The Good, Bad and Ugly: Crosby and Ristolainen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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