Passionless hockey at MSG in Game 4

For all intents and purposes, the Rangers have given up. That much is apparent watching Game 4 of this now one-sided first round series against a much better and well executed Penguins. After two periods, the Booshirts (Blueshirts) are trailing the Pens 4-0 on home ice.

In a game they have to have, the Rangers simply have not brought it. They have been badly out-skated and severely outplayed by a much more focused Pens. Full credit to them. After how they dominated the third period in a 3-1 win in Game 3, they came out and absolutely blanketed a lifeless Rangers.

It really cannot be explained. When even Henrik Lundqvist looks emotionless allowing momentum shifting and backbreaking goals, what else can be said? Only 67 seconds in, he allowed an awful rebound with immortal checker Eric Fehr scoring for the game’s first goal. A tone setter that definitely deflated Lundqvist’s teammates. Ben Lovejoy fired a routine low shot from way out and he couldn’t control the rebound. Fehr beat J.T. Miller for the goal.

The Pens have dominated. They kept cycling the puck with their superior speed and firing shots away on a shaky Lundqvist, who was leaking bad rebounds. Honestly, this is one of the worst games I’ve ever seen from him. Usually unflappable, he looked like he didn’t care. A sad observation. He was still making saves but just didn’t seem all there. That’s how I would explain what we’ve seen from all 18 skaters too. They’re so disjointed.

This has been coming for a while. It’s been noticeable all season. The disconnect between the players and coach. A coach who panicked bringing Ryan McDonagh back early from a broken right hand, when he clearly isn’t close to 100 percent. I still can’t explain why Alain Vigneault didn’t stick with the Game 2 lineup that included Dylan McIlrath after gaining a split in Pittsburgh. The Game 2 they played was excellent. Arguably one of their most complete of the season. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from a stubborn AV.

In tonight’s game, the Rangers have been undisciplined. Bad penalties have resulted in two Pittsburgh power play goals- taking advantage of a weak and inconsistent penalty killing unit. Rick Nash, who has been the best Ranger in the series, shoved down a Pen away from the puck in front of Matt Murray for no reason. The clear interference minor led to a very patient Pens moving the puck perfectly before a Evgeni Malkin point shot was double deflected by Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist for a 2-0 lead 7:11 into the contest.

Lundqvist was faultless on that one. The next one to Connor Sheary is the kind of goal you can’t give up when you’re already down two in a must win situation. Following a couple of Murray big stops, Sheary forced a turnover at the Pittsburgh blue line and came in on a breakaway beating Lundqvist badly short side. A goal you never see him give up. Especially in a big spot where he needs to have that save and get the momentum back on his team’s side.

The goal against took the MSG crowd completely out of it. You could also see that it further deflated the team. They still have tried but clearly not with the effort we’re used to seeing. Has anyone seen Derick Brassard? I’ve heard his name called but he’s done nothing tonight or in Game 3. Mats Zuccarello has also been awfully quiet. It’s just not what you’d expect.

As for Lundqvist, I would’ve pulled him after the first. He just didn’t look right. The focus was off. Did Vigneault take a timeout after falling behind three in the first? Of course not. Did he wait too long to get Lundqvist out of the game? You betcha. Another just awful minor penalty- this time from a very ineffective Dominic Moore, who painfully has looked like the worst Blueshirt- led to Malkin blasting home his first from Crosby and Hornqvist for a 4-0 cushion at the four-minute mark of the second.

Fans booed. And you know what. I might not ever boo my teams. But I don’t blame them one bit. This is one of the worst performances I can ever remember from this group. It’s like they have just thrown in the towel.

So, what’s left? They’re playing the third now. Is there any reason to expect a turnaround like we got in 2014 against the same opponent? Not this time. The Pens are clearly much better in terms of how they play under Mike Sullivan. They’re much faster, more skilled and play all three zones the way our team once did.

Is the window finally closed? It sure looks like it.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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