal. They formed a good tandem under coach John Tortorella, who eventually moved future captain Ryan McDonagh up while sliding Staal down. Girardi was the one constant. What he lacked in talent he made up for in blood and guts. A warrior who sacrificed for the team by diving to block dangerous shots like one rocket from P.K. Subban in a loss at Montreal, Girardi always brought the lunch pail work ethic to the rink. He could be counted on to log big minutes including on the penalty kill where he became a fixture.

Girardi lasted 11 years due to his will. Without number 5, there are no deep runs in 2012, ’14 and ’15. Eventually, his body broke down from the physical and gritty style he played. It’s still amazing that he returned and played through a messed up knee in ’15-16 when he really needed rest. That was more about Alain Vigneault, who overused him and Staal when they weren’t 100 percent. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they were mince meat against the eventual two-time Stanley Cup champion Pens.

Not much was expected of Girardi this year. Many wondered if he could still survive the grind of a 82-game season and be effective in the postseason. While the cynics cried over spilt milk, Girardi bounced back with a solid year getting into 63 games with a ankle injury keeping him out in March. Of course, he returned to finish the regular season and was penciled in by Vigneault with McDonagh on the top pair against first round opponent Montreal.

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It was in that physical series that Girardi excelled. He proved that he still has something left. Playing a very active physical game finishing checks with a few memorable hits while playing responsibly defensively, he was terrific in a six-game series win over the Canadiens. Even the detractors took notice.

In the Rangers’ six-game second round elimination to the Senators, it wasn’t about him. The losses in Games 2 and 5 were self inflicted. Those were games they used to put away. It didn’t matter who Vigneault sent out. They didn’t get the job done blowing a two-goal lead in Game 2 and a one-goal lead in Game 5 to lose in excruciating fashion in sudden death.

The sad part is it was a very winnable series. Maybe the last hurrah with a group that could be losing more core players if the Derek Stepan trade rumors are true as reported by well respected Bob McKenzie. Ditto for Staal, who struggled mightily against Ottawa. If they can’t find a taker for his salary which still has four years remaining at a $5.7 million hit, the other proud elder statesman could become a cap casualty like Girardi.

If general manager Jeff Gorton goes in that direction, the Rangers will have a totally different look on the blueline. The thinking is that they’ll reach agreement with impending UFA Brendan Smith on a new contract. He was very effective after coming over from Detroit. A deal around $4.5 million per year over four should get it done. The development of Brady Skjei will make him a top four defenseman.

With Kevin Klein reportedly retiring from the NHL to pursue other opportunities in Europe, the Rangers save $2.5 million. There will be a complete overhaul if Staal is bought out. I don’t see the point in keeping him. He’s a shell of himself due to the concussions. The sport is very unforgiving.

As for Girardi, he showed why he is one of the classiest players to represent the Broadway Blueshirts. In a press release, he expressed his gratitude to the organization, teammates and of course thanked the loyal fans.

Of course reading it made me sad and want to shed tears for a heart and soul player who loved being a Ranger. Girardi is one of the classic overachievers who worked hard to become a shutdown D who even was an All-Star with his peers showing respect. Claude Giroux called him underrated.

When your opponents respect you, it shows a lot and explains how much true character Girardi had. He competed as hard as anyone that wore the jersey.

I’ll miss him. Whatever happens, I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I hope it’s not the end. I heart Danny G. Thank you for your many sacrifices that made this team a Cup contender and for always being accountable.

Dan Girardi is a winner. Thank you Danny G!!!!!

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Hard Hits: Why NBC has driven me away

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Normally, I watch the entire NHL playoffs including the Stanley Cup Finals. But tonight, I’m taking a stand. I won’t watch Game 6.

There are many reasons for it. The first being I can’t stand NBC. The way they cover these games is appalling. They’ve become redundant over silly fake storylines that have nothing to do with hockey.

The whole P.K. Subban/Sidney Crosby story about “bad breath” was made up by Subban. The media ran with it treating it as if it were bigger than the two teams competing for the Cup. How many times can we listen to NBC trolls Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury reference Listerine? It’s sickening.

Then there’s the whole total ignorance when it comes to how Crosby is officiated. The double standard has been well documented. He’s the game’s best player. The marquee superstar who can do no wrong. No disrespect to Crosby the player who competes as hard as anyone. But how much can unbiased fans take of the missed calls on the Pens captain?

He got away with interference back in Game 1 leading to Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal which opened the scoring. The same star player can repeatedly rabbit punch a fallen Subban into the ice before he retaliates and the two get matching minors. Even non entity ESPN was all over that on SportsCenter.

The See No Evil Hear No Evil lazy approach by NBC’s analysts is pathetic. They intentionally avoid criticizing the refs unless it’s when Nashville gets away with rough stuff. Or what Milbury calls “mugging.” It works both ways. But when it comes to Crosby, he is untouchable.

Now mind you I rooted for Mark Messier on the Rangers. He was dirty frequently getting away with cheap shots like the uncalled cross check to Doug Gilmour during the ’97 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Devils. Back then, you could get away with almost anything. They let a lot of stuff go. At least Messier was candid about it. Crosby never admits to anything apologizing even though we know better.

The way the game is called now is much worse. There are too many inconsistencies. The two ref system with two linesmen are programmed to detect any holding or hooking/obstruction even if it’s the phantom variety. They don’t always get the more blatant stick fouls such as errant high-sticks, slashes or cross checks. This has led to dissatisfaction from diehard fans who know the game.

It’s a total insult. When you have inconsistent officiating, it leads to chaos. Nobody knows what’s a penalty on a nightly basis. The refs have a tough job keeping up with a much faster and talented product. They’re gonna miss stuff. You just hope they do a better job in regards to being consistent. The standard has dropped. There’s way too many examples to cite.

Between NBC’s irritating coverage which unfortunately has become slanted despite Doc Emrick’s best effort and the continued fascination with non-hockey stories, it’s become a sideshow.

Hockey is a great sport. Most observers just want the game. Instead, there’s McGuire talking over the broadcast frequently due to being between the benches. Some of the info he passes along is fun. But he definitely should tone it down during the action.

The other issue is the audience the NHL is catering to. Hint: it’s not us. They do this with one thing in mind. The casual fan who can bring RATINGS. In many aspects with the NHL opting to spread out Games 5, 6 and 7 if necessary by giving the teams two days off, it’s no longer hockey. The game has become like the NBA. That is a indictment on everyone involved including Gary Bettman and awful TV partner NBC.

The last thing we want as fans is for the Stanley Cup to become similar to the NBA Finals. It’s fine the way it is. I’ve always said hockey should end earlier. Even if the two leagues don’t schedule their marquee event on the same days, hockey and basketball are too close together. Especially when you consider that the NHL starts in October about three weeks before the NBA.

It doesn’t make any sense. Both sports play 82 games followed by a best-of-seven format in all four rounds. The NBA used to be best three-of-five in the first round before changing it. The NHL is the more entertaining sport due to unpredictable runs by eight seeds such as the Kings and now the Predators. That never happens with the NBA anymore. The lone exception being the ’99 Knicks in a abbreviated season.

Playoff hockey still gives us great theatre like overtime where heroes are made along with Game 7. The question is will Nashville hold serve like the first five games and provide that seventh game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. I don’t know.

A final point on why my passion has wavered. I’ve been a lot more distracted by the Yankees and the Aaron Judge show. With the Rangers bowing out in excruciating fashion to the Senators, it’s not the same. I refuse to watch the Pens celebrate another Cup. They’ve been spoon fed two of the game’s all-time greats.

Let’s face facts. Tanks are rewarded. The Rangers are the polar opposite. They never tanked hard enough to get a transcendent superstar who could support Henrik Lundqvist- stolen in the seventh round in 2000. What they accomplished should be appreciated more by our spoiled fan base with half measuring everything on a chart.

For those reasons, I will not watch any of Game 6 or Game 7 if there is one. There’s no need.

 

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HARD HITS: Rookies Guentzel and Murray starring in possible Pens repeat

Jake Guentzel, Brian Dumoulin

Rookie Jake Guentzel has been instrumental during the Pens run leading the NHL Playoffs with 12 goals, five game-winners and a new rookie record 19 points. He and Matt Murray are big reasons the Pens are within two wins of a repeat. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Denver Post. 

The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports. It requires teams to go through four grueling rounds and win 16 games. It helps explain why no one has repeated since the Red Wings in ’97 and ’98.

The defending champion Penguins are attempting to accomplish the rare double. Something the same franchise did in ’91 and ’92 led by aces Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Twenty-five years later, they’re led by another pair in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The game’s best player and the game’s most overlooked superstar.

Along with lethal sniper Phil Kessel, they have been instrumental during the Pens’ run. Not surprisingly, they are the top three leading scorers in the NHL playoffs. Malkin leads the way with 26 (9-17-26) followed by Crosby (7-15-22) and Kessel (7-13-20).

However, it isn’t only the dynamic Pens trio that has them two wins away from a repeat. Pittsburgh also features a pair of impressive rookies who are a big part of it. In forward Jake Guentzel and goalie Matt Murray, the Pens boast two of the most promising young players in the game.

Murray took center stage last year. After just 13 starts in the regular season, he took the Pens all the way to the franchise’s fourth Cup. The former 2012 third round pick taken 83rd overall was splendid in replacing Marc-Andre Fleury and going 15-6 with a 2.08 goals-against-average with a .923 save percentage and one shutout in 21 appearances.

The 23-year old’s poise under pressure is one of his best characteristics. He rarely panics. Even in a dicey Game 7 against the Senators which required two overtimes, Murray made a few timely stops before Crosby set up Chris Kunitz’s winner in sudden death that sent the Pens to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final. Since relieving Fleury against Ottawa, he’s 5-1 in six starts with a 1.54 GAA, .943 save percentage and one shutout. For his postseason career, Murray’s 20-7 with a 1.95 GAA, .928 save percentage and two shutouts.

Facing the Predators. the Pens managed to win the first two games on home ice thanks to some crucial play from Murray and new first-year sensation Guentzel. In Game 1, they blew a 3-0 lead due to a Preds onslaught. Nashville was relentless scoring the next three while holding Pittsburgh without a shot in 37 straight minutes. Somehow, the Pens were able to get what they needed from Guentzel, who beat Pekka Rinne on his team’s first shot since the first period with 3:17 remaining. It was his 10th goal of the postseason. Nick Bonino’s empty netter sealed the 5-3 win.

Game 2 was different with the Pens erupting for three goals in a 3:18 span at the start of the third to break open a tie game for a 4-1 victory. Guentzel was again front and center. Having earlier scored the tying goal on a bad rebound short side on a shaky Rinne late in the first, he was again in the right spot to put away a leaky Bryan Rust rebound for the game-winner just 10 seconds into the final stanza. Guentzel has established a new rookie record with 12 goals and 19 points. He leads all skaters with five game-winners.

The 22-year old former Pens 2013 third round pick taken 77th overall is making it look easy. Listed at only 5-11, 180 pounds, you wouldn’t know it by the way he plays. Guentzel uses his speed and quick release to make things happen. He has tremendous skill and is willing to go to the scoring areas. It’s worth noting that in his recall, he put up 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 games. He quietly did it while Crosby got all the ink winning the Rocket Richard with 44 goals. His 89 points tied for second in the league trailing only Hart favorite Connor McDavid.

With injuries limiting Patric Hornqvist and Bonino to seven points with Connor Sheary only contributing a goal and five helpers, they’ve needed Guentzel’s production. Without it, they wouldn’t be in a winning position with the series shifting to Nashville for the next two starting tonight.

You can make a strong case for Guentzel to win the Conn Smythe. His 12 goals lead the postseason as do his five deciding markers. The 19 points rank fourth behind Malkin, Crosby and Kessel. The last rookie to win the Conn Smythe is Cam Ward, who did it in 2006 for the Hurricanes by winning 15 games as a 22-year old. Patrick Roy is the youngest winner doing it as a 20-year old with the Canadiens in 1986.

It’s safe to say that without Guentzel or Murray, the Pens wouldn’t be where they are. Credit also goes to coach Mike Sullivan, who’s pushed the right buttons. Due to the talent he has at his disposal, he doesn’t get enough credit for the tough lineup decisions and hunches he’s played in adjusting his lines during games. He’s willing to move players up and down throughout the lineup and get the desired results.

He also has full command of the bench. Crosby and Malkin have bought in playing more disciplined. They don’t take many frustrating retaliatory penalties anymore as they had under former coach Mike Johnston and even Dan Bylsma. They lead by example. It’s why these Pens under Sullivan are easier to respect.

Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan

New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan (21) encourages goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) as goalie Antti Raanta (32) replaces Lundqvist during the second period of the Rangers’ NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, April 2, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

BODY CHECKS:

-The officiating continues to be substandard. They allow blatant stick fouls and mugging but call the obvious hooks and holds even if they’re phantom. If there is one gripe, it’s the inconsistency which has frustrated fans and even NBC analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. They’ve been outspoken as have Pierre McGuire and Ed Olczyk.

-NBC’s coverage remains an eye sore. They’ve clearly shown bias towards the Pens with Milbury ignoring a bad call on Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok in Game 1 that led to a full two minute Pens five-on-three thanks to a foolish cross check from ex-Pen James Neal. Jarnkrok didn’t take a penalty as the Pen was already on the way down. Something Olczyk noted.

-By the same token, Malkin got a bogus booking minor for a stick on stick with the other Pens penalty a Kunitz cross check giving Nashville a full two-man advantage. So, the refs have been bad for both sides. They missed a mugging on Guentzel from Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm. Crosby has certainly been worked over but also got away with interference on a Malkin power play goal in Game 1. No one said anything.

-With the officiating what it is, teams must play through. Though I would expect Nashville to get more calls at home than Game 2 when the Pens got five extra power plays.

-Say this for P.K. Subban. He doesn’t lack confidence. In being one of his team’s most effective players, he guaranteed a Game 3 victory tonight. Given how well the Preds have played on home ice in the loudest environment, why shouldn’t he be confident? They easily could’ve won Game 1 if not for Rinne’s hiccups late. Game 2 fell apart with Guentzel, Scott Wilson and Malkin turning a 1-1 game into 4-1 Pens quickly.

-Who doesn’t like seeing two of the game’s stars in Subban and Malkin going at it? That’s playoff hockey.

-Viktor Arvidsson remains stuck on one goal. Neal hasn’t done much against his former team. These two must pick it up.

-The power plays have been blah. The Pens are 1-for-9 going 0-for-7 in Game 2. The Preds are 2-for-5. They got their two in Game 1 from Ryan Ellis and Colton Sissons, who’s had the hot hand.

-Filip Forsberg has been shutout so far. That can’t continue for Nashville to get back in it. They need to sweep Games 3 and 4 to have a realistic chance. But it all comes down to tonight.

-Rinne was pulled after Malkin blew one by him in the third period for 4-1. He must find whatever mojo he had before and fast.

-Alexander Ovechkin isn’t getting traded. Let’s leave it at that.

-Even with hints he wants to play for the Rangers, no way is Ilya Kovalchuk winding up on Broadway. The Devils would never trade him here.

-Both Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie are available from Colorado. Figure Duchene to go escaping jail. I have no idea what the plan is for the once proud Avalanche franchise that won a pair of Cups led by Joe Sakic, Roy and a Peter Forsberg.

-All the talk about LeBron James and his place in NBA history. But what about Crosby if he leads the Pens to a repeat for the hardest and most prestigious trophy? It would be three Cups in four Finals appearances along with two Harts, two Art Rosses, a Conn Smythe, two Richards and two Olympic golds including the golden goal in Vancouver. Sid is also classier. He never talks about his legacy and always gives credit to teammates. It’s a hockey thing.

-So Henrik Lundqvist injured his knee while winning gold with twin brother Joel Lundqvist in the Worlds. Maybe if the NHL wasn’t so stubborn, he wouldn’t have played. But no Olympic participation in South Korea next year was too much for Lundqvist to pass up another chance to play with his brother.

-So what if Mika Zibanejad records music in his free time. It’s June. Players are allowed to have fun too. I need to hear it just for kicks. Does DJ ZB have a future after hockey?

-Get rid of the offside challenge. It kills the flow and takes way too long. Sure. They got it right nullifying Subban’s goal which would’ve given the Preds a good start in Game 1. But it was that close with Forsberg’s skate not touching for onside. Such calls were probably missed a lot in previous postseasons. The replay challenge needs to be revamped. Is it really supposed to be used for inches on plays no one can tell?

-I still would take Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick at number one overall if I were the Devils. Go for the more dynamic scorer. Plus he doesn’t have any injury history.

-It is gonna be odd to see two former perennial playoff rivals picking 1-2 in the NHL Draft with the Flyers getting Hischier or Patrick as a nice consolation prize.

-The expansion draft interests me. Who will Las Vegas take for their goalie? Philipp Grubauer, Antti Raanta, Malcom Subban or  Joonas Korpisalo. The draft takes place between June 18-20. But they won’t reveal the Knights roster until June 21 at the NHL Awards which are appropriately at T-Mobile Arena.

-NHL teams must submit their protect lists by 5 PM on June 17.

 

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Stanley Cup underway: Predators vs Penguins

The Stanley Cup gets underway tonight. Game 1 between the host Penguins and visiting Predators starts after 8 PM Eastern Standard Time. It should be a great series. I think it has the potential to go seven.

So, what are my thoughts?

-The Pens aim for the first repeat since the Red Wings (1997, ’98) when they swept the Flyers and Caps for back to back titles with the second emotional for former injured star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov.

-The Penguins are here due to coach Mike Sullivan pushing the right buttons. Despite a slew of injuries that has excluded ace defenseman Kris Letang and other forwards in and out of the lineup, Sullivan has managed his club well to get them back to this point. He made the right call going to Matt Murray to turn around a closely fought Eastern Conference Final which also featured a classic Game 7 that went to double overtime before 37-year old three-time champ Chris Kunitz became the oldest player to score a OT winner in a deciding seventh game to help the Pens advance to defend their Cup.

-Sullivan moved Kunitz up to the Sidney Crosby line during Game 7 and it paid huge dividends. Kunitz had gone 34 games without a goal. He entered with only two assists in the postseason. So of course, he scored twice and had a assist with the seeing eye fluky one-timer that was more a change up from a great Crosby pass sneaking past heroic Senators goalie Craig Anderson for the emotional winner.

-The Pens got back Justin Schultz who scored a key power play goal on a butchered call in which Phil Kessel embellished to draw a interference minor on Dion Phaneuf. But the Sens showed resilience fighting back to tie it with Ryan Dzingel finishing a Erik Karlsson shot off the goalpost to force sudden death. It was Ottawa’s last stand. They barely got shots on Murray in the two overtimes. The Pens relentlessly attacked with Anderson saving his team several times until finally Kunitz won it.

-Pittsburgh gets former Predator Patric Hornqvist back tonight. That is a good storyline with Hornqvist facing James Neal. They were traded for each other. The biggest storyline is Crosby trying to lead his team to a repeat against the upstarts from Nashville. The third eighth seed to ever reach this stage. Edmonton and Los Angeles the other two.

-P..K. Subban is the larger than life dream that NBC will love. The former Canadien who was traded for Shea Weber straight up helping anchor the league’s best defense against the very high scoring and supremely skilled Pens led by two Conn Smythe winners in Crosby and leading postseason scorer Evgeni Malkin. It should be intriguing to see what wins out. The Nashville top 4 of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Subban or the Pens dynamic offense of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel with a very balanced core featuring Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Hornqvist, Kunitz along with overlooked depth centers Nick Bonino and Mr. Game 7 Matt Cullen.

-Without top pivot Ryan Johansen, the Preds will need continued dominance from Filip Forsberg along with more finishing from Viktor Arvidsson and Neal. They’ve gotten large contributions from Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and Colin Wilson.

-How much impact will a healthy Mike Fisher have for the Preds? He is back in his second SCF in 10 years. Not the same force but still a glue piece who will be important on draws, penalty kill and at 5-on-5. He can help them at the center position.

-The big match up features two Stanley Cup winning coaches with the Pens’ Sullivan winning last year after taking over in December 2015. The Preds will lean on Peter Laviolette, who guided the Hurricanes to victory in ’05-06. He also got the Flyers there in 2010 before they lost in six at home to the Blackhawks.

-Can Pekka Rinne continue his amazing run or will the Pens solve him? He’s the leading playoff MVP candidate. It would be nice to see him win.

-I see it being a long hard fought series. I will take the Pens’ experience in 7. But will pull for the Preds. They must win in 6. It should be fun!

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HARD HITS: Anderson’s performance forces Game 7

For a while, Craig Anderson has been the Senators’ number one goalie. A former Blackhawk, Panther and Avalanche who didn’t really establish himself as a consistent starter until he was acquired by Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2011 from Colorado for Brian Elliott, the admirable 36-year old American has the Senators on the verge of a second ever Stanley Cup appearance in 10 years.

In his first full season as the Ottawa starter, he won 33 games and posted a 2.83 goals-against-average with a .913 save percentage during the ’11-12 season to get them in as an eighth seed. He lifted his play in a tightly contested first round series against the top seeded Rangers. Anderson nearly matched more established Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, posting a 2.00 GAA and .933 save percentage with a shutout in a tough seven-game series defeat. Lundqvist shut the door in Games 6 and 7 to help the Rangers advance.

Anderson has always been overlooked. He’s a solid number one who has proven to be reliable for the Senators. Injuries and off ice issues have side tracked him. The latest being wife Nicholle Anderson’s courageous fight with cancer. Her husband took time off to be with her in between playing 40 games for Ottawa. With backup Mike Condon able to fill in admirably, the Sens hung in and made the postseason. Anderson managed to post impressive numbers winning 25 games with a 2.28 GAA, .926 save percentage and five shutouts. Astonishing considering the time he missed.

His uncanny ability to focus during such a tough time is amazing. He helped lead the Sens past the rival Bruins and then avenged the 2012 loss to Lundqvist and the Rangers to get Ottawa into the Eastern Conference Final against the heavily favorite defending champion Penguins. Following a tough six-game series win that included some great comebacks and overtime theatrics in Games 2 and 5, I wondered how much they would have left. Particularly due to Erik Karlsson playing with fractures in his heel.

I figured they would be out of gas, taking the Pens in five. How wrong I was. Instead, it was the Sens who took control early holding the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel Pens to three goals in the first three games to take a 2-1 series lead. Anderson made timely stops and had help from his team defense. They play a tight 1-3-1 checking system and do a good job taking away the front of the net.

But the Pens rose to the challenge taking Game 4 on Brian Dumoulin’s game-winner and Matt Murray’s goaltending. Then came a dominant Game 5 in which they chased Anderson twice in a 7-0 shellacking on Sunday. The blowout win put the Pens up 3-2 within a game of a second straight Stanley Cup Final where the Predators await after finishing off the Ducks in six.

Questions surrounded the Sens. Were they done? But thanks to a heroic effort from Anderson in which he made 45 saves in a 2-1 Game 6 home victory, Ottawa has forced a Game 7. Without the unflappable netminder, there’s no way they would’ve survived a Pens onslaught that included plenty of territorial play and puck possession in the Sens zone.

They controlled much of the action with their speed and forecheck generating plenty of shots and quality chances. In many aspects, it was similar to what the Pens endured against the Caps last round with Marc-Andre Fleury stealing a couple of games while their talent solved Braden Holtby.

The Pens could’ve led by two. But Trevor Daley had a apparent goal overturned due to goalie interference on a controversial but successful challenge from Ottawa coach Guy Boucher. Daley thought he scored the game’s first goal when he went hard to the net and got to a Anderson rebound and steered it in. But they ruled that he made contact with the Ottawa goalie which kept him from getting back in position for Daley’s shot. Honestly, Ottawa got very lucky. It was one I would’ve let stand.

A great individual effort from Malkin in which he abused Zack Smith led to the remarkably gifted Russian center scoring to put the Pens up 1-0. As NBC’s Doc Emrick noted, that one counted. But in a lopsided second period which saw the Pens pepper Anderson with 23 shots, it was the only time they beat him legally. Not even tough deflections by Crosby and Malkin got by Anderson, who made some huge saves.

Still alive, Ottawa took advantage of a five-on-three to draw even. Following a very iffy interference call on Ron Hainsey, Ian Cole high-sticked Kyle Turris, the struggling Sens power play finally went to work. Karlsson started it by passing across for Turris, who quickly one-timed a pass to Bobby Ryan for a one-timer to the short side top past Murray to tie the game.

Ryan has had a terrific playoffs after a tough regular season. He has two goals and four assists in the series and has been a nightmare for the Pens even getting in the face of Crosby. Both were taken in the 2005 NHL Draft 1-2. It’s the best Ryan has ever played.

The Senators were absolute pests last night. They took liberties with Crosby during and following play. You had Ryan having a running dialogue with the Pens captain. You also had Marc Methot getting some revenge with a tap to Crosby with his stick while Mike Hoffman squirted water on him from the bench. It was all let go.

Ottawa did what it took to win. They played a much better third with Hoffman scoring the only goal off a Pens turnover when he blasted a slap shot high off the goalpost and in to convert a three-on-two from Fredrik Claesson and Clarke MacArthur with 18:26 left in regulation.

 

On a night the Pens outshot the Sens 46-30 and out-attempted them by a wide 75-46 margin, it didn’t matter due in large part to a brilliant Anderson. When he wasn’t turning the Pens aside, he had help from his D who chipped in with 17 blocked shots while Pittsburgh also missed 12 other attempts.

A more inspired third in which the shots were near even favoring the Pens 12-11 was enough for the Sens to prevail. Even with Bryan Rust taking Karlsson with him for matching roughs, the Senators were able to survive a dangerous four-on-four that saw Mike Sullivan try Crosby with Malkin.

Anderson delivered a money performance. The Sens did a great job shutting down the Pens once Murray was lifted for a extra attacker. They didn’t muster much due to Ottawa standing up at their blueline and staying aggressive to force the Pens into several neutral zone turnovers. Following one more big save from Anderson on Kessel with 36.5 seconds left, a pesky Turris clinched the win with a intercept and forecheck as time expired.

Ottawa has proven again that they belong in the conversation. A team that has had to silence doubters in the first two rounds is a game away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final. As unlikely as it would be with them having to play a more complete Game 7 tomorrow in Pittsburgh who will undoubtedly get some of those calls, here they are.

They are not here without the inspirational Anderson, who has one chance to fulfill a childhood dream. It would be storybook. Game 7 is the greatest theatre in sports. When it’s for a place in the Stanley Cup, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Either it’ll be the very determined and resilient Pens led by generational talents minus many regulars. Or a gritty bunch of Sens who have a few key players banged up but have been written off before.

Nick Bonino, Kris Letang, Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby

Has there ever been a more ignored superstar than the Pens Evgeni Malkin (top right)?

BODY CHECKS:

-Why would the Devils fire radio color commentator Sherry Ross with even the equipment manager and video operator going? Is there any sense to anything the new Devils ownership does? So much for class and loyalty.

-I’ve seen way too many critiques of Oscar Lindberg, who was under utilized by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. Maybe he is a “fourth liner” as he’s been labeled. But it’s not like the gum chewing coach rode his most effective forechecking center in a disappointing second round ouster to the Senators. When he shortened up, he hurt the team’s biggest strength. Coincidentally, also overusing Nick Holden and Marc Staal in the critical Game 2 collapse. What’s going to change in Year 5?

-Do you think Mike Milbury bites his tongue on former Islanders coach Peter Laviolette reaching his third Stanley Cup Final with a third different team? The same Mad Mike who gave up on generational talent Zdeno Chara and a first round pick (Jason Spezza) to Ottawa for overrated Alexei Yashin. The same Milbury who dealt away future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo with Olli Jokinen to the Panthers for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish.

-ESPN isn’t what it used to be. But the E:60 coming up on P.K. Subban should be worth the watch. Subban even admitted he doesn’t know why he still isn’t a Canadien. They chose former coach Michel Therrien over him. Amazing. Shea Weber is no slouch. It’s just hard to believe how the once proud Canadiens operate under Marc Bergevin.

-Imagine if the Habs kept Ryan McDonagh and Subban. That was Bob Gainey, who must have had one too many Irish whiskeys with Glen Sather.

-At least there won’t be any beloved horse race once the Stanley Cup Final begins. Though we are certain NBC will give so much more attention to the Belmont Stakes a week from this Saturday than the Cup participants. They must be praying for the Pens tomorrow.

-What more does Malkin have to do to prove he was the biggest oversight on the beloved NHL top 100? He has a Conn Smythe, Hart, Art Ross, is way over a point-per-game for his career and leads the postseason with 24 points (7-17-24). If only he were Canadian instead of Russian and playing in Crosby’s shadow.

-Sometimes, I get the distinct impression NBC is paying Pierre McGuire to be Crosby’s PR spokesman. The hockey world knows how special Crosby is. We don’t need daily reminders between the benches. That would annoy me if I were playing the Pens.

-It’s true that the level of substandard officiating has been its usual during the postseason. But they shouldn’t ignore what Crosby has gotten away with either.

-I don’t want a penalty fest in the Cup like Milbury, who made his living beating up players and fans. Pretty hypocritical. I prefer they let them play. Don’t miss the egregious stick infractions or cross checks/boarding.

-Would anyone take playoff Alexander Ovechkin over Filip Forsberg?

-I’m happy for Henrik Lundqvist that he got a chance to win with twin brother Joel besting Canada in the shootout for Sweden to take gold in the World Championships. I just wish I could see him lift Lord Stanley at MSG as a Ranger. A image that’s getting further and further away fading into the sunset.

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