Rangers make playoffs, lose 5-4 to Sharks in overtime


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Brent “Caveman” Burns ripped home his 28th goal for a new Sharks’ record for a defenseman on a power play in a wild 5-4 overtime win over the Rangers who still clinched the playoffs. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NHL PR.

With one point earned in a wild and crazy 5-4 overtime loss to the Sharks, the Rangers made the playoffs for a seventh straight year. While Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti propped that up as only they can for MSG with the Knicks a pathetic mess, there wasn’t much cause for celebration.

Any rational Blueshirt fan who watches this team on a regular basis knows why. This is the most befuddling team on the verge of 100 points I’ve ever seen. At times, they can play up to their potential. At others, they can be exasperating to watch. The second period was awful. Despite getting badly outplayed, they came away 1-1 with a Derek Stepan power play goal with 23 seconds left in the period spurring a third period comeback.

The problem remains the same. For long stretches, the Rangers can be dominated in their end by quality teams. The Sharks had lost six in a row in awful fashion. They had their way in the second doubling up the Rangers in shots 14-7 while controlling puck possession and attack time. I am not a big advocate of Corsi. But I bet if we looked it up for the second, it would be ugly. The Sharks turned Henrik Lundqvist’s net into a shooting gallery. That he somehow escaped with only one goal allowed was a miracle.

Of course, the Rangers came back with a strong third getting the next two goals from Jesper Fast (tip in) and Alain Vigneault’s whipping boy J.T. Miller (power play goal). In response to being demoted to the fourth line due to a poor game in the loss to Anaheim, Miller scored twice and was the team’s best forward. Of course he did. He always responds when Vigneault punishes him because he has character. Honestly, Miller should’ve had his first career hat trick. He came close a couple of times. If only he had gotten it before the predictable collapse.

Supposedly, the Rangers are a good third period team. Sure. If you go by the statistics, it says so. But the eye tells us a different story. They wilted at home in an ugly one-goal loss to the Islanders, who haven’t won since and are on the verge of a collapse. They then were brutal at Anaheim getting outscored 3-0. For an encore after controlling most of the third, they blew the lead thanks in large part to declining defenseman Nick Holden.  His struggles are being ignored by Vigneault. He was on his back as noted sniper Chris Tierney put home his second of the game with 2:15 left.

Of course, Marc Staal was out too. Holden was out of the play completely as Tierney put in a rebound past Lundqvist to force overtime. At what point does the coach finally acknowledge Holden’s struggles and scratch him? Somehow, he has stuck with him and Staal on a mind boggling second pair. If they were a third pair, it would be tolerable. Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith should be the second pair. They are much better. Skjei had another huge game recording three assists as he’s nearing the 40-point mark for a rookie defenseman. He plays with the poise of a veteran.

At this point, I would replace Holden with either Adam Clendening or the injury riddled Kevin Klein, who after one game back, was out with back spasms. It’s a shame what’s happened to him. At least if they reinsert Clendening, he’s a puck possession guy who can work well with Staal and ease the transition. I’m not counting on it.

So, were there any positives? For starters, Miller tallied twice for numbers 21 and 22. Kevin Hayes was reignited registering a pair of assists on nice set ups that led to Fast’s redirect of a Skjei point shot and Miller’s PPG off a wonderful pass from Skjei. When Hayes is engaged, the team is much better. Ditto for Miller, who when he produces is a dangerous offensive player. He nearly set up Michael Grabner in the three-on-three with a brilliant bank lead pass only to see a snake bit Grabner stopped by Martin Jones. Grabner can’t buy a goal. He certainly had his chances getting six shots including a couple shorthanded only to be denied. The effort is unquestioned. The Rangers need him to snap out of it.

Another positive was Stepan scoring for a third consecutive game. He’s finally starting to catch some breaks. He’s putting himself in the right spots and getting rewarded. Leading scorer Mats Zuccarello set him up perfectly on a diagonal feed across the crease for a tap in. When Stepan plays with Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, good things happen. For a second consecutive game, Kreider was flying. He nearly had a clean breakaway but was stopped by Justin Braun, who made the defensive play of the game not taking a penalty.

This was a weird game. It had to be when you have two slumping teams who are both in the playoffs. As fate would have it, my goalie hiccups continued. In a head to head match-up, Lundqvist and Jones managed to allow nine combined goals on 63 shots. Yikes. That’s not good for the GAA or save percentage. But I’ll take any win I can get right now. My team is in a hell of a drag race with three other teams. So yeah.

Before you could even get settled in, the Rangers saw their collective shadow allowing another first goal to someone. This time, it was Jannik Hansen, who got his first goal as a Shark 1:44 in. It resulted in this funny tweet from a loyal Blueshirt fan:

What can you say? She definitely sums up how we feel. That’s what it’s like rooting for our team. They can frustrate you and impress you during the same game. Jekyll & Hyde. That’s your Broadway Blueshirts.

Of course, Miller tied it while on the fourth line on an assist from Matt Puempel (remember me?). You really have to ask why Pavel Buchnevich was scratched. Is it the back? Or is this just another glaring example of Vigneault putting the handcuffs on a kid? Puempel took one shift in the third. So did Oscar Lindberg. Jimmy Vesey got none.  I’m not sure what they did to deserve that. But AV shortened the bench and it worked. I still don’t like it. You’re telling me he still can’t trust Lindberg or Vesey. It wouldn’t have hurt to have Lindberg out protecting a one-goal lead. Not this coach. #NotMyCoach

The Rangers gave up another shorthanded goal. This time, it was Melker Karlsson who fooled Lundqvist on a clear shot. It’s true that Kreider didn’t get back while a tired Miller at least tried to. They took away the pass and gave Karlsson the shot. There’s no explanation for Lundqvist allowing it. You’d like to see more hustle from Kreider. But it’s a bad goal any way you slice it. Chalk it up to rust. So far in two games, Lundqvist has allowed 10 goals 68 shots. Not that it’s entirely his fault. Have you seen the way they play in front of him? At times, it’s like a Chinese fire drill.

Lundqvist did come back to make some big saves to give his team a chance. One huge one with help from a diving Lindberg in front prior to Stepan’s power play tally that made it a one-goal deficit headed to the third. When the regular season finishes up, it will be statistically Lundqvist’s worst year. None of that will mean a thing if he turns it up in the expected first round Original Six match-up against the Canadiens. The Rangers will be underdogs. We’ll see what happens.

They’re going to have to be a lot better than this. It’s very messy right now. There’s just too many deficiencies which are problematic. Too much inconsistency shift to shift. They can’t lock down a game in the third anymore. We don’t know what Vigneault’s plan is with the lineup for the postseason. The D particularly. The mysterious Buchnevich scratches. The penalty kill which of course gave up a power play game-winner to Brent “Caveman” Burns on a 4-on-3 set up by you guessed it. A Holden penalty (holding the stick). How appropriate.

It was Burns’ 28th goal and ended a 16-game drought. He no longer is a lock to win the Norris. Erik Karlsson has basically caught him and has had a much better defensive year on the Senators. Victor Hedman is the third candidate with over 50 assists on the Lightning. Two Swedes and a Canadian for the top defenseman. Joe Pavelski made the wonderful pass with the two switching places and Burns’ wicked one-timer easily beating Lundqvist far side at 3:10 of OT.

Honestly, the 3-on-3 is a gimmick. It’s fun to watch. But it’s not real hockey. And when you take an undisciplined penalty, you’re usually gonna get beat. That was after Miller’s bank pass for Grabner which saw him stoned by Jones. Jones is a good goalie. But his save percentage has taken a beating. Save percentage. A category my team has really struggled in.

That’s gonna do it for this recap. At the end of the day, it’s just another game. The Rangers were always going to make it. With the Bruins and Maple Leafs winning big games, they really have put the Islanders on the pressure cooker. The Isles lost two bad games in a row. They’re now in trouble. The Hurricanes were winners again. They’ve tied the Isles in points with 82. Each has seven games left but trail second wildcard Boston by four with the Bruins holding the first tiebreaker 38 ROW. The Isles have 33 and the Canes 32. The Lightning have 83 points with 33 ROW and seven remaining. These teams need help. They have to outpoint the Bruins, who have six left or hope Toronto remembers they’re not supposed to make it.

It was a huge night for two reasons. With Boston and Toronto winning combined with Carolina defeating Detroit in a rematch following a scary moment when Eddie Lack was taken off on a stretcher following Andreas Athanasiou’s overtime winner in which his leg collided with the Canes goalie as both teams stood in unison, the Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs. After 26 straight years making it, they will not be in the postseason. The streak began in 1990-91 when I was a freshman in high school. It ended in 2015-16 before I turned 40. From the glory days of riding the S74 to Staten Island Tech collecting Upper Deck cards pulling a Fedorov rookie to the crazy social media Twitter/Facebook and I-Pad craze. Things sure have changed. One thing remains the same. The class shown by hockey players:

So The Streak ends. But it comes at a good time for Detroit who moves into a brand new arena in 2017-18. The Joe will close. It had so many great moments producing some of the game’s best. Nobody better than Mr. Hockey. God bless Gordie Howe. Those three Stanley Cups with the final one in ’02 having nine Hall of Famers (Fedorov, Yzerman, Lidstrom, Robitaille, Chelios, Hasek, Larionov, Shanahan, Hull). God bless Mike Ilitch. The Red Wings also won one more time in 2008 with future Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk. I’m not sure Henrik Zetterberg has enough to make it. But I certainly enjoy seeing him play. His next point will be number 900. He’s seven games away from 1,000 for his career. Actually, Zetterberg’s numbers are similar to Datsyuk, who wound up with 918 in 953 games before returning home to Russia to play in the KHL. Maybe he will make it. I hope they both get in.

I want to say one other thing. Congratulations to the Edmonton Oilers on making the playoffs. It will be their first postseason since 2006 when they made a great run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final pushing Carolina seven before losing. A team that had Chris Pronger. Led by Hart candidate Connor McDavid– the league’s leading scorer who now has 27 goals with an NHL-leading 62 assists for 89 points- the Oilers being back in is great. Before the season, I picked McDavid to win the Art Ross and Hart. We’ll see if he beats out Crosby.

Kudos to Cam Talbot on doing an awesome job for Edmonton in net. In on his second season as a starter, he’s up to 38 wins and is tied for second in shutouts (7) trailing last year’s Vezina winner Braden Holtby, who won his 40th in a Caps’ 5-4 overtime win over the Wild. Talbot has done more with less and should be up for the award with Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky, who I believe deserves to win his second Vezina. You can’t beat Bobrovsky’s numbers (41 W, 1.97 GAA, .935 save percentage, 7 SHO).

It’s gonna be great to see Edmonton and Calgary back in the playoffs. With the Kings basically done, the Flames are getting in along with the Preds and Blues. The Western playoffs should be very exciting and could prove unpredictable with Minnesota’s struggles and the Blackhawks coming back to earth. Right now, Anaheim is playing the best hockey. They won again and now lead the Pacific with 95 points. Two up on San Jose and Edmonton for the division. San Jose has the first tiebreaker with 41 ROW.

There was also this. Apparently, a tweet of mine made MSG’s postgame. Kudos to my favorite Rangers beat writer Rick Carpiniello for the hot tip:

I would guess it was this tweet on the shorthanded goal Lundqvist allowed in which I said it was one he would want back but also noted the lack of hustle back which hurt.

I didn’t even know because I went up to recap the game and also put up some stuff on the playoff races, the Red Wings streak ending and the Oilers and Cam. That’s pretty cool. I’ll take it. And with that, good night. 😉

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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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