Let’s start off this post by recognizing what’s going on. The Stanley Cup Semifinals have begun. Or the Final Four. Personally, I prefer the latter. It doesn’t matter that it’s been used for the NCAA Basketball Tournament forever. It just sounds better. I can’t get used to the new name due to the crossover without conferences. It’s strange not to have a Conference Finals. There. I said it.
So far, three games have been played. Two between the Islanders and Lightning. One featuring the Canadiens and Golden Knights. Vegas took the opening game against the underdog Habs without a problem. They got contributions from their active D with both Shea Theodore and Nick Holden (ahem) scoring. William Karlsson and that line featuring Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault continuing to look good. Plus the brilliance of Marc-Andre Fleury. He is amazing. Thirty-six and still playing like he’s in his prime. A Conn Smythe candidate for sure. Wouldn’t it be something if he finally won the Vezina? He’s up against Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer. Vasilevskiy is the favorite.
What can Montreal do tonight for a response? Well, it could be a different lineup with Jeff Petry possible along with Jon Merrill. Petry would help the back end. Carey Price can’t just do it by himself. He needs help. Not just from Nick Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield. We’ll see who steps up.
The Islanders were the better team in Game 1. They were battle tested and took it to the defending champs to gain the split needed to gain home ice. In Game 2, the Lightning fought back by showing more urgency to prevail 4-2. Unfortunately, the officiating was a factor. Not the positive kind. The refs were equally bad for both sides. With the Lightning up a goal from Brayden Point, they got it wrong when Point bumped into Semyon Varlamov. Replays clearly showed that the Bolts’ top center was shoved from behind by Adam Pelech. Varlamov was a dead duck. Of course, Point was penalized for goalie interference. Predictably, Brock Nelson tied the game on the gift power play. That wasn’t all.
In the second period, you had a great stretch pass from Victor Hedman to game breaker Nikita Kucherov. Drawing two Isles including Mat Barzal, he made a perfect feed for an Ondrej Palat go-ahead goal. However, replays showed that the Lightning had too many men on the ice. When the TV replays show seven skaters, that’s brutal. How did the linesmen miss it? Of course, Barry Trotz went ballistic twice having some choice words for the officials. It was one of the worst officiated playoff games. You can’t miss that and get the interference penalty wrong. Two goals happened due to NHL incompetence. It shouldn’t happen. It’s embarrassing for the sport.
Good thing the Bolts put the game away in the third period. Both defensemen Jan Rutta and Hedman scored. Rutta with a point blast from Barclay Goodrow through a Josh Bailey screen. Hedman on the power play thanks to a great Kucherov pass through the seam. Kucherov finished with three assists. He’s a magician with the puck. Scary on the power play with potent weapons Hedman, Point and Steven Stamkos. The Isles took too many penalties. The Bolts went 1-for-5.
A Barzal goal late made it interesting. It was a good follow-up by the Islanders’ first center. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. The Lightning defended well against the six-on-five to kill off the final three minutes for the win to square the series. There were some pleasantries exchanged at the conclusion. Travis Zajac took down Anthony Cirelli. He went down awkwardly. You had Matt Martin trying to get at Goodrow due to a hit he delivered in the third on Barzal. Pat Maroon challenged the Islanders by basically trolling them. He fought Martin during the game in what was a more heated contest. The Bolts had to respond by being more physically engaged. They proved why they’re the rating champs. This is a rematch for a reason. Now, the series shifts to The Barn in Nassau County. That place will be rocking for Games 3 and 4 in Uniondale. Thursday night is going to be interesting.
As much as it was about the refs last night, Vasilevskiy still came up big by robbing the dangerous Anthony Beauvillier before the second period expired. On a weird misdirection play off a face-off, the puck came to Beauvillier with under two seconds left. He let go of a good wrist shot that Vasilevskiy was in perfect position to pad away. That was the turning point. Had Beauvillier scored, it’s a tie hockey game headed to the third. Instead, the game’s best goalie delivered. It was much better than Game 1 when he let in a bad goal to Ryan Pulock. That actually proved to be the game-winner with Point getting a late tally with Vasilevskiy on the bench.
Goaltending is crucial in this series. After Varlamov went to the locker room to be checked on for concussion protocol, Ilya Sorokin did a great job relieving him by playing poised in net. In a tough circumstance, he made key stops to keep the game tied at one after a period. Varlamov was okay and returned for the rest of the game. He played well following the break. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough against a better Lightning. It’s his series unless there’s a slip up. We know it’s Vasilevskiy for the Bolts.
Earlier this weekend, some fans recalled the ’94 Stanley Cup championship team. Astonishing to think it’s now been 27 years since the Rangers won Lord Stanley. Unfortunately, they’re halfway to another 54 years. Something no Blueshirt fan wants to acknowledge. We don’t really want it “to last a lifetime,” like Sam Rosen’s memorable call on MSG. We’re lucky that local networks could still broadcast those big games that far into the Playoffs. Those days are long gone. What lasts is the memory which includes those memorable calls from Rosen and John Davidson on TV. Of course, Howie Rose best known for the “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau,” call in Game 7 against the Devils. Marv Albert had the call on WFAN in New York. It’s crazy to think he’s hanging up the mic after TNT wraps up its NBA Playoffs coverage. He’s been the voice of so many generations forever. I met him once in the city when I was working my old job out of college. It was brief as he headed into Starbucks near his luxurious apartment on Columbus Avenue. That was cool. I’m glad I’ve gotten to talk to his son Kenny a few times at MSG. He’s great. It’s nice to see him doing well.
As much as we all make a huge deal out of June 14, 1994, I feel like John Amirante flies under the radar. I know he’s been gone a few years already, but the great national anthem singer is best remembered for turning it up several notches when the electric atmosphere drowned out his anthem. Yet you could still hear him belt it out. I always loved the energy and passion he had whenever he performed. Madison Square Garden was always better with Amirante there. Nothing compares.
Rosen summed it up best. When it was over, he talked about how long he’s been coming to that building. To quote him directly, “I have never seen anything like it.” Perfectly said. It best describes what that night was like. I can only imagine what those fans were feeling inside. I know how we felt watching it on MSG. The nerves were so intense. So much anxiety. What a moment. Thank God they won. Who knows what we’d be talking about now.
One of the things I love about that era were the T-shirts and hats. They truly are a unique collector’s item. Sure. We all bought them and wore them proudly. But the design for the shirts and caps were perfect. Justin was smart enough to get an extra Cup T-shirt which is still in great condition. Along with the memorable, “Oh Baby,” VHS Rangers Stanley Cup video, it’s quite the items to have. I bought the Stanley Cup Program off eBay. I also have the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals one which I purchased at Game Three. If only they’d won that night. Speaking of Amirante, here’s how he sounded for the memorable 2014 Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 clincher against the Canadiens.
It was a different crowd. We were still loud. It just doesn’t measure up to the chaos of Game 7 on 6/14/94. There’s something about Amirante. His anthems were great. I smile when I see him pull out and wave the Let’s Go Rangers rally towel. Of course, they’ve been saved. I wonder how different it would be had they won it in ’14. It would’ve been fitting. Twenty years later. It was a great run. Many of us still feel that team should’ve won. It just didn’t happen. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I still don’t like Alec Martinez. But I respect him as a player. I wish they could’ve won that Cup with Henrik Lundqvist. So close. I’m thankful for those teams. They feel like a lot longer when you consider where the current state of the franchise is. It’s headed in the right direction. It just takes time.
As far as Gerard Gallant goes, we are still patiently waiting for the Rangers to make it official. Maybe they want to do it on a quieter day. Who knows. There’s so much to do once Gallant is announced. It all is too much to think about right now. Let Chris Drury worry about it. There really is no news to report. Adam Fox is up for the Norris. It’ll be revealed if he won next week. I like that they’re revealing award winners during the playoffs. It’s better than some cheesy award show.
UPDATE: They must’ve heard me. Gerard Gallant now Official.
It’s not surprising that much of what we already knew was confirmed about David Quinn. He tried too hard to please everyone. Eventually, his style led to a division with the veterans. We know who they are. They better get used to what Gallant wants this Fall. He will not treat them like college kids. But as equals. Jaromir Jagr praised the move. He feels it’s a good hire and spoke about how he enjoyed playing for him in Florida. Jagr put up 66 points and finished fourth for the Hart in his 40’s. Amazing. He played with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Both established stars now. He indicated that Gallant being a successful former player for the Red Wings helped him understand his players. He had a good career. He also will bench anyone if they’re not performing. But it’s forgotten the next game. Jagr emphasized that Gallant prefers not to tweak his lines too much. That should be better for team chemistry.
All of this doesn’t matter at the moment. We will have to remain patient. If the last 16 months have taught us anything, it’s that you have to be. It’s nice to see things opening up and more fans attending games. I couldn’t do it. Maybe if it’s back to a real normal. God bless those who do. Until next time.