It’s finally over. The much better team prevailed in what turned into a total mismatch. The Penguins got revenge for the last two years by advancing over the Rangers in five games. They did it by winning the final three games. Congrats to them. They advance to the second round and await the winner between the Flyers and Capitals.
Pittsburgh won Game 5 over the Rangers 6-3 before a sellout crowd of 18,607 at CONSOL Energy Center. Coach Mike Sullivan’s team did it with speed and tenacity, completely outplaying Alain Vigneault’s club, who didn’t play the right way all season. Instead, falling into the same bad habits that plagued them throughout the 87 total games they played. For a team that once was viewed as a Stanley Cup contender, it was a bitter end. A wake up call to the organization who must make changes.
As for the game, Vigneault decided to dress both Dan Girardi and Raphael Diaz while sitting proud 39-year old veteran Dan Boyle, who may have played his last game Thursday. In reinserting Girardi and playing Diaz for the first time all season, Vigneault opted to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. Even with a good start with a Girardi shot deflecting off Nash in front only 62 seconds in for an early lead, it didn’t matter.
The Pens were resilient. Twice, they came right back from one-goal deficits to tie the score. Former Ranger Carl Hagelin got behind Derek Stepan for an easy tap in from Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino at 9:50. His speed completely obliterated Kevin Klein and Stepan, who let Hagelin go to the net right next to Henrik Lundqvist for his first of the postseason. The lack of attention to detail that occurred under this coaching staff all year.
Dominic Moore had a bit of puck luck when a Jesper Fast shot took a weird deflection off Viktor Stalberg and then Moore’s skate past winning rookie goalie Matt Murray for the Rangers’ second lead less than a minute later. Unfortunately, rookie Brady Skjei took an ill advised boarding minor which led directly to an unscreened Kessel shot from the right circle getting through Lundqvist. He again didn’t play well, allowing six goals on 23 shots. Sadly, he was pulled for the second time in the series. The other instance in Game 1, he came out due to a right eye injury.
After a solid first period in which they out-shot the Pens 14-11 and out-chanced them, the Rangers imploded. An awful second was their undoing. In the period, they were outscored 4-0. That was despite the shots being 12-11 in favor of Pittsburgh. They beat Lundqvist four times on a dozen shots. Sloppy turnovers and defense were a recurring theme.
Keith Yandle’s failed clear attempt resulted in the Pens keeping the puck in. Eventually, Trevor Daley found a wide open Bryan Rust in front for another tap in, giving them the lead at 5:21. On the play, Yandle went with a Pen to the point which meant a forward was supposed to rotate down. No one did making it an easy goal. It only became worse. Derick Brassard had an awful game. After turning the puck over, his giveaway led to Rust setting up Matt Cullen for a wrist shot that beat Lundqvist high glove for a 4-2 lead at 9:26.
The Rangers didn’t give up in terms of creating offense. They took enough shots on Murray forcing him to come up with big saves unlike the last two starts. The 21-year old rookie was equal to the task shutting everything down en route to 38 saves- improving to 3-0-0 in his first postseason. With the team so focused on offense, they forgot about defense. The end result was ugly.
With Marc Staal struggling to get back, Sidney Crosby raced down the ice before dishing off for an open Connor Sheary, who picked high glove on Lundqvist for a three-goal lead with 3:42 left. Adding insult to injury, the Pens scored another goal in the final minute of the period. After Dan Girardi got caught up ice, Evgeni Malkin flew down and found an open Rust for another unscreened shot that beat Lundqvist top shelf- making it 6-2 with 59 seconds remaining.
Antti Raanta finally replaced Lundqvist at the start of the third. In his third appearance of the series, he didn’t have much to do stopping all five shots. Sadly, he was better than Lundqvist in relief. This isn’t all on the prideful goalie who obviously didn’t have a good series. He looked mentally exhausted. Perhaps all the games played and shots faced along with the ridiculous danger chances finally caught up to the 34-year old Swede. Lundqvist should play less games next season. He started 65.
Lundqvist was very honest to MSG’s John Giannone in the post game. He admitted that he didn’t have it in him to make the big saves the final two games. He also spoke about the chances the team gave up. An indictment of the style of play they played throughout the season and in this series. Calling it “embarrassing,” giving up the four goals in the second, he gave credit to the Pens who “were better and smarter.”
“I didn’t have it in me to make a difference,” Lundqvist told reporters. “It’s painful.”
That pretty much sums up everything. The goalie finally had the chance to say what we’ve all felt this disappointing season.
To their credit, the Blueshirts gave a honest effort in the last period of the season. Diaz had his shot deflected by Chris Kreider in front for a power play goal at 5:38 that made it 6-3 in the third. Only their second PPG of the series. I think they wound up 2-for-19. The Pens had 8 PPG’s and were superior killing penalties. They won at special teams and at even strength. Even goaltending. The better team.
In the end, the ’15-16 New York Rangers weren’t good enough. There are many reasons why. I think in seeing NBC cut away from the traditional handshake, it was a perfect way for it to finish. An awful job by the NHL’s network not showing the whole handshake. Brutal. Also how I’d describe the ugly hockey we got from this team.