Fire up some Russian hockey to heat up trade deadline day


I’ll be honest. I can’t sleep. This day truly will be an emotional one. I don’t want to see Chris Kreider go. I’m tired of some of the best Rangers getting dealt on the highly anticipated NHL Trade Deadline day or during the summer.

We’ve suffered enough. Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller, anyone? How did that go? Not so well yet. Hopefully, Nils Lundkvist can change that by 2021. Brett Howden isn’t moving the needle. Libor Hajek is like the forgotten man. If there are still plans for him, then they should move Marc Staal at some point. Notice I didn’t say today. It’s not time.

Ryan Callahan was as popular a Ranger before he became the team captain. A classic overachiever who once scored 29 goals in the Big Apple while becoming the kind of gritty, two-way forward I thought he was watching him play for Team USA in the World Junior Championship, Captain Cally wound up in the exact same situation Kreider is in at this moment. Wanting more term and a little more money along with a no-movement clause, he was dealt to the Lightning along with two first round picks for former Hart winner Marty St. Louis.

As heartbreaking as that was considering how beloved Callahan was, fortunately I was a huge fan of St. Louis. I loved his great story where he went from an undrafted player despite a great four-year collegiate career at Vermont to an astonishing career highlighted by a 94 point season that included two overtime winners including the clutch one in double overtime to prevent the Flames from winning the Cup. The Lightning would come back to win the epic ’04 series in seven on a pair of goals from Ruslan Fedotenko.

MSL as he became known here in his two years, might not have produced at the same high level he did in Tampa. However, he was the emotional leader in that locker room following two awful performances in Games Three and Four of the second round series versus the Penguins. I can still remember walking out of MSG aggravated and disappointed because I felt they had more to give. Despite it being the Pens that feature Crosby and Malkin, I really thought they went into that series with a chance.

Following a closed door players only meeting where both St. Louis and Brad Richards spoke up about the series not being over due to the former Bolts duo’s experience, they then had to deal with more adversity due to the tragic death of Marty’s Mom France. After going into Pittsburgh and winning convincingly, as fate would have it, Game Six would come on Mother’s Day. A day prior, the whole team attended the funeral service.

Now, they had another elimination game to win. This time at home where they couldn’t let St. Louis, themselves or the fans down. When he got his stick on a loose puck in front of the Pittsburgh net to squeeze it by Marc-Andre Fleury for the game’s emotional first goal, the building shook. I knew in that special moment, the Rangers would win the game and was confident they’d complete their first ever comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.

There certainly were some nerve racking moments in that deciding Game Seven. You had the great effort by Brian Boyle for a breakaway goal followed by the Pens tying it up. In another special moment, it was St. Louis passing for an open Richards for a power play goal in the second period to give them a 2-1 lead.

The third was all about Henrik Lundqvist. He wouldn’t allow the Pens to tie it. They seemed to come at the Rangers in waves. It was extremely anxiety driven if you were watching. Well, yeah. But I didn’t have a panic attack. Despite the madness, Lundqvist came through to give the Rangers their first ever series win over the Pens. In the final three games, King Henrik lived up to his nickname by allowing only three goals on the last 105 shots he faced. It was special.

That’s the best he’s ever played. Though you’ll get some argument for 2012 when he won the Vezina and performed well in elimination games against Ottawa and Washington the first two rounds. 2015 versus the Caps was also clutch.

There is no comeback without the third line of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot. Their forecheck pressure and timely goals helped spark the comeback. It was also Big Game Brass who delivered a Game One win in sudden death. The goal Pouliot made sure was one just in case. It was also Brassard who let fans breathe easier with a huge insurance marker to seal Game Six 3-1. They outscored the Pens 10-3 in the last three games of the Eastern Conference Semifinal and never trailed.

Those Blueshirts would then take the first two games in Montreal thanks to some dominance from Kreider and McDonagh. Without Carey Price, the pesky Habs made it interesting by winning Game Three in overtime and forcing sudden death in Game Four. Luckily, some hustle from speedster Carl Hagelin kept a play alive to get the puck across to a wide open St. Louis. With the crowd anticipating something good, he didn’t disappoint by roofing a perfect laser over Dustin Tokarski’s glove to win the game.

Following a strange wide open Game Five won by the more focused Canadiens 7-4, it made me a bit nervous going into Game Six. No way did I want any part of a do or die Game Seven scenario at the House Of Horrors. To their credit, the Habs played well after losing Price. They rallied around Tokarski, who did a solid job to give them a chance.

The sixth game was tightly contested just like the other two home matches versus Montreal. Being there with family and friends, you could feel the tension. There was a nervous energy in the building. As the game remained scoreless late into the second period, here came Thomas Vanek one on one with Lundqvist. He made a crazy acrobatic save where he did whatever it took to keep the puck out. The crowd went nuts.

Let’s Go Rangers chants followed. On a great forecheck behind the net thanks to a good pinch from McDonagh, who destroyed the team that drafted him, the puck came to Boyle. He was able to elude his check to make a bullet pass in front to Dominic Moore, who quickly fired it past Tokarski with 1:53 to go in the second period. In that moment, we erupted.

I think everyone knew the one goal would be enough with how dialed in Lundqvist was. But even more, it was a total team effort. Truth be told, outside of the miraculous stop on Vanek, Lundqvist didn’t have much to do. He only faced 18 shots including five in a third controlled by the Rangers. They played so well defensively that I think some fans forgot how good that team was. This is where you tip your cap to McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Staal, Anton Stralman, Kevin Klein, John Moore and even former Hab Raphael Diaz.

It helped to have tough checkers such as Boyle, Moore and Derek Dorsett on a real fourth line that Alain Vigneault could trust. Don’t forget Daniel Carcillo’s contribution either in the first round win over his ex-team, the Flyers. Having those guys as the energy line along with the cohesive third unit of Brassard, Zuccarello and Pouliot made them tough. Opponents couldn’t just key in on the top two lines centered by Stepan and Richards. They had the right balance.

Unfortunately, the Kings proved too big, skilled and strong in the Stanley Cup. They were relentless and had more standout players such as Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, former Blueshirt Marian Gaborik, Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, who matched Lundqvist in net. They were the better team.

Even if a couple of calls went against us at annoying Staples Center. Vigneault also sat back too much in the crushing three losses in LA. All games they blew leads in by not attacking. The shots on goal discrepancy and total third period goals in the series was a joke. The Kings outscored the Rangers 4-0 in the series and outshot them 61-25 in the third during the five game series. That includes the Game Three 3-0 shutout loss at MSG where the Rangers outshot the Kings 11-2. That’s how lopsided that period was. Overtime treated them no better.

It’s amazing to think that was six years ago this June. The next year in which they stunned the Caps before losing in awful fashion by scoring no goals the last six home periods to the Lightning was worse. I’d rather have gotten swept. It still stings. It’s hard to believe only a few players remain from that roster. At this moment early in the AM, they’re still Lundqvist, Staal, Kreider and Jesper Fast.

Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes were subtracted last deadline. Rick Nash was sent to the Bruins two years ago in what’s one of GM Jeff Gorton’s best trades to date. He landed Ryan Lindgren, turned Ryan Spooner into Ryan Strome and moved up to select K’Andre Miller. A future left pair defenseman who could change the whole look of the blueline in the future.

Nash didn’t quite have enough of an impact to help the Bruins win the Cup. He retired due to his health. A wise decision given his concussion history. I know he didn’t quite have the affect many hoped for after Glen Sather got him in a trade that sent Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky to the Blue Jackets that also netted remaining key holdover Pavel Buchnevich.

However, Nash had bad luck with injuries. He still was an exciting player who could get you out of your seat while being underrated defensively. Nash played every situation. It’s too bad he wasn’t healthier during his stay on Broadway. He still had 20 or more goals in four of six seasons including a career best 42 in ’14-15. I definitely think Kreider learned from him. Nash was a power forward who would up with 437 career goals and 368 assists for a total of 805 points over 1060 games. He hit 40 or better in three seasons with Columbus and New York and reached at least 30 or more five times. He was an electrifying player. It’s too bad he had to call it quits after his age 33 year.

It’s kinda funny talking about all the players who have come and gone over the last few years. We hardly knew ye Kevin Shattenkirk. At least he’s rebounded in Tampa. Definitely healthier in a better situation. Keith Yandle was a real good player that Vigneault misused on the third pair and second power play. He is still very productive on the Panthers, who are trying to get in. They only sacrificed Anthony Duclair, who’s bounced around more than Rihanna, plus a first and second round pick.

The irony is they used the sixth round pick Florida sent for Yandle’s negotiating rights on Hobey Baker candidate Tyler Wall. Yes. The other young goalie prospect who should be signed this summer. This organization has plenty of goalies in the system. We still don’t know what they’re planning to do with Alex Georgiev. I’m thinking he stays at least until this summer.

I’m still not buying the rumors about Lundqvist possibly waiving his NMC to go to a contender today. I just can’t see it. He’s hardly had any work since Igor Shestyorkin arrived. Georgiev is the current backup. Is this really how Hank wants to end his career?

I don’t know where Kreider will wind up. As usual, its about term and money. History is repeating itself. If he was on another team, they would overpay the way they have in the past. Jacob Trouba. Richards. Gaborik although he was worth it. What an exciting player. It’s too bad his career is done even as he’s still listed as a Senator. Nash although that was what Columbus paid and they picked up some of the tab. If I really wanted to go back, I could.

I’m sure TSN is all jacked up full of caffeine and coffee stains already. No. I’m not going to be locked in all day on NHL Network or Twitter. I’m dreading this day. We could also see Fast move. There’s supposed interest in Brady Skjei. Everyone’s favorite. Staal could also draw interest but he’s got a no-trade. He’d have to waive like Andy Greene and Mike Green, who was moved to Edmonton for Kyle Brodziak and a conditional pick last night. Why?

Ilya Kovalchuk gets to have a Russian reunion with Alex Ovechkin in Washington. Montreal was able to pry a third round pick for 15 good games from Kovalchuk. Come to think of it, the Caps are cornering the market on Russian players with Ovi, Kovalchuk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitri Orlov and Ilya Samsonov. Why don’t they bring Alex Semin back too? He’s still going in the KHL.

Speaking of Russian hockey stars, I was watching some cool videos of legendary Valery Kharlamov. Wow. He was like a better version of Pavel Bure with a higher IQ. Think Pavel Datsyuk. That’s also who I watched. I sure miss him. He’s probably in his final year in Russia. What a magnificent player. When they talk about puck possession, wizardry that you now get from Panarin, and just flat out overall domination, they don’t come better than the Magic Man.

Here are a few videos of the greatest Russian legend Kharlamov and my favorite Russian center with apologies to Sergei Fedorov. Enjoy.

How did they wait so long to induct him? He tragically passed away in a car accident with his wife in 1981. It’s a joke that the Hockey Hall of Fame didn’t induct him sooner posthumously. They don’t recognize enough great Russian players. If they did, Alex Mogilny would be in already.

Listen to Doc Emrick call the highlights of Datsyuk dominating the Coyotes in the 2011 first round. At one point, he refers to them as the Washington Senators. Haha. Nothing gets by Doc.

That’s in his rookie year victimizing Jaromir Jagr. Wow. Nobody was better at the shootout.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more complete player in all the years I’ve been watching. He takes the cake. From the stick handling to the speed to the playmaking, dangles, dekes, takeaways and sick snipes, Pavel Datsyuk could do it all. He won three Selke Trophies as the top defensive forward and a few Lady Byngs for most gentlemanly. Never won a scoring title or Hart. His most points were 97 which he did twice.

A two-time Stanley Cup champion. Had he been more healthy, I doubt the Pens come back to beat the Red Wings in the memorable rematch in 2009. They still needed a last second save by Marc-Andre Fleury on Nicklas Lidstrom to preserve their third Cup.

There are only a handful of players who come close to Datsyuk overall. His predecessor Fedorov. Peter Forsberg. Eric Lindros. Mike Modano. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Anze Kopitar. Those are great overall centers who can do everything. But nobody did it with as much flair as Datsyuk. He had magic hands and instincts that can’t be taught.

My guy Alex Kovalev was similar in terms of the skating, puck handling, dangles, dekes, finishing and playmaking. However, he wasn’t as complete or consistent. Had he been, I believe Kovalev could’ve been one of the greats. His puck possession style would mesmerize in today’s game with how the rules are. I’m glad he got to show his stuff in Pittsburgh and Montreal. No Cup in 1994 without him.

That’s going to do it for now. I’ll be back later when something crazy happens. I won’t be excited about it. That I can promise you.

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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