Game #70 Rangers lose to Avalanche in overtime on probably the last game of the season, Coronavirus could force suspension


I want to start this off by expressing something I’ve never felt before. The Coronavirus is something different than what we’ve seen. Nobody knows what’s going on. I would be lying to you if I knew what was happening.

All I know is life isn’t going back to the way it was before. At least not for a while. With many universities canceling classes and going virtual until further notice and schools needing to do the same if the NYCDOE wakes the heck up already, there’s no way sports are going to continue. So, when the NBA made the announcement that the season was suspended due to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s pretty obvious what’s coming for other sports.

That includes the NHL. Something Hasan alluded to earlier last night. With the NCAA basketball tournament opting to play games without any fans aside from family members of the players at least for now, we pretty much knew what was next. In all probability, the Rangers played the last game of the regular season. They lost in an exciting game to the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime.

Given all the rumors circulating that the league is about to make a decision tomorrow, it feels anticlimactic. I enjoyed the hockey I saw. It was a lot more fun than the bore fest the Rangers won in Dallas. Unfortunately, they didn’t come out on top despite holding most of the territorial edge.

Special teams doomed them. They flat out stunk. Colorado scored two power play goals while the Blueshirts took the collar in four chances. That included a god awful long five-on-three that was so exasperating, it left me dumbfounded. At the time, they trailed the Avalanche 2-1 due to Pavel Hasek 😂 Francouz standing on his head. He wound up making 30 saves, but it felt like a lot more considering the high quality he stopped. He was brilliant.

Alex Georgiev wasn’t bad either. In his first start in four games, he gave up three goals on 28 shots. However, all three Colorado goals were on screens by the Avs, who executed well in front of the net. That included JT Compher redirecting a Cale Makar shot for the overtime winner at 2:50. A goal that could’ve been prevented if late regulation hero Pavel Buchnevich and village idiot Brendan Lemieux didn’t do a flyby on Makar. Just brutal.

More brutal was the suddenly passive Artemi Panarin. I don’t care if he setup Buchnevich for the crazy redirection with 13 seconds left for a point on an elevated pass. Panarin hasn’t been shooting the puck. That’s why he hasn’t been scoring. He passed up a wide open pointblank chance in overtime for a ridiculous pass to a covered Tony DeAngelo. It was awful. He wasn’t any better on the power play turning over the puck in a back pass to no one.

It’s very hard to critique the Bread Man. He’s been unbelievable this season. His 94 points are remarkable. But he definitely has become reluctant to shoot due to always looking for the perfect play. Maybe that’s due to Mika Zibanejad scoring at an NBA Jam on 🔥 rate. Once again, Zibanejad scored to give him 41 goals by actually beating Francouz early for a 1-0 lead. Phil Di Giuseppe and Adam Fox picked up assists on the unreal wrist shot.

Zibanejad could’ve easily had another two or three goals. He hit the crossbar twice and was absolutely denied twice more by Francouz on breakaways with the cool Colorado goalie not going for his backhand move. Part of it was he is a right glove. The other part is he was seeing everything fired his way. To say he was sensational would not be overstating it. A terrific performance by the 29-year old who may as well have changed his last name to Hasek, Roy, Brodeur, Sawchuk, Dryden, etc. You get the picture.

The issue in the game were the bad penalties the Rangers took. In the first period leading by one, a bench minor led directly to Tyson Jost sniping his ninth from Gabriel Landeskog and Makar through a screen. It only took 25 seconds and David Quinn was beet red following the penalty. His penalty kill has not been the same since the Brady Skjei trade. They allowed two more power play goals. Dallas got one too the night prior. That’s 10 PPG allowed since the trade deadline. Coincidence? Maybe. They’re not getting it done.

While the Rangers took dumb penalty after dumb penalty, they had a golden opportunity to go back ahead. Already on a power play to start the second period, they drew another to get a two-man advantage. With the top unit out, they did everything but score. In particular, the now jinxed Ryan Strome can’t buy one. He hit the goalpost on a wide open shot which basically was a slam dunk. Then he had Francouz down and misfired with players down in front. I don’t know if it would’ve counted, but wow. There were other chances for Strome, who had another shot later go off the post. He also was flat out robbed by Francouz on a rebound in front.

It wasn’t his night. I thought Strome was one of the best players. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t score. Neither could Buchnevich until some theatrics late. He was denied by Francouz on a great pass in front. He also had a wraparound turned aside by the lightning quick Francouz, who got across to get his skate on it. He also stoned Kaapo Kakko on a backhand that he couldn’t elevate. He took everything away low and his team did a good job not allowing the Rangers to get the looks needed to go high. They didn’t do a good enough job screening.

That’s why the Avalanche are where they are and the Rangers are where they are. Colorado won this game despite no Nathan MacKinnon, Mikka Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert and Andre Burakovsky. But they got back the ultra skilled Makar, who only assisted on all three goals they scored. What a dynamic player. He’s going to win the Calder. If he doesn’t, there should be an investigation. He’s better than Quinn Hughes and whoever else you want to put up. Adam Fox is the closest to him. He was real good again tonight recording two more assists.

Right after the Rangers failed on the big power play with Zibanejad hitting the post, Brendan Smith took a bad tripping minor. It only took Colorado a dozen seconds to score. Off a face-off win, Landeskog and Makar combined to get the puck over to old friend Vladislav Namestnikov, who waited for Compher to set up in front. The former Ranger torched his ex-team by rifling home his 17th through the perfect Compher screen for a 2-1 Avalanche lead at 3:55.

Georgiev had zero chance. He never saw it. That’s why Colorado is so tough. They can overcome all the injuries to key players including stars MacKinnon and Rantanen due to their depth. Other guys like Compher, Namestnikov, Jost, Valeri Nichushkin, Ian Cole and Ryan Graves step up. Francouz is winning all these games while Philipp Grubauer is out. If you’re the Avs and your season eventually continues, how do you not start Francouz for the playoffs?

That’s assuming there is one. We have no idea if it’ll happen. 1919 saw no completion due to influenza which killed star Joe Malone. Go read about it. I did last night ironically. It really is a crazy and scary time. Not that I’m fearful. I’m not. But you have to be careful. If you think I’m kidding, think again. Do you know how many times I’ve seen people not wash their hands at MSG after using the bathroom? It’s gross.

The issue is very real. Just take precaution. Use soap and hand sanitizer. Don’t shake hands. I saw a lot of fist pumps after my Alma mater St. John’s stunned Georgetown with a 23-0 run to end the Big East first round win. That was pretty amazing in itself. You better believe I was pumped. Though I did feel for Patrick Ewing. The players and coaches all fist pumped.

Here’s a question for those curious. The Jazz were recently at MSG. Should the Knicks be quarantined? Do the Rangers need to be? This is insane. They haven’t found a vaccine yet. I watched Stephon Marbury do the test in China with a mask on his Instagram. It made me nauseous seeing him in pain. Thankfully, it came back negative. Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson weren’t as lucky in Australia. Yikes. I sure hope they recover.

When they canceled the Indian Wells tennis tournament, that was a bad sign. I was bummed for Brian and for all the fans and players along with workers. What’s gonna happen with the rest of the season? Baseball is going through the same thing. Does anyone believe they’re going to have Opening Day on March 26? It’s likely to be pushed back.

When you have as brief a postgame press conference as I’ve ever seen featuring a few quick answers from Zibanejad, Marc Staal and Quinn, that’s a telling sign that things aren’t right. For those crying conspiracy, you’re wrong. This might feel like an overreaction. But it isn’t. This isn’t political either. It’s SERIOUS!

I gotta be honest. Given how well Francouz played following a huge save from Georgiev on a Matt Nieto penalty shot, I didn’t think the Rangers were tying it. It was frustrating. One power play was so hideous due to the first unit overstaying their shift and insisting on more passing, I got angry. I was yelling at the TV set. What were they doing? Especially Panarin. He was driving me nuts. He also took a dumb hooking minor to negate a power play earlier in the third.

You had Lemieux taking a very selfish penalty with under three minutes left in regulation. He takes a lot of dumb penalties. I know he brings energy, but some of these penalties are awful. He draws a lot too, but at some point, he needs to get it. I’m really frustrated with him.

That could’ve meant no points. But the Avs were passive. They seemed lackadaisical, allowing a clean Zibanejad shorthanded breakaway. But Francouz no sold his forehand deke, backhand to rob him. The second time he denied him. Earlier in the game, Zibanejad had him beat, but he got just enough of it to push it off the crossbar. That’s how hot Mika has been. It would be a shame if we don’t get to see more Mika Magic this season.

Following a successful kill, the Rangers didn’t have a lot of time to screw around. After a DeAngelo fumble resulted in a clear, the last gasp came. In transition, Fox got the puck up to Panarin, who had a step coming in. This time with the puck rolling, he threw the puck in the air to a charging Buchnevich, who somehow got his stick on it to put it in for his 16th at 19:47.

It was so astonishing that I went nuts on the tying goal. It felt like a miracle. That’s how fun this team has been to watch. If this really was it, thank you Rangers for one more exciting moment. How I wish they’d gotten the win.

They sure had their chances in the three-on-three OT. But Panarin jerked around with the puck and then Zibanejad hit another crossbar with his laser of a shot. Back came the Avalanche and that quickly with me up in arms that Lemieux was out, he and Buchnevich didn’t even lay a body on Makar. Their blow by allowed Makar to fire a shot Compher managed to deflect home for his 14th.

Game over. I was pissed. More so at Lemieux than anything. What was he doing out there? I would’ve rather seen Di Giuseppe or Brett Howden than him. Why not Jesper Fast? At least he’s responsible. Oh well. That’s how it ended. Joe Micheletti pulled no punches in the shortest postgame ever, calling out both Buchnevich and Lemieux. Good.

What sucks is it likely was the last game. It’s so hard to believe. I can just hear a chair umpire during a big tennis match when rain hits saying, “Play suspended.” Unfortunately, that’s what we’re looking at.

Until next time.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (41st goal and hit two posts, stoned on 2 breakaways with 6 shots, a star player)

2nd 🌟 Cale Makar, Avalanche (3 assists including the primary on a great setup for Compher OT winner, a remarkable player)

1st 🌟 Pavel Francouz, Avalanche (30 saves including some remarkable stops where he morphed into Hasek)

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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