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.

Advertisements
Posted in Column, NHL Playoffs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Predators make history with 6-3 win over Ducks to reach Stanley Cup Final

They’re celebrating in Music City tonight with good reason. In what’s sure to be a wild scene in Nashville, the Predators made history by reaching the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final. They earned it by showing true grit and determination to beat the Ducks 6-3 to take Game 6 in front of a rabid home atmosphere to win a hard fought Western Conference Final.

It truly is a special time to be a hockey fan in a unique non-traditional market. In defeating the top seeded Blackhawks, the higher seeded Blues and the second seeded Ducks, the Predators become only the third team to make the Stanley Cup Final as an eight seed. They join the Flyers and Kings. Philadelphia was coached by current Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, who made a bit of history in becoming the fourth coach to guide three different teams to the Final. He won it all with the Hurricanes in ’05-06 while winding up runner up in ’09-10 in a six-game loss to the Blackhawks.

The Preds did it despite being largely outplayed by a relentless Ducks who were playing for their playoff livelihood. They outshot the Predators 41-18 and held them to just eight shots the first two periods. But trailed on the scoreboard 2-1 entering a wild and unpredictable third.

Nashville built a early two-goal lead thanks to goals from unsung heroes Austin Watson and Colton Sissons. Watson got to Ducks Game 6 starter Jonathan Bernier 1:21 in. Subbing for injured starter John Gibson, who coach Randy Carlyle later revealed had a hamstring injury sustained during the first period of Game 5 in which he exited, Bernier wasn’t sharp from the outset. He should’ve had Watson’s goal created off a Nashville face off win.

The Ducks had already come out flying testing Pekka Rinne early and often. But Rinne was sensational throughout stopping all dozen of Anaheim’s shots en route to 38 saves. His superior play in net along with Nashville’s supporting cast was the difference in a ultra competitive physical series that inflicted pain and casualties on both sides.

Nashville was able to win the final two games without top center Ryan Johansen and captain Mike Fisher. Johansen had hip surgery and will not play in the Stanley Cup. He was on crutches during the on ice celebration that include a nice photo op with the Clarence Campbell trophy which a limping Fisher didn’t touch. He remains questionable for next round which starts next Monday, May 29 on Memorial Day.

Anaheim was without Gibson for the last five periods of their season and didn’t have top finisher Rickard Rakell either. They also played the round minus key acquisition Patrick Eaves. Carlyle tried to point to a tough schedule that had his team play seven games over 13 days following a quick turnaround after ousting Edmonton in seven. But that wasn’t the issue. They showed the same resiliency rallying from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits.

It was poor play from Bernier, who wasn’t as steady as he was down the stretch with Gibson out. He allowed four goals on 16 shots while Rinne repelled 38 of 41. It was a weird game that saw Anaheim control large portions with their heavy forecheck. They out-attempted Nashville 63-35. But it meant nothing.

Even without their two best centers, the Predators’ depth shined through to make the difference. Sissons recorded a postseason hat trick including getting the series clincher from Calle Jarnkrok with exactly six minutes left in regulation. Watson scored twice including the second empty netter for the final margin. He also blocked six shots showing tenacity. As a team, the Preds blocked 22 shots. They had to or they wouldn’t have won. That’s how good the Ducks were possession wise.

Sometimes, Corsi doesn’t matter. Not when you have the postseason’s leading Conn Smythe candidate making great save after great save. That’s how special Rinne has been. He finally gets the chance to be in the spotlight. Well deserved for another late draft pick who has been similar to Henrik Lundqvist. Hopefully, fate is on his side.

The Preds have looked like destiny’s darlings since sweeping Chicago. They have not looked like a team that made it as a second wildcard. Not with a top four D featuring unheralded anchor Roman Josi, underrated Ryan Ellis along with overlooked Mattias Ekholm and former Hab P.K. Subban. They’re here due to Johansen having a huge playoffs before being sidelined the rest of the playoffs. They’re here due to the remarkable play of Filip Forsberg, whose empty net goal and key assist on Sissons’ second extended his playoff point streak to seven.

Forsberg’s been tremendous. He really is a star player who the Caps must regret trading for Martin Erat. Imagine if they didn’t. Forsberg competes extremely hard and hustles which led to the Preds’ third goal at the three minute mark of the third to go back up two. He is up to 15 points (8-7-15).

Sissons’ special night started when he took a Pontus Aberg pass and drove a good wrist shot past Bernier low to the blocker side for a two-goal lead at 8:47 of the first. A odd period that also saw Ducks’ youngster Nick Ritchie lose his discipline boarding Viktor Arvidsson from behind hard bloodying him. It resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct. The appropriate call with Arvidsson going to the locker room for repairs before returning.

But the Preds were dreadful on the power play not even registering a shot. In fact, it was the aggressive Ducks penalty kill which dominated even generating shorthanded chances forcing Rinne to make a pair of timely stops. Had Nashville scored there, they could’ve buried Anaheim.

Instead, the resilient Ducks continued to take it to the Preds who were fortunate to still be up. Anaheim’s hard work finally paid off when following a Nashville icing, Ryan Getzlaf won a offensive draw back to Sami Vatanen, whose low shot rebounded off with Corey Perry in front. Perry helped free the puck to Getzlaf, who found a wide open Ondrej Kase all alone for a tap in at 4:45 cutting the deficit to 2-1.

They were way better. Nashville took two minor penalties giving the Ducks a pair of power plays. But they couldn’t cash in with a strong Preds penalty kill doing the job. Having the front four of Josi, Ellis, Ekholm and Subban serves its purpose. They also got yeoman efforts from guys like Watson, Sissons, Jarnkrok, Arvidsson and checking pivot Vernon Fiddler.

Despite being outshot 25-8, they still led by one entering the final frantic period. When Sissons was able to get to a loose puck after an Aberg whack and beat Bernier five-hole from Forsberg, that made it 3-1 with 17 minutes left. Things looked good. But Chris Wagner was able to get it right back two minutes later with a sweet finish off Rinne and the post from Nic Kerdiles and Antoine Vermette.

The Ducks kept coming. As they have throughout their run, they never quit. A huge Getzlaf face off win led directly to Cam Fowler bombing one from the left point past a screened Rinne to tie the score with still 11:09 remaining. Laviolette challenged for goaltender interference due to Perry contacting Rinne prior to the Fowler goal. But he had enough time to recover. So, they upheld the goal and Nashville lost its timeout.

They really could’ve made the Preds pay for a Josi delay of game that nearly became a two-man advantage with a clear just going off the glass before going out. Maybe that lucky bounce was a sign that the Predators would win. They killed off another ineffective Ducks power play.

This time, it was their aggression that resulted in Sissons’ series clincher with six minutes to go. Sissons forced Fowler into a turnover at the Nashville blueline. He kept puck pursuit and eventually out worked a couple of puck watching Ducks to get the puck to Jarnkrok. The play was a two-on-four with Fowler, Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan Kesler all back. But they were awful allowing Jarnkrok to draw them in and dish across for a unchecked Sissons, who rifled it home top shelf as the power play expired.

Following a stoppage, they announced the hat trick resulting in plenty of hats raining down at Bridgestone Arena. That was due to Sissons’ second goal originally credited to Aberg. But it was clear it was his. It made for a fun and chaotic scene in a very loud arena that would have plenty to celebrate.

Anaheim didn’t give up. But they were unable to get another one past Rinne, who was a brick wall. His defense tightened up down the stretch. Carlyle pulled Bernier early with over two and a half minutes left.

It backfired when Forsberg sent a flip clear from his own blueline that bounced favorably into a vacated Anaheim net with 2:22 left for a 5-3 lead. Less than a minute later, Watson erased any doubt with his second from Ellis into an empty net touching off a celebration at the bench. That included a excited Subban jumping up and down like a kid. Is there a better personality? Good for him.

Even as time wound down, Kevin Bieksa couldn’t resist roughing up a Pred and getting a early shower with a misconduct. That’s who he is. At that point, it was decided. There was no reason for it.

When the buzzer sounded, Nashville mobbed Rinne, who has been electric this postseason. He’ll enter the Stanley Cup Final with a dominant 12-4 record with including a 1.70 goals-against-average, .941 save percentage and two shutouts. He even has three assists demonstrating what a capable puckhandling goalie can do for his defense. Tonight was all about him.

The handshake was good. You saw plenty of mutual respect from the respected leaders of each side. Though it was kinda tough seeing Perry with his face down in tears on the Anaheim bench following Watson’s empty net sealer. That might be his last big run with the Ducks teamed with Getzlaf. They won the franchise’s only Cup in 2007 on a loaded roster that featured Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer and future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne along with former Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Kudos to both teams for giving fans a great Western Conference Final. The Predators await the Eastern Conference Final winner between Ottawa and Pittsburgh. The Pens lead the series 3-2 and will look to advance in Game 6 versus the Senators later tonight at 8 PM. They destroyed the Sens 7-0 in Game 5 and have won the last two. We’ll see if the healthier Sens can force a seventh game.

Posted in NHL Playoffs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HARD HITS: Battle for Stanley Cup a war of attrition

As the Conference Finals draw to a conclusion, the battle among the four elite teams left for the Stanley Cup has become a war of attrition.

It’s literally kill or be killed. The Pens, Sens, Ducks and Preds are in survival mode. Do whatever it takes to win each remaining game to reach their goal of 16 wins for the ultimate prize.

The ferocity with which these games are played is like anything ever seen. Sure. It’s always a battle for every inch on the ice at this time of year. But never have there been more players injured due to the intense physicality during play and post whistle.

One look at the defending champion Pens and it’s a miracle they’ve gotten this far. Already without indispensable ace blueliner Kris Letang, they’ve been ravaged by injuries. They still were able to get through the Caps despite missing several regulars. They can thank selfless teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, who was utterly brilliant in the seven-game second round victory over the choking Caps.

Fleury is the biggest reason Pittsburgh is still alive in search of a repeat. Something that hasn’t been done since the Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. With his team falling apart in front of him in a miserable blowout loss to Ottawa in Game 3, coach Mike Sullivan went back to 2016 playoff hero Matt Murray, who replaced Fleury after he allowed four goals. Coming off a groin injury that sidelined him since the start of the postseason, Murray made timely stops in a badly needed 3-2 win in Game 4 that got dicey in the final moments.

c-dxyecxyaazlmv

The pesky Sens nearly pulled off another miraculous comeback after trailing by three. Only a huge Murray save pointblank on Erik Karlsson prevented overtime. A bad reminder for Rangers fans still watching. Their ineptitude protecting leads is why they’re home. Instead, Henrik Lundqvist tries to lead Sweden to gold at the World Championships against Canada.

Of the leftovers, Ottawa is the healthiest. Even with inspirational captain Karlsson at about 65 percent, he’s somehow still able to dominate games. The Sens also still boast all four centers featuring Kyle Turris, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derick Brassard and Zack Smith. They also have rugged defenseman Dion Phaneuf wrecking opponents with nasty yet clean hits that have a impact. Just ask key Pens forward Bryan Rust, who remains out. You don’t have to remind the Garden Faithful about Phaneuf, who ended Mike Sauer’s promising career.

In Game 4, a controversial big hit by Bobby Ryan concussed Pens defenseman Chad Ruhwedl which forced Sullivan to rely on five D with Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and Game 4 hero Brian Dumoulin seeing the bulk of the action. Somehow, they had enough to hold on with solid efforts from Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey.

It helps to still have the game’s best in Sidney Crosby, who at less than 100 percent since a concussion last round, elevated his game with a power play goal and assist. Number 87 hasn’t found much room against the airtight Senators. But he did fight through what little space there was to make a difference setting up a pivotal Game 5 this afternoon in Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin has a goal and assist. Phil Kessel had the lone goal in a 1-0 Fleury shutout in Game 2. He’s continued to fire away and look dangerous.

The Pens can thank poised first-year man Jake Guentzel for blossoming into a lethal scorer. He has the look of a future star with nine goals and seven assists including a pair in Game 4. Tied with Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg for the postseason lead in goals (9), the 2013 third round pick who went 77th overall ranks fourth in scoring with 16 points. Only Malkin (20), Crosby (18) and Ryan Getzlaf (17) have more. Kessel also has 16 as did Oilers breakout star Leon Draisaitl before the Ducks eliminated them.

Pittsburgh is trying to do this with Justin Schultz out. They don’t get past the Caps without him. They’ve skated the last three minus pest Patric Hornqvist. Following a dismal Game 3, Sullivan pushed the right button moving grizzled vet Chris Kunitz up to the Crosby line. A move that resulted in more Pens attacking Craig Anderson’s crease making it more difficult. It resulted in Anderson leaving the short side post on two goals.

When Sullivan is going with fourth liners Scott Wilson and Carter Rowney more to balance out the lines, it tells you how urgent the situation is.

Given the shape the Pens are in, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ottawa wins Game 5 and takes the series to make the franchise’s second Stanley Cup Final. The first coming exactly 10 years ago before falling to the Anaheim.

As for the Ducks, they are on the brink after losing a home Game 5 to the Predators 3-1. It was another brutal game full of huge hits and rough stuff. Both teams were without key players.  Most notably, Nashville who must do it the rest of the way minus top pivot Ryan Johansen. He was playing his best hockey with a team best 10 assists to go with three goals. Johansen posted four points in the first two games while helping stifle Getzlaf, who remains without a goal in the series despite three assists. He was also winning over 54 percent of draws. Hip surgery finished his season.

Captain Mike Fisher also missed Game 5 due to a upper body injury on a hit that forced the ex-Senator out of Game 4. His status remains uncertain. Even down two centers, the Preds overcame a one-goal deficit to post a hard fought come from behind 3-1 victory to get within one game of their first ever Stanley Cup appearance.

They got a power play goal from veteran Colin Wilson in the final minute of the second period. A goal which was off hard work when he sent a backhand rebound past Anaheim sub Jonathan Bernier. He was pressed into action following the first due to starter John Gibson suffering a lower body injury on a acrobatic but awkward save that hobbled him. Coach Randy Carlyle indicated that Gibson should be good to go for Game 6.

Anaheim also skated without dangerous finisher Rickard Rakell, who was a late scratch. That loss undoubtedly hurt their offense. Rakell has seven goals and six helpers for 13 points with a plus-13 rating. No coincidence considering his skill level and nose for the net.

The Ducks were still in good position when Chris Wagner finished off a rebound from rookie Brandon Montour and Silfverberg to go ahead by one at 12:28 of period two. They were stifling the Preds for most of the second until Josh Manson got nabbed for a crosscheck minor. Manson took a missed high stick prior putting the Preds on the power play. They took full advantage on a play set up by P.K. Subban with depth forward Colton Sissons helping in front before Wilson tied it with 41 seconds left.

In the third, first-year forward Pontus Aberg was able to get to a juicy rebound of a Filip Forsberg shot and bury it past Bernier into a open side with 8:59 remaining in regulation. Underrated top four defenseman Mattias Ekholm set the play up with a huge defensive play to help stop a Anaheim chance with Pekka Rinne in danger. Rinne was fantastic making 32 saves in a huge bounce back victory. A strong performance in response to Corey Perry’s historic overtime winner off Subban that made him the first ever player to score OT winners in each of the first three rounds.

The Preds’ top four D anchored by Roman Josi with Ryan Ellis along with Subban and Ekholm made the one-goal lead stand up. They got strong checking from a supporting cast that included Sissons, who went 8-and-9 on face offs with Frederick Gaudreau stepping into a pressure situation by going 10-and-4 on draws.

With Bernier off for a extra attacker, Silfverberg had the misfortune of his twig breaking on a pass. A Ryan Kesler turnover led directly to Austin Watson scoring an empty netter from his own zone.

That sealed it. Nashville finds themselves one win away from a first ever Stanley Cup Final. Considering how hard fought each game has been, it wouldn’t surprise if Anaheim wins Game 6 in Music City and forcing a do or die seventh game.

The way it finished with Nick Ritchie throwing down with Ekholm, don’t expect the Ducks to go down easily. They’ve been resilient all postseason. Game 6 should be worth the wait Monday night. Especially with the very loud Predators fans breaking records for decibel level. They are a rowdy bunch.

One thing is notable. If you’re unwilling to pay the price, you’re not winning the greatest trophy in sports. Whoever is the last team standing will truly have earned Lord Stanley.

c-cvkh9vwaapy1q

Cross Checks:

-It’s interesting how so many Rangers pundits are so sure they would’ve been able to beat the Pens. Under what pretense? Nobody would’ve injured any Pen like Phaneuf. Not one Ranger on the current roster can really make life miserable on goalies. Chris Kreider isn’t that guy. Rick Nash isn’t equipped. Only Mats Zuccarello plays a big man’s game despite his small stature.

-Imagine Lundqvist after the Pens speed and superior skill and grit chased him. Oh wait. It already happened. The same ‘experts’ who used tired rhetoric to blast Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass. Both were two of the team’s most effective players. It doesn’t say much for the current roster.

-Can you ever picture a fired up captain Ryan McDonagh getting in a teammate’s face on the bench the way Karlsson blasted Turris for some lazy turnovers in Game 4? So much for being that leader.

-The bottom line is the Alain Vigneault Rangers are a great group but way too vanilla. They lack a strong personality who can make a difference.

-Great job by NBC not having a pre or post game for Saturday’s Game 5. As long as the Preakness was over covered front and back with upset winner Cloud Computing stunning those horse experts including Ed Olczyk. He must’ve been Always Dreaming.

-I am no horse expert. But I’ve watched enough Triple Crown races to pick up on a few things. I noticed how well Cloud Computing was running in the first quarter hanging back in the fourth position. Sure enough, it made its charge beating Always Dreaming by a full nose. Maybe I should have been a horse analyst.

-It’s sad that even NBCSN didn’t have a post game of Preds-Ducks. It was only Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. Instead, they had some odd car thing on for two hours. Amazing how reliable the NHL partner is. No different than ESPN/ABC who have fallen apart due to big heads and greed.

-When one sees how good Filip Forsberg is, it’s a wonder Washington gave him away to Nashville for rental Martin Erat. Just imagine the Caps had they kept him. He has a scorer’s instinct and is more complete and younger than Alexander Ovechkin, who sure was a goat in Game 7. I don’t care how hurt he was. He played the whole series and too often wasn’t a factor.

-Nicklas Backstrom blamed the Caps’ early failure in the first four games for another second round ouster. So, after convincingly taking Games 5-6, Game 7 didn’t matter? The way they played, that’s how it looked. Backstrom is a terrific two-way playmaking pivot who had a great year and was his team’s best player in the postseason. But the lack of common sense is a disgrace to Caps fans. Great leadership.

-Barry Trotz has a lot in common with Vigneault. But at least Vigneault has guided two teams to Stanley Cup Finals. Trotz never had great teams in Nashville. What’s his excuse now? He got schooled by Sullivan in Game 7 in his own building. The game reminded me of Rangers and Lightning Game 7 Conference Final 2015. In that one, Jon Cooper outfoxed Vigneault.

-It’s been fun following Canadiens fans on Twitter. Many are supporting Nashville because they still love Subban. Who can blame them? They know the kind of character player he is. Too bad Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin didn’t appreciate him. Nothing against Shea Weber, who was one of the Habs best players in the first round loss to the Rangers. Montreal’s failure had more to do with Bergevin than anyone. Star for star trades are rare. If Subban wins a Cup this year, it doesn’t determine who won the trade. He plays on a much better roster.

-It’s amazing the Preds are doing this despite Viktor Arvidsson in a scoring slump. If they keep going, he might score a big goal before it’s over.

-Rangers/Sabres Winter Classic is unappealing because they’re not rivals. Buffalo being the home team at Citi Field is asinine. At least Jack Eichel gets center stage. The game should be played in Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium like the first one that remains the best of the lot. Crosby beating Ryan Miller in the shootout under Christmas snow on New Year’s Day.

 

Posted in Column | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rangers fire Gernander, Drury named Hartford GM

In a bit of news with the AHL affiliate Hartford, the Rangers fired Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander. A former Wolf Pack/Ranger, Gernander served as the coach of the Pack for  a decade starting in ’07-08 thru this season when they missed the playoffs. They finished a disappointing 24-46-6. The worst record under Gernander, who also was a AHL assistant for two years before taking over.

Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury will take over as Hartford general manager. He’ll replace Jim Schoenfield who’ll have a different role in the organization. Drury has become a hot commodity drawing interest from the Sabres before they hired Jason Botterill as their new GM.

The Rangers denied Buffalo’s request for a interview, intending to retain Drury for a bigger role. He’ll oversee the Wolf Pack, who have missed the postseason four of the last five years. Hartford clearly needed a change with some prospects struggling to develop consistently.

Part of it is a lack of talent. After leading scorer Nicklas Jensen’s 32 goals and 55 points, Marek Hrivik finished second with 40 points. Then former third round pick Adam Tambellini (13-22-35). Hardly inspiring. Cristoval Nieves wound up with only 18 points in his first pro year after a good training camp.

Only defenseman Ryan Graves remains on track to be a NHL player posting eight goals and 22 assists. With coach Alain Vigneault acknowledging his team is looking to add a young blueliner, Graves could be fighting for a spot this Fall with recently signed former KHL defenseman Alexei Bereglazov. The club also reached agreement with NCAA free agent Neil Pionk. He will get a look as will John Gilmour.

With the change will also come a new AHL coach. Who will it be? Time will tell.

Posted in Battle News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The cure for Rangers withdrawal

c-n9auaumaa3tiu

Playoff hockey continues tonight in Pittsburgh. But a Game 2 between a team the Rangers should’ve beat in the Senators and the always hated Penguins just isn’t doing it for me. It only numbs the pain.

Sure. I’ll watch because it’s the Conference Final and hockey. But it’s very hard for any loyal True Blue fan to get too enthused over the boring Final 4. Yes. I went there. I don’t care for either Ottawa or Pittsburgh. I am pulling for the lesser of two evils. I’m in on Team Karlsson and Craig Anderson.

They only feature three former Rangers. Big Game Brass, Viktor Stalberg and the throw in in the infamous Gomez for McDonagh deal, Tom Pyatt. So I was happy Bobby Ryan scored to win Game 1 on a breakaway with a sweet backhand top finish from guess who. J.G. Pageau. John Druce himself 26 years later. Or is it 27? I lost count.

Isnt that how it works when your team gets eliminated in mind numbing fashion. Was that a week ago? Oh yeah. Once the calendar hits Tuesday. I was there. Many of us were. We were loud and extremely supportive even warn the writing was on the wall.

Has Kreider taken the open shot yet with Hank pulled? Or is he still circling the net taking away the angle and dashing our last hopes? Has anyone discovered the whereabouts of J.T. Miller? What about the always responsible and brutally honest Stepan? If only he Step’ed up like in 2015 doing in the hopeless Caps. At least we don’t root for them. My god.

To be honest, Nashville vs Anaheim is great hockey. I’m going for the Preds and P.K. Subban. Plus Lundqvist lite Rinne. They’re fun to watch. They also have the best 1-4 D in the league with my boy Josi headlining it with Ryan Ellis, P.K. and Ekholm. Plus ex-Cap first rounder Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and the pesky James Neal.

The Ducks got Game 2 because they’re resilient. They dug out of a two-goal hole and evened up the series with a 5-3 win. Getzlaf is in beast mode and Kesler is the most loathed American hockey player because he does the dirty work. Rakell finishes and Jakob Silfverberg is on fire. Randy Carlyle has it all working a decade later with Getzlaf and Perry the lone holdovers from that championship team. Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen are leading a good young D corps and USA hero John Gibson is stopping pucks.

So, it’s compelling hockey. But I can’t help but think it should be us vs Crosby, Malkin and the Pens. They likely would’ve gotten killed by the Pens speed and grit. Guys like Rust, Guentzel and Sheary would’ve driven us batty along with Hornqvist and that pest Kunitz. But with Marc-Andre Fleury in net? How soon does Sullivan pull him for Matt Murray if Ottawa gets the jump?

Missing our favorite Blueshirts? Lundqvist and Lindberg are repping Sweden at The Worlds while Purple Hayes had the good fortune to play with Johnny Hockey and Eichel yesterday.

Rangers withdrawal comes in all forms. Missing MSG’s over dramatic opening with the playoff intro. The pump up music. The players too. Some of who won’t be back in October. We only have to wait five more months. Can I bury myself in a Rangers playoff towel now?

Hockey continues and I am in a bad mood. Cheers guys. Golf or tennis anyone?

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post Mortem: Rangers have regrets on Breakup Day

c9quc2pxyaaeomw

Breakup day came and went for a disappointed Rangers group who won’t all be back this Fall. There will no doubt be changes to a core who couldn’t get it done against the Senators in a tough six-game second round series loss.

It was the worst of the Henrik Lundqvist Era. One in which the popular 35-year old all-time franchise leader in games, wins and shutouts for a Rangers goalie wasn’t good enough to outduel Craig Anderson. Not much separated winning and losing. In a interview following the game, a dejected Lundqvist alluded to the odd man breaks and not being able to close out games in Ottawa during 6-on-5 situations where the Sens rose up in Games 2 and 5, eventually emerging victorious in sudden death.

However, Lundqvist isn’t blameless. He allowed untimely goals at critical moments which turned the tide. There was the odd Erik Karlsson winner in Game 1 which took a favorable carom off Derek Stepan and then off Lundqvist’s mask and in. That was bad luck.

In Game 2, following a Dan Girardi turnover, Lundqvist gave up the short side top to Jean-Gabriel Pageau which swung the momentum getting Ottawa within 2-1. The Rangers were still in a winning position up 5-3 when Pageau was left alone to deflect home two goals in the final 3:11 of regulation. The responsibility of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who didn’t distinguish himself in the four losses. He wasn’t consistent enough for his team to win.

On the Pageau redirects, Lundqvist wasn’t to blame. When Pageau took full advantage of a bad pinch by Nick Holden going high glove on a two-on-one that trapped Stepan and Jesper Fast with only Marc Staal back, that put the Rangers behind 2-0. They easily could’ve been tied coming home and had only themselves to blame.

They could’ve mailed it in. Instead, they showed the mental fortitude and experience of a team that’s been through the playoff grind before. In playing consecutive complete games to take Games 3 and 4 by identical 4-1 scores, it looked like they had the momentum. They went back to Kanata, Ontario with the series tied 2-2 with the knowledge they could’ve taken both games in Ottawa.

That’s what made what transpired in Game 5 so devastating. They again started quickly going up 2-0 on goals from Jesper Fast and Holden, who did record two goals in the series. But just when things seemed under control, a Lundqvist misplay behind the net resulted in a huge Senators goal that got them within one. Before you knew it, Ottawa had scored three straight and had the momentum.

But a couple of strong shifts from the Rangers fourth line helped turn the tide leading up to McDonagh’s tying goal from Michael Grabner and Girardi in the final two minutes of the second period on a play set up by Kevin Hayes.

When hard working first-year forward Jimmy Vesey scored his first goal of the postseason thanks to video review confirming that his backhand was completely over the goal line despite a great effort from Anderson, it looked like the Rangers would find a way to win Game 5 despite not being perfect.

They were fine until Ottawa coach Guy Boucher pulled Anderson for a extra attacker with 1:45 left. Ottawa was on a rush started by Karlsson, who then managed to make a brilliant pass to Clarke MacArthur for a tough low shot which Lundqvist couldn’t control. What will be remembered is Derick Brassard’s immaculate goal off his leg bouncing off Tanner Glass, then Staal and finally pin balling off Brendan Smith when it was likely gonna just miss before deflecting in with Lundqvist and Staal down.

That is the unlikeliest of goals you’ll ever see. It was unlucky for sure. Even if you want to pin it on Vigneault’s curious choice of Glass over defensive forwards Fast, Grabner and even Rick Nash. Staal had been poor throughout but was put out with Smith, who had been effective most of the playoffs as a rental. It’s easy to blame the coach who had top tandem McDonagh and Girardi the previous shift. But also why did they back off so much? They gave the Sens easy access and Karlsson too much room where even at 65 percent, he did damage.

Stepan was one of the culprits. He didn’t pick up MacArthur causing the chaos. To his credit, he took full responsibility for the worst playoffs of his career. The question is what will GM Jeff Gorton decide this summer with Stepan’s no-movement clause kicking in in July? He makes an average of $6.5 million thru 2021. That’s another four years for at best a second line two-way pivot who’s plateaued. His skating is a issue. He has always gotten by on intelligence. Was he hurt? Who knows.

That’s the thing that is admirable. Stepan knew he stunk. We as fans tend to beat up players. Just watch his interview from earlier today and you’ll have a better perspective of a prideful core player who’s played 97 postseason games with the franchise since entering the NHL in ’10-11.

It is interesting how it’s always the same guys who they get in the locker room to answer the tough questions. Stepan, Nash, Lundqvist, McDonagh and Girardi, who might have played his final game for the franchise. Don’t misinterpret this. But it was Girardi who was the most consistent defenseman. He left it all out there and didn’t have many hiccups despite his skating issues and deficiencies.

Both Mika Zibanejad and Brendan Smith enjoyed their first year in New York. Zibanejad wants to improve from a consistency standpoint. Something Vigneault noted during his final press conference. He indicated that Zibanejad has the talent to be a top center. It’s about reaching that next level. He took positive steps getting more responsibility including as a trusted penalty killer. He’ll be a key restricted due a raise this summer.

As for Smith, he can test the free agent market July 1. He indicated that he would like to stay but that largely depends on length and terms. Figure four years in the neighborhood of $16-18 million gets it done. I wouldn’t go more than that. I like the physical edge he brought. That is needed going forward.

With the upcoming Las Vegas Expansion Draft, the organization has some tough decisions to make. Do they explore a trade for Antti Raanta, who has one year left on his current deal. The Blackhawks knew they would lose Scott Darling and got back a third round pick from the Hurricanes, who rewarded him with a new contract.

What about Fast, Grabner and Oscar Lindberg? Two could be gone. Hopefully, they retain the gritty Fast, who always steps up at playoff time. I would love to keep the other two but it seems unlikely. Lindberg really showed improvement in the second half following hip surgery. If he goes, that won’t be easy to replace.

Lundqvist certainly was there like always just like after every win and loss. There also was the noteworthy moment where Stepan came over during a stoppage and tried to calm down the emotional netminder after he chewed out Brady Skjei. Maybe that was a indication that he wasn’t as locked in. He definitely took blame for not making the extra save such as on Game 5 Ottawa hero Kyle Turris, who after a nice move around Girardi was able to beat Lundqvist five-hole on a very stoppable shot that gave the Sens a 3-2 series lead.

There were a couple of goals he could’ve had in Game 6 with Mark Stone going short side top on a odd-man break and Karlsson able to beat him short side off a Bobby Ryan pass for the series clincher. A play which a trailing Kreider made a coverage mistake on chasing Ryan instead of staying with Karlsson. Even though Kreider got it back 59 seconds into the third to make it 3-2, he wasn’t consistent enough. Vigneault expressed disappointment over him. Lundqvist gave credit to the Sens who deserve to be where they are. But definitely mentioned how he must change his preparation due to being older.  Before a break, he’ll join twin brother Joel and Sweden in the world championships.

Mats Zuccarello showed frustration by mentioning that he felt they controlled most of the first four games and could’ve swept the series. He’s not wrong. Of course, the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner did his part sending a flying Zibanejad in on Anderson for a pretty breakaway goal top shelf that cut it to 2-1 before Karlsson’s back breaker.

As for Vigneault, he would like to add a young defenseman and move Skjei up into a more prominent role. What that means is he’ll become a top four after a successful first season. Something that must happen for the franchise to have any success in the future. The coach leaned too heavily on McDonagh, who isn’t in the class of Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith or Victor Hedman. That doesn’t mean he’s not good. It just means he needs more help.

What that means I don’t know. New York Post’s Larry Brooks has indicated that the Rangers don’t think Kevin Shattenkirk is a fit. His inconsistent postseason for the once again disappointing Caps who did it again last night, didn’t help. His skating and right shot are a plus including the power play where the Rangers again struggled yet had one more power play goal than the Senators. But seeing him get taken off the puck by Patric Hornqvist whose goal finished the Caps with Alexander Ovechkin floating, wasn’t a lasting impression.

Maybe the Rangers look elsewhere for that right defenseman they so desperately need. But that could mean trading players and prospects for top target Jacob Trouba, which should get strong consideration. Perhaps Justin Faulk from Carolina even though I can’t see them trading him with their rebuild so close.

Vigneault also felt shocked that his team isn’t still playing. A thought that is common to frustrated fans and media. He also said one player will be having off-season surgery. Who that is remains to be seen. My guess is Nash or maybe J.T. Miller, who got banged around in the Montreal series.

MSG’s Amanda Borges had a full report on the final day with highlights. She did a great job all year for Rangers Live. Hopefully, we get to see more of her next year.

One final thought. As disappointing a conclusion as Tuesday was, just imagine being a Caps fan. To see your team win convincingly Games 5 and 6 looking like they would finally conquer their second round demons. Then come up small in a 2-0 home Game 7 shutout loss against series MVP Marc-Andre Fleury. That game may as well have been borrowed from the awful conclusion against Tampa Bay at home in the unpredictable 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

We may be suffering right now. Me a lot more from awful allergies. But most of us saw our team win a Stanley Cup in 1994. I feel for the younger generation fans who haven’t. I don’t mean the annoying arrogant ‘experts’ either. But the loyal younger fan who supports every player that wears our colors. They deserve to experience it. 2014 feels like a very long time ago.

Lundqvist deserves it more than anyone. While uneducated haters get off on his postseason failures, here’s a newsflash for you. Our team didn’t need a tank to become competitive. Our goalie was a seventh round pick and is going to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s never been surrounded with Hall of Fame talent either. That’s the breaks.

The Rangers teams are mostly made up of good players. Not great ones. Big difference. The year they traded for future Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis, the team rallied around him following the tragic death of his Mom France, showing more character, determination and heart than any Rangers team since that loaded ’94 championship roster which featured Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Sergei Zubov, Adam Graves, Alexei Kovalev and Mike Richter. All five skaters were better than anyone in this current group.

You need talent to win. The Blackhawks have three superstars in the top 100. The Penguins should have two in there if not for the Canadian bias against Evgeni Malkin. The Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf dominating the playoffs as I predicted. The Predators have the best defense and three forwards better than what the Rangers have in support of Pekka Rinne. The Senators boast the best defenseman in the sport.

So, it’s easy to point to this team’s shortcomings. They have to get younger and better moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Battle News, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Game 6 Review: More determined Senators prevailed over disappointing Rangers

For almost 24 hours, I’ve been trying to digest the latest empty postseason by the Rangers. They were eliminated by a more determined Senators last night by a ironic score of 4-2 in a disappointing Game 6 at MSG. That allowed Ottawa to win the second round series in a closely fought six games to advance to their first Eastern Conference Final since 2007.

They won the series because they were resilient. In big moments, the Senators rose to the challenge twice erasing two-goal deficits and trailing by a goal in the last two minutes of regulation to rally and win Games 2 and 5 in sudden death at home. Their character was underestimated by a more experienced Blueshirts who never did put a beatable opponent away. Something they’ll regret the rest of the summer.

It’s hard to grasp how in a elimination game, they came out flat. But that’s exactly the case. While Alain Vigneault thought they were ready as did McDonagh who indicated that there’s a big difference between talking and doing, it was a more desperate Sens that played with more urgency.

They didn’t allow the Rangers to get the quick start they wanted to with a very energized Garden crowd into it before the drop of the puck. I don’t think there was any more that we could’ve done to help the players. It was as good a atmosphere as it’s been in quite a while. Honestly, the fans were great in Games 3 and 4 too.

Sometimes, you have to give the opponent credit. While I’ll always believe like the players in the post game that this series loss was self inflicted, the Senators took it. All they had to do was play one complete game. And I really wouldn’t call the third period they played good. They sat back and nearly got burned. If they try that next round against the Pens, they’ll be out quickly. They have enough firepower to make you pay.

Unlike the first five games, the Rangers never led. They didn’t score first. The Sens got the first two from Mike Hoffman on a redirect from series MVP Erik Karlsson, and Mark Stone sniped past Henrik Lundqvist short side top to take full advantage of a awful shift from Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith.

It’s not like they didn’t have chances. The Sens took some undisciplined penalties including a four-minute high-sticking double minor from Derick Brassard. But a disjointed power play took the crowd out of it. They got a few shots on Craig Anderson, who was superb in stopping 37 of 39 to win the series over Lundqvist. Good for him. He’s showed a lot of courage this season with his wife battling cancer.

That’s a great story. But this is about what the Rangers failed to do. It was like a mirror of a season in which they overachieved. The problem is no one wants to hear that now. Not when they could’ve and should’ve won. It was all set up for them. But they couldn’t handle prosperity. So, we are as loyal foolish fans of this jinxed franchise, left to wonder how they sucked us in again and broke our hearts.

I don’t got the answer. When your best players aren’t your best while your role guys stand out, you’re not going to be successful. There weren’t enough Blueshirts who stood out consistently. From McDonagh to Lundqvist to an admittedly “embarrassed” Derek Stepan, they weren’t good enough. There were too many passengers. Whether it was mental or physical like with Rick Nash, who had a knee wrapped afterwards, they didn’t get it done.

It really is a lost opportunity. Even in a weaker bracket, they weren’t able to take advantage. I know it’s been said a lot by my peers on other blogs and by media. So here it is again:

By far, this is the most inexcusable loss of the Vigneault Era. It is indefensible. That they could lose to a team where Karlsson was at best 65 percent due to the two heel fractures but somehow still dominated by getting the Game 1 winner and series clincher along with five assists. He is amazing. In the Ottawa four wins, Karlsson put up all his points while continuing to lead everyone in ice-time and shifts. He went plus-four last night coming out with the puck in the Rangers last ditch effort with 15 seconds left.

I didn’t need to see the empty net goal by unsung hero J.G. Pageau. I headed down and to the car as fast as possible. I didn’t care to see the handshakes or a sad salute from a core that’s given us so much in three Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup appearance. Too empty. Too disappointed.

I’m not angry. Maybe because I knew this group wasn’t good enough. It’s more disappointing than anything. So no need for breakdown. No need to even go more in detail. I will do more on that tomorrow.

I feel bad for Lundqvist and Mats Zuccarello because those two always give everything. I’ll also praise the effort of Dan Girardi. If this was really it, the Rangers warrior gave a very good account of himself. Ditto for Marc Staal, who obviously isn’t the same since his last concussion. His balance is all messed up and explains why he’s slowed down. Never question their heart or what they meant to the franchise.

Kudos to the gritty Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner and Oscar Lindberg. All of who could be exposed for head case Chris Kreider and one dimensional pass heavy Kevin Hayes. It would be a mistake not to find a way to keep Fast. Ditto Lindberg, who outside of Game 6, was more effective than Stepan this playoffs. I also want to credit Tanner Glass for a solid effort. How he could be more visible than a few of our go to guys says a lot about him and not much for the others who didn’t step up. Has anyone found J.T. Miller? Also kudos to Mika Zibanejad, who led the team in scoring with nine points including a highlight reel breakaway goal in the second from Zuccarello along with a assist on Kreider’s goal that made it 3-2 in the opening minute of the third.

Whatever comes out afterwards on break up day will be interesting. But it’s painfully obvious that the core we have grown to love has to be broken up. That’s all I got.

Thanks for the readership and support. Find me on New York Puck via Twitter! See you soon. Let’s Go Rangers!!!!! 😀

 

 

Posted in NHL Playoffs, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Game 6 Preview: Rangers face elimination

Tonight, the Rangers face all the pressure in a elimination Game 6 at home against the Senators. They have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament.

A second round series that should be over isn’t due to their ineptitude at protecting one goal leads late in regulation in Games 2 and 5. They have given up three tying goals with the opponent pulling the goalie for a six-on-five.

Whether you want to pin it all on Alain Vigneault or the players, it doesn’t matter. Fact is the execution was off in the final minute and a half in Games 2 and 5. It comes down to the five players and Henrik Lundqvist failing to close it out.

It’s easy to say the coach chose the wrong personnel in Game 5. However, who exactly has gotten it done in that spot? It’s up to the goalie who gets paid $8.5 million to keep pucks out and seal the deal. Lundqvist hasn’t played well in this series. He hasn’t had the same consistency like when he outplayed Carey Price in the first round. He must be better or there won’t be any hope of a comeback.

Derek Stepan can’t be floating around tonight if they want to win. The four points he has aren’t enough. From a consistency standpoint, he hasn’t been good. That includes defensively where he’s been frequently caught out of position such as Clarke MacArthur’s open shot which created Derick Brassard’s odd tying goal that took a good bounce off two players before slipping past Lundqvist with Marc Staal kneeling. Why do players do that?

This is about the team playing like the one we saw in Games 3-4.  It’s about their best players stepping up. Not just Lundqvist, Stepan or Staal. But Chris Kreider doing more than having a couple of big shifts. J.T. Miller reminding us who he was this season.

You expect Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to bring it because they don’t know any other way.

They could use one of Mika Zibanejad’s big shots to hit the net and beat ex-teammate Craig Anderson. They could use Kevin Hayes to continue his play from Game 5 when he was better recording a pair of assists and nearly a third on a close call from Michael Grabner.

You expect Jesper Fast and the fourth line to do their part. They’ll bring the work ethic that has been lacking from the more talented players. You also figure to get a more inspired game from Staal and partner Nick Holden, who was a lot better than the veteran the other day.

If Brady Skjei is going well with Brendan Smith, then Vigneault must play both even if that means sending Skjei out in the final frantic five minutes to protect a lead. At this point, do whatever it takes. There is no tomorrow.

They want to be successful and force Game 7. That means not showing too much respect for Erik Karlsson. It means putting a body on J.G. Pageau. Limiting turnovers and Kyle Turris’ time and space. The same for Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan.

Do it and they’ll be fine. Do it not and there won’t be another game. They can’t just rely on MSG. They must rely on themselves. Play as a team.

 

 

Posted in NHL Playoffs, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caps dominate Pens to force seventh game, Rangers top players must deliver

To be honest, following the Caps 4-2 win over the Pens in Game 5, I watched Braden Holtby’s interview with NBC’s Pierre McGuire and concluded right there that they would go into Pittsburgh and win.

Sure enough, they did doing it convincingly by a count of 5-2 over a listless Pens in Game 6. So, now they have what they want. The epic second round rematch going seven. The only difference is it looks the Caps are gonna pull it off.

This is what they got Justin Williams for. To give them belief that even down 3-1 to the defending champs, they could come back.

Washington is in this position thanks to a key adjustment from tactician Barry Trotz, who put Alexander Ovechkin on the third line. A move that’s worked out well. Andre Burakovsky was moved up to the top line. He had himself a night scoring twice including off a key defensive play and later a highlight reel goal top shelf over Marc-Andre Fleury that made it 5-0.

They’re here due to their top players stepping up. Nicklas Backstrom flew into the Pens zone and blew one past Fleury high glove 16 seconds into the third for a 3-0 lead. John Carlson then had a wicked one-timer top shelf for the Caps’ second power play goal for a four goal bulge.

T.J. Oshie got the scoring started in the first off a great set up from Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first. A lopsided period that saw the Caps hold the Pens to only three shots. In fact, it was 16-8 in shots with two minutes left in the second with Burakovsky’s first off Fleury having Washington up two.

Holtby didn’t have much to do only stopping 16 of 18 shots with both Pens tallies coming in garbage time during a four-on-four. Sidney Crosby set up rookie Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin finished in front.

The question is did the Caps do psychological damage to a experienced team led by Crosby? Hard to say. In the history between the two old Patrick Division rivals, they’ve gone to a Game 7 three previous times with the Pens prevailing in all three.

Most recently in 2009 in the sane round when the Pens won in seven after losing a home Game 6 just like the current scenario. Is this the moment Ovechkin finally erases the second round ghosts and reaches a Conference Final? His deeper team is better and have finally exposed a thin Pens D minus Kris Letang and now Trevor Daley.

While Nashville awaits the Edmonton/Anaheim winner in Game 7, the league gets a second Game 7 between its two marquee stars. Only it’s Backstrom and Kuznetsov doing the heavy lifting for the Caps. Crosby returned from a minor concussion in Game 5. His team has lost twice since. Crosby is lucky he wasn’t reinjured on a dangerous fall into the boards. The Pens didn’t do a concussion protocol.

Henrik

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have the pressure on them to deliver in Game 6 tonight versus Ottawa. 

 

Meanwhile, the Rangers prepare for a do or die Game 6 Tuesday night against Ottawa. They somehow trail 3-2 in a befuddling second round series where they’ve only trailer for 13 minutes. That’s what happens when you can’t protect leads and don’t get the defense or saves they’re accustomed to from Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers have plenty of experience in elimination games. I would expect them to be ready at MSG with a start time of 7:30 PM. They are the better team. But none of that matters if they don’t play a full 60 minutes or more if nervously required.

As much criticism as Alain Vigneault’s received for some of his personnel choices late in Games 2 and 5, it comes down to the execution of the players. There have been too many passengers. It’s high time Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Lundqvist performed to capability.

It can’t just always be the same guys. To pull off this comeback, they need maximum efforts from all 18-19 skaters. It’s their playoff livelihood on the line. We’ll see what they’re made of.

 

Posted in NHL Playoffs, NY Rangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something to think about

c_ludeixoaal4ps

AP Photo courtesy NYRangers. 

In assessing the latest blown two-goal lead in a mind numbing loss in a playoff game for the Rangers against an opponent they are deeper then, here is something to think about. Since coach Alain Vigneault took over, he’s done an admirable job leading this team to the playoffs in his first four years.

With all the success that’s included a Stanley Cup appearance along with a home Game 7 Eastern Conference Final that ended in disappointment also comes some less than impressive results. Saturday’s 5-4 defeat in Game 5 at Ottawa was the fifth time a Vigneault coached Rangers team blew two goal leads before losing in overtime. Here’s what the statistic looked like prior to today’s latest gut wrenching result.

That excludes the wild and wacky Game 2 loss to the Canadiens by a score of 4-3. A game that was similar to Game 5 against the Canadiens in that they led late until the opponent pulled the goalie. In Montreal’s case, they waited until less than 18 seconds were remaining for Alex Radulov to set up Tomas Plekanec. Then Radulov won it late in the first overtime.

Ottawa twice has shown tremendous heart rallying from two-goal deficits. Game 2 was a nightmare scenario with the Blueshirts blowing three two-goal leads before falling 6-5 on Jean-Gabriel Pageau Night. What else would you call giving up four to the 24-year old Ottawa center who doesn’t get the ink of today’s OT hero Kyle Turris or ex-Ranger Derick Brassard, who tied the game in bizarre fashion at 18:34 of the third?

There was a lot wrong. It’s been covered. Vigneault should’ve had his best defensively responsible forward in Jesper Fast out over Tanner Glass. He didn’t. He went with Marc Staal, who struggled all day to keep up, along with Brendan Smith. Staal was on his knees when the puck deflected off Glass and Smith before squeaking past Henrik Lundqvist, who was culpable. He clearly had an off day and needs to redeem himself. And no. The Turris winner wasn’t offside. Learn the damn rules.

Regarding the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings, it’s well documented. Vigneault chose to sit back and the bigger Kings were only too happy to oblige by cutting off the neutral zone, dictating possession and peppering Lundqvist with shots until he finally caved. There also was the controversial non-interference on Dwight King. One that still mystifies. Had they taken one of the three games at Staples Center, it says here that series goes seven. Who knows what happens.

That team was miles better than this one. Especially with Staal and Dan Girardi much older and less consistent. Even Ryan McDonagh has a lot of wear and tear. Don’t forget how good Staal and former partner Anton Stralman were as a second pair. It was almost like having two top pairs. The Rangers clearly lack that now. Along with Vigneault’s reluctance to play polished rookie Skjei down the stretch, it’s no wonder they blow such games.

The question is can they come back. Yes, they can. They did it against the Capitals in 2013 under John Tortorella. Similar kind of series. Lose the first two in D.C.. Win the next two at MSG. Lose Game 5 in excruciating fashion. Win Game 6 and then dominate Game 7 with Lundqvist at his best. There are enough players left from that roster who know it can be done.

I’m not giving up like some of our fans who would rather bury the team and plan the off-season parade. This team never makes things easy. My pick was Rangers in 7. They can still do it.

Nice to see the Capitals and “3rd liner” Alex Ovechkin show a pulse in their Game 5 win over the Crosby Pens. Why on earth did Pittsburgh play him? Never mind.

Posted in NHL Playoffs, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment