Rangers fire Gernander, Drury named Hartford GM

In a bit of news with the AHL affiliate Hartford, the Rangers fired Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander. A former Wolf Pack/Ranger, Gernander served as the coach of the Pack for  a decade starting in ’07-08 thru this season when they missed the playoffs. They finished a disappointing 24-46-6. The worst record under Gernander, who also was a AHL assistant for two years before taking over.

Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury will take over as Hartford general manager. He’ll replace Jim Schoenfield who’ll have a different role in the organization. Drury has become a hot commodity drawing interest from the Sabres before they hired Jason Botterill as their new GM.

The Rangers denied Buffalo’s request for a interview, intending to retain Drury for a bigger role. He’ll oversee the Wolf Pack, who have missed the postseason four of the last five years. Hartford clearly needed a change with some prospects struggling to develop consistently.

Part of it is a lack of talent. After leading scorer Nicklas Jensen’s 32 goals and 55 points, Marek Hrivik finished second with 40 points. Then former third round pick Adam Tambellini (13-22-35). Hardly inspiring. Cristoval Nieves wound up with only 18 points in his first pro year after a good training camp.

Only defenseman Ryan Graves remains on track to be a NHL player posting eight goals and 22 assists. With coach Alain Vigneault acknowledging his team is looking to add a young blueliner, Graves could be fighting for a spot this Fall with recently signed former KHL defenseman Alexei Bereglazov. The club also reached agreement with NCAA free agent Neil Pionk. He will get a look as will John Gilmour.

With the change will also come a new AHL coach. Who will it be? Time will tell.

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The cure for Rangers withdrawal

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Playoff hockey continues tonight in Pittsburgh. But a Game 2 between a team the Rangers should’ve beat in the Senators and the always hated Penguins just isn’t doing it for me. It only numbs the pain.

Sure. I’ll watch because it’s the Conference Final and hockey. But it’s very hard for any loyal True Blue fan to get too enthused over the boring Final 4. Yes. I went there. I don’t care for either Ottawa or Pittsburgh. I am pulling for the lesser of two evils. I’m in on Team Karlsson and Craig Anderson.

They only feature three former Rangers. Big Game Brass, Viktor Stalberg and the throw in in the infamous Gomez for McDonagh deal, Tom Pyatt. So I was happy Bobby Ryan scored to win Game 1 on a breakaway with a sweet backhand top finish from guess who. J.G. Pageau. John Druce himself 26 years later. Or is it 27? I lost count.

Isnt that how it works when your team gets eliminated in mind numbing fashion. Was that a week ago? Oh yeah. Once the calendar hits Tuesday. I was there. Many of us were. We were loud and extremely supportive even warn the writing was on the wall.

Has Kreider taken the open shot yet with Hank pulled? Or is he still circling the net taking away the angle and dashing our last hopes? Has anyone discovered the whereabouts of J.T. Miller? What about the always responsible and brutally honest Stepan? If only he Step’ed up like in 2015 doing in the hopeless Caps. At least we don’t root for them. My god.

To be honest, Nashville vs Anaheim is great hockey. I’m going for the Preds and P.K. Subban. Plus Lundqvist lite Rinne. They’re fun to watch. They also have the best 1-4 D in the league with my boy Josi headlining it with Ryan Ellis, P.K. and Ekholm. Plus ex-Cap first rounder Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and the pesky James Neal.

The Ducks got Game 2 because they’re resilient. They dug out of a two-goal hole and evened up the series with a 5-3 win. Getzlaf is in beast mode and Kesler is the most loathed American hockey player because he does the dirty work. Rakell finishes and Jakob Silfverberg is on fire. Randy Carlyle has it all working a decade later with Getzlaf and Perry the lone holdovers from that championship team. Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen are leading a good young D corps and USA hero John Gibson is stopping pucks.

So, it’s compelling hockey. But I can’t help but think it should be us vs Crosby, Malkin and the Pens. They likely would’ve gotten killed by the Pens speed and grit. Guys like Rust, Guentzel and Sheary would’ve driven us batty along with Hornqvist and that pest Kunitz. But with Marc-Andre Fleury in net? How soon does Sullivan pull him for Matt Murray if Ottawa gets the jump?

Missing our favorite Blueshirts? Lundqvist and Lindberg are repping Sweden at The Worlds while Purple Hayes had the good fortune to play with Johnny Hockey and Eichel yesterday.

Rangers withdrawal comes in all forms. Missing MSG’s over dramatic opening with the playoff intro. The pump up music. The players too. Some of who won’t be back in October. We only have to wait five more months. Can I bury myself in a Rangers playoff towel now?

Hockey continues and I am in a bad mood. Cheers guys. Golf or tennis anyone?

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Post Mortem: Rangers have regrets on Breakup Day

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Breakup day came and went for a disappointed Rangers group who won’t all be back this Fall. There will no doubt be changes to a core who couldn’t get it done against the Senators in a tough six-game second round series loss.

It was the worst of the Henrik Lundqvist Era. One in which the popular 35-year old all-time franchise leader in games, wins and shutouts for a Rangers goalie wasn’t good enough to outduel Craig Anderson. Not much separated winning and losing. In a interview following the game, a dejected Lundqvist alluded to the odd man breaks and not being able to close out games in Ottawa during 6-on-5 situations where the Sens rose up in Games 2 and 5, eventually emerging victorious in sudden death.

However, Lundqvist isn’t blameless. He allowed untimely goals at critical moments which turned the tide. There was the odd Erik Karlsson winner in Game 1 which took a favorable carom off Derek Stepan and then off Lundqvist’s mask and in. That was bad luck.

In Game 2, following a Dan Girardi turnover, Lundqvist gave up the short side top to Jean-Gabriel Pageau which swung the momentum getting Ottawa within 2-1. The Rangers were still in a winning position up 5-3 when Pageau was left alone to deflect home two goals in the final 3:11 of regulation. The responsibility of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who didn’t distinguish himself in the four losses. He wasn’t consistent enough for his team to win.

On the Pageau redirects, Lundqvist wasn’t to blame. When Pageau took full advantage of a bad pinch by Nick Holden going high glove on a two-on-one that trapped Stepan and Jesper Fast with only Marc Staal back, that put the Rangers behind 2-0. They easily could’ve been tied coming home and had only themselves to blame.

They could’ve mailed it in. Instead, they showed the mental fortitude and experience of a team that’s been through the playoff grind before. In playing consecutive complete games to take Games 3 and 4 by identical 4-1 scores, it looked like they had the momentum. They went back to Kanata, Ontario with the series tied 2-2 with the knowledge they could’ve taken both games in Ottawa.

That’s what made what transpired in Game 5 so devastating. They again started quickly going up 2-0 on goals from Jesper Fast and Holden, who did record two goals in the series. But just when things seemed under control, a Lundqvist misplay behind the net resulted in a huge Senators goal that got them within one. Before you knew it, Ottawa had scored three straight and had the momentum.

But a couple of strong shifts from the Rangers fourth line helped turn the tide leading up to McDonagh’s tying goal from Michael Grabner and Girardi in the final two minutes of the second period on a play set up by Kevin Hayes.

When hard working first-year forward Jimmy Vesey scored his first goal of the postseason thanks to video review confirming that his backhand was completely over the goal line despite a great effort from Anderson, it looked like the Rangers would find a way to win Game 5 despite not being perfect.

They were fine until Ottawa coach Guy Boucher pulled Anderson for a extra attacker with 1:45 left. Ottawa was on a rush started by Karlsson, who then managed to make a brilliant pass to Clarke MacArthur for a tough low shot which Lundqvist couldn’t control. What will be remembered is Derick Brassard’s immaculate goal off his leg bouncing off Tanner Glass, then Staal and finally pin balling off Brendan Smith when it was likely gonna just miss before deflecting in with Lundqvist and Staal down.

That is the unlikeliest of goals you’ll ever see. It was unlucky for sure. Even if you want to pin it on Vigneault’s curious choice of Glass over defensive forwards Fast, Grabner and even Rick Nash. Staal had been poor throughout but was put out with Smith, who had been effective most of the playoffs as a rental. It’s easy to blame the coach who had top tandem McDonagh and Girardi the previous shift. But also why did they back off so much? They gave the Sens easy access and Karlsson too much room where even at 65 percent, he did damage.

Stepan was one of the culprits. He didn’t pick up MacArthur causing the chaos. To his credit, he took full responsibility for the worst playoffs of his career. The question is what will GM Jeff Gorton decide this summer with Stepan’s no-movement clause kicking in in July? He makes an average of $6.5 million thru 2021. That’s another four years for at best a second line two-way pivot who’s plateaued. His skating is a issue. He has always gotten by on intelligence. Was he hurt? Who knows.

That’s the thing that is admirable. Stepan knew he stunk. We as fans tend to beat up players. Just watch his interview from earlier today and you’ll have a better perspective of a prideful core player who’s played 97 postseason games with the franchise since entering the NHL in ’10-11.

It is interesting how it’s always the same guys who they get in the locker room to answer the tough questions. Stepan, Nash, Lundqvist, McDonagh and Girardi, who might have played his final game for the franchise. Don’t misinterpret this. But it was Girardi who was the most consistent defenseman. He left it all out there and didn’t have many hiccups despite his skating issues and deficiencies.

Both Mika Zibanejad and Brendan Smith enjoyed their first year in New York. Zibanejad wants to improve from a consistency standpoint. Something Vigneault noted during his final press conference. He indicated that Zibanejad has the talent to be a top center. It’s about reaching that next level. He took positive steps getting more responsibility including as a trusted penalty killer. He’ll be a key restricted due a raise this summer.

As for Smith, he can test the free agent market July 1. He indicated that he would like to stay but that largely depends on length and terms. Figure four years in the neighborhood of $16-18 million gets it done. I wouldn’t go more than that. I like the physical edge he brought. That is needed going forward.

With the upcoming Las Vegas Expansion Draft, the organization has some tough decisions to make. Do they explore a trade for Antti Raanta, who has one year left on his current deal. The Blackhawks knew they would lose Scott Darling and got back a third round pick from the Hurricanes, who rewarded him with a new contract.

What about Fast, Grabner and Oscar Lindberg? Two could be gone. Hopefully, they retain the gritty Fast, who always steps up at playoff time. I would love to keep the other two but it seems unlikely. Lindberg really showed improvement in the second half following hip surgery. If he goes, that won’t be easy to replace.

Lundqvist certainly was there like always just like after every win and loss. There also was the noteworthy moment where Stepan came over during a stoppage and tried to calm down the emotional netminder after he chewed out Brady Skjei. Maybe that was a indication that he wasn’t as locked in. He definitely took blame for not making the extra save such as on Game 5 Ottawa hero Kyle Turris, who after a nice move around Girardi was able to beat Lundqvist five-hole on a very stoppable shot that gave the Sens a 3-2 series lead.

There were a couple of goals he could’ve had in Game 6 with Mark Stone going short side top on a odd-man break and Karlsson able to beat him short side off a Bobby Ryan pass for the series clincher. A play which a trailing Kreider made a coverage mistake on chasing Ryan instead of staying with Karlsson. Even though Kreider got it back 59 seconds into the third to make it 3-2, he wasn’t consistent enough. Vigneault expressed disappointment over him. Lundqvist gave credit to the Sens who deserve to be where they are. But definitely mentioned how he must change his preparation due to being older.  Before a break, he’ll join twin brother Joel and Sweden in the world championships.

Mats Zuccarello showed frustration by mentioning that he felt they controlled most of the first four games and could’ve swept the series. He’s not wrong. Of course, the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner did his part sending a flying Zibanejad in on Anderson for a pretty breakaway goal top shelf that cut it to 2-1 before Karlsson’s back breaker.

As for Vigneault, he would like to add a young defenseman and move Skjei up into a more prominent role. What that means is he’ll become a top four after a successful first season. Something that must happen for the franchise to have any success in the future. The coach leaned too heavily on McDonagh, who isn’t in the class of Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith or Victor Hedman. That doesn’t mean he’s not good. It just means he needs more help.

What that means I don’t know. New York Post’s Larry Brooks has indicated that the Rangers don’t think Kevin Shattenkirk is a fit. His inconsistent postseason for the once again disappointing Caps who did it again last night, didn’t help. His skating and right shot are a plus including the power play where the Rangers again struggled yet had one more power play goal than the Senators. But seeing him get taken off the puck by Patric Hornqvist whose goal finished the Caps with Alexander Ovechkin floating, wasn’t a lasting impression.

Maybe the Rangers look elsewhere for that right defenseman they so desperately need. But that could mean trading players and prospects for top target Jacob Trouba, which should get strong consideration. Perhaps Justin Faulk from Carolina even though I can’t see them trading him with their rebuild so close.

Vigneault also felt shocked that his team isn’t still playing. A thought that is common to frustrated fans and media. He also said one player will be having off-season surgery. Who that is remains to be seen. My guess is Nash or maybe J.T. Miller, who got banged around in the Montreal series.

MSG’s Amanda Borges had a full report on the final day with highlights. She did a great job all year for Rangers Live. Hopefully, we get to see more of her next year.

One final thought. As disappointing a conclusion as Tuesday was, just imagine being a Caps fan. To see your team win convincingly Games 5 and 6 looking like they would finally conquer their second round demons. Then come up small in a 2-0 home Game 7 shutout loss against series MVP Marc-Andre Fleury. That game may as well have been borrowed from the awful conclusion against Tampa Bay at home in the unpredictable 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

We may be suffering right now. Me a lot more from awful allergies. But most of us saw our team win a Stanley Cup in 1994. I feel for the younger generation fans who haven’t. I don’t mean the annoying arrogant ‘experts’ either. But the loyal younger fan who supports every player that wears our colors. They deserve to experience it. 2014 feels like a very long time ago.

Lundqvist deserves it more than anyone. While uneducated haters get off on his postseason failures, here’s a newsflash for you. Our team didn’t need a tank to become competitive. Our goalie was a seventh round pick and is going to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s never been surrounded with Hall of Fame talent either. That’s the breaks.

The Rangers teams are mostly made up of good players. Not great ones. Big difference. The year they traded for future Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis, the team rallied around him following the tragic death of his Mom France, showing more character, determination and heart than any Rangers team since that loaded ’94 championship roster which featured Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Sergei Zubov, Adam Graves, Alexei Kovalev and Mike Richter. All five skaters were better than anyone in this current group.

You need talent to win. The Blackhawks have three superstars in the top 100. The Penguins should have two in there if not for the Canadian bias against Evgeni Malkin. The Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf dominating the playoffs as I predicted. The Predators have the best defense and three forwards better than what the Rangers have in support of Pekka Rinne. The Senators boast the best defenseman in the sport.

So, it’s easy to point to this team’s shortcomings. They have to get younger and better moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Game 6 Review: More determined Senators prevailed over disappointing Rangers

For almost 24 hours, I’ve been trying to digest the latest empty postseason by the Rangers. They were eliminated by a more determined Senators last night by a ironic score of 4-2 in a disappointing Game 6 at MSG. That allowed Ottawa to win the second round series in a closely fought six games to advance to their first Eastern Conference Final since 2007.

They won the series because they were resilient. In big moments, the Senators rose to the challenge twice erasing two-goal deficits and trailing by a goal in the last two minutes of regulation to rally and win Games 2 and 5 in sudden death at home. Their character was underestimated by a more experienced Blueshirts who never did put a beatable opponent away. Something they’ll regret the rest of the summer.

It’s hard to grasp how in a elimination game, they came out flat. But that’s exactly the case. While Alain Vigneault thought they were ready as did McDonagh who indicated that there’s a big difference between talking and doing, it was a more desperate Sens that played with more urgency.

They didn’t allow the Rangers to get the quick start they wanted to with a very energized Garden crowd into it before the drop of the puck. I don’t think there was any more that we could’ve done to help the players. It was as good a atmosphere as it’s been in quite a while. Honestly, the fans were great in Games 3 and 4 too.

Sometimes, you have to give the opponent credit. While I’ll always believe like the players in the post game that this series loss was self inflicted, the Senators took it. All they had to do was play one complete game. And I really wouldn’t call the third period they played good. They sat back and nearly got burned. If they try that next round against the Pens, they’ll be out quickly. They have enough firepower to make you pay.

Unlike the first five games, the Rangers never led. They didn’t score first. The Sens got the first two from Mike Hoffman on a redirect from series MVP Erik Karlsson, and Mark Stone sniped past Henrik Lundqvist short side top to take full advantage of a awful shift from Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith.

It’s not like they didn’t have chances. The Sens took some undisciplined penalties including a four-minute high-sticking double minor from Derick Brassard. But a disjointed power play took the crowd out of it. They got a few shots on Craig Anderson, who was superb in stopping 37 of 39 to win the series over Lundqvist. Good for him. He’s showed a lot of courage this season with his wife battling cancer.

That’s a great story. But this is about what the Rangers failed to do. It was like a mirror of a season in which they overachieved. The problem is no one wants to hear that now. Not when they could’ve and should’ve won. It was all set up for them. But they couldn’t handle prosperity. So, we are as loyal foolish fans of this jinxed franchise, left to wonder how they sucked us in again and broke our hearts.

I don’t got the answer. When your best players aren’t your best while your role guys stand out, you’re not going to be successful. There weren’t enough Blueshirts who stood out consistently. From McDonagh to Lundqvist to an admittedly “embarrassed” Derek Stepan, they weren’t good enough. There were too many passengers. Whether it was mental or physical like with Rick Nash, who had a knee wrapped afterwards, they didn’t get it done.

It really is a lost opportunity. Even in a weaker bracket, they weren’t able to take advantage. I know it’s been said a lot by my peers on other blogs and by media. So here it is again:

By far, this is the most inexcusable loss of the Vigneault Era. It is indefensible. That they could lose to a team where Karlsson was at best 65 percent due to the two heel fractures but somehow still dominated by getting the Game 1 winner and series clincher along with five assists. He is amazing. In the Ottawa four wins, Karlsson put up all his points while continuing to lead everyone in ice-time and shifts. He went plus-four last night coming out with the puck in the Rangers last ditch effort with 15 seconds left.

I didn’t need to see the empty net goal by unsung hero J.G. Pageau. I headed down and to the car as fast as possible. I didn’t care to see the handshakes or a sad salute from a core that’s given us so much in three Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup appearance. Too empty. Too disappointed.

I’m not angry. Maybe because I knew this group wasn’t good enough. It’s more disappointing than anything. So no need for breakdown. No need to even go more in detail. I will do more on that tomorrow.

I feel bad for Lundqvist and Mats Zuccarello because those two always give everything. I’ll also praise the effort of Dan Girardi. If this was really it, the Rangers warrior gave a very good account of himself. Ditto for Marc Staal, who obviously isn’t the same since his last concussion. His balance is all messed up and explains why he’s slowed down. Never question their heart or what they meant to the franchise.

Kudos to the gritty Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner and Oscar Lindberg. All of who could be exposed for head case Chris Kreider and one dimensional pass heavy Kevin Hayes. It would be a mistake not to find a way to keep Fast. Ditto Lindberg, who outside of Game 6, was more effective than Stepan this playoffs. I also want to credit Tanner Glass for a solid effort. How he could be more visible than a few of our go to guys says a lot about him and not much for the others who didn’t step up. Has anyone found J.T. Miller? Also kudos to Mika Zibanejad, who led the team in scoring with nine points including a highlight reel breakaway goal in the second from Zuccarello along with a assist on Kreider’s goal that made it 3-2 in the opening minute of the third.

Whatever comes out afterwards on break up day will be interesting. But it’s painfully obvious that the core we have grown to love has to be broken up. That’s all I got.

Thanks for the readership and support. Find me on New York Puck via Twitter! See you soon. Let’s Go Rangers!!!!! 😀

 

 

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Game 6 Preview: Rangers face elimination

Tonight, the Rangers face all the pressure in a elimination Game 6 at home against the Senators. They have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament.

A second round series that should be over isn’t due to their ineptitude at protecting one goal leads late in regulation in Games 2 and 5. They have given up three tying goals with the opponent pulling the goalie for a six-on-five.

Whether you want to pin it all on Alain Vigneault or the players, it doesn’t matter. Fact is the execution was off in the final minute and a half in Games 2 and 5. It comes down to the five players and Henrik Lundqvist failing to close it out.

It’s easy to say the coach chose the wrong personnel in Game 5. However, who exactly has gotten it done in that spot? It’s up to the goalie who gets paid $8.5 million to keep pucks out and seal the deal. Lundqvist hasn’t played well in this series. He hasn’t had the same consistency like when he outplayed Carey Price in the first round. He must be better or there won’t be any hope of a comeback.

Derek Stepan can’t be floating around tonight if they want to win. The four points he has aren’t enough. From a consistency standpoint, he hasn’t been good. That includes defensively where he’s been frequently caught out of position such as Clarke MacArthur’s open shot which created Derick Brassard’s odd tying goal that took a good bounce off two players before slipping past Lundqvist with Marc Staal kneeling. Why do players do that?

This is about the team playing like the one we saw in Games 3-4.  It’s about their best players stepping up. Not just Lundqvist, Stepan or Staal. But Chris Kreider doing more than having a couple of big shifts. J.T. Miller reminding us who he was this season.

You expect Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to bring it because they don’t know any other way.

They could use one of Mika Zibanejad’s big shots to hit the net and beat ex-teammate Craig Anderson. They could use Kevin Hayes to continue his play from Game 5 when he was better recording a pair of assists and nearly a third on a close call from Michael Grabner.

You expect Jesper Fast and the fourth line to do their part. They’ll bring the work ethic that has been lacking from the more talented players. You also figure to get a more inspired game from Staal and partner Nick Holden, who was a lot better than the veteran the other day.

If Brady Skjei is going well with Brendan Smith, then Vigneault must play both even if that means sending Skjei out in the final frantic five minutes to protect a lead. At this point, do whatever it takes. There is no tomorrow.

They want to be successful and force Game 7. That means not showing too much respect for Erik Karlsson. It means putting a body on J.G. Pageau. Limiting turnovers and Kyle Turris’ time and space. The same for Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan.

Do it and they’ll be fine. Do it not and there won’t be another game. They can’t just rely on MSG. They must rely on themselves. Play as a team.

 

 

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Caps dominate Pens to force seventh game, Rangers top players must deliver

To be honest, following the Caps 4-2 win over the Pens in Game 5, I watched Braden Holtby’s interview with NBC’s Pierre McGuire and concluded right there that they would go into Pittsburgh and win.

Sure enough, they did doing it convincingly by a count of 5-2 over a listless Pens in Game 6. So, now they have what they want. The epic second round rematch going seven. The only difference is it looks the Caps are gonna pull it off.

This is what they got Justin Williams for. To give them belief that even down 3-1 to the defending champs, they could come back.

Washington is in this position thanks to a key adjustment from tactician Barry Trotz, who put Alexander Ovechkin on the third line. A move that’s worked out well. Andre Burakovsky was moved up to the top line. He had himself a night scoring twice including off a key defensive play and later a highlight reel goal top shelf over Marc-Andre Fleury that made it 5-0.

They’re here due to their top players stepping up. Nicklas Backstrom flew into the Pens zone and blew one past Fleury high glove 16 seconds into the third for a 3-0 lead. John Carlson then had a wicked one-timer top shelf for the Caps’ second power play goal for a four goal bulge.

T.J. Oshie got the scoring started in the first off a great set up from Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first. A lopsided period that saw the Caps hold the Pens to only three shots. In fact, it was 16-8 in shots with two minutes left in the second with Burakovsky’s first off Fleury having Washington up two.

Holtby didn’t have much to do only stopping 16 of 18 shots with both Pens tallies coming in garbage time during a four-on-four. Sidney Crosby set up rookie Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin finished in front.

The question is did the Caps do psychological damage to a experienced team led by Crosby? Hard to say. In the history between the two old Patrick Division rivals, they’ve gone to a Game 7 three previous times with the Pens prevailing in all three.

Most recently in 2009 in the sane round when the Pens won in seven after losing a home Game 6 just like the current scenario. Is this the moment Ovechkin finally erases the second round ghosts and reaches a Conference Final? His deeper team is better and have finally exposed a thin Pens D minus Kris Letang and now Trevor Daley.

While Nashville awaits the Edmonton/Anaheim winner in Game 7, the league gets a second Game 7 between its two marquee stars. Only it’s Backstrom and Kuznetsov doing the heavy lifting for the Caps. Crosby returned from a minor concussion in Game 5. His team has lost twice since. Crosby is lucky he wasn’t reinjured on a dangerous fall into the boards. The Pens didn’t do a concussion protocol.

Henrik

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have the pressure on them to deliver in Game 6 tonight versus Ottawa. 

 

Meanwhile, the Rangers prepare for a do or die Game 6 Tuesday night against Ottawa. They somehow trail 3-2 in a befuddling second round series where they’ve only trailer for 13 minutes. That’s what happens when you can’t protect leads and don’t get the defense or saves they’re accustomed to from Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers have plenty of experience in elimination games. I would expect them to be ready at MSG with a start time of 7:30 PM. They are the better team. But none of that matters if they don’t play a full 60 minutes or more if nervously required.

As much criticism as Alain Vigneault’s received for some of his personnel choices late in Games 2 and 5, it comes down to the execution of the players. There have been too many passengers. It’s high time Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Lundqvist performed to capability.

It can’t just always be the same guys. To pull off this comeback, they need maximum efforts from all 18-19 skaters. It’s their playoff livelihood on the line. We’ll see what they’re made of.

 

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Something to think about

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AP Photo courtesy NYRangers. 

In assessing the latest blown two-goal lead in a mind numbing loss in a playoff game for the Rangers against an opponent they are deeper then, here is something to think about. Since coach Alain Vigneault took over, he’s done an admirable job leading this team to the playoffs in his first four years.

With all the success that’s included a Stanley Cup appearance along with a home Game 7 Eastern Conference Final that ended in disappointment also comes some less than impressive results. Saturday’s 5-4 defeat in Game 5 at Ottawa was the fifth time a Vigneault coached Rangers team blew two goal leads before losing in overtime. Here’s what the statistic looked like prior to today’s latest gut wrenching result.

That excludes the wild and wacky Game 2 loss to the Canadiens by a score of 4-3. A game that was similar to Game 5 against the Canadiens in that they led late until the opponent pulled the goalie. In Montreal’s case, they waited until less than 18 seconds were remaining for Alex Radulov to set up Tomas Plekanec. Then Radulov won it late in the first overtime.

Ottawa twice has shown tremendous heart rallying from two-goal deficits. Game 2 was a nightmare scenario with the Blueshirts blowing three two-goal leads before falling 6-5 on Jean-Gabriel Pageau Night. What else would you call giving up four to the 24-year old Ottawa center who doesn’t get the ink of today’s OT hero Kyle Turris or ex-Ranger Derick Brassard, who tied the game in bizarre fashion at 18:34 of the third?

There was a lot wrong. It’s been covered. Vigneault should’ve had his best defensively responsible forward in Jesper Fast out over Tanner Glass. He didn’t. He went with Marc Staal, who struggled all day to keep up, along with Brendan Smith. Staal was on his knees when the puck deflected off Glass and Smith before squeaking past Henrik Lundqvist, who was culpable. He clearly had an off day and needs to redeem himself. And no. The Turris winner wasn’t offside. Learn the damn rules.

Regarding the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings, it’s well documented. Vigneault chose to sit back and the bigger Kings were only too happy to oblige by cutting off the neutral zone, dictating possession and peppering Lundqvist with shots until he finally caved. There also was the controversial non-interference on Dwight King. One that still mystifies. Had they taken one of the three games at Staples Center, it says here that series goes seven. Who knows what happens.

That team was miles better than this one. Especially with Staal and Dan Girardi much older and less consistent. Even Ryan McDonagh has a lot of wear and tear. Don’t forget how good Staal and former partner Anton Stralman were as a second pair. It was almost like having two top pairs. The Rangers clearly lack that now. Along with Vigneault’s reluctance to play polished rookie Skjei down the stretch, it’s no wonder they blow such games.

The question is can they come back. Yes, they can. They did it against the Capitals in 2013 under John Tortorella. Similar kind of series. Lose the first two in D.C.. Win the next two at MSG. Lose Game 5 in excruciating fashion. Win Game 6 and then dominate Game 7 with Lundqvist at his best. There are enough players left from that roster who know it can be done.

I’m not giving up like some of our fans who would rather bury the team and plan the off-season parade. This team never makes things easy. My pick was Rangers in 7. They can still do it.

Nice to see the Capitals and “3rd liner” Alex Ovechkin show a pulse in their Game 5 win over the Crosby Pens. Why on earth did Pittsburgh play him? Never mind.

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Vigneault costs the Rangers Game 5

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An excited bunch of Senators congratulate overtime hero Kyle Turris whose goal gave them a comeback win in Game 5 over the Rangers 5-4. A loss that clearly is on coach Alain Vigneault for not having the right personnel on the ice protecting a lead. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Ottawa Senators.

Make no mistake about it. The Rangers lost Game 5 to the Senators due to the puzzling decisions of coach Alain Vigneault. He should look in the mirror after another repeat of Game 2. Another senseless overtime loss thanks to some mind boggling moves. The Sens can thank him for their 5-4 win which puts them up 3-2 in the seven-game second round series.

How else to explain Vigneault’s decision to have Tanner Glass out with under two minutes left in regulation protecting a one-goal lead? This isn’t on the player who unfortunately had Derick Brassard’s odd shot deflect off him and somehow past a maze that included a kneeling Marc Staal (because of course) and a stunned Henrik Lundqvist with 1:26 remaining.

It’s clearly on the coach who remains stubborn and predictable. That wasn’t his only bad move. Why the heck was Staal on with Brendan Smith for that shift? Staal was good in the two home wins but struggled throughout. He was on for two goals against and was slow all day. Where was Smith’s partner Brady Skjei, who can at least skate you ask? Where he always is. Riding the pine in crunch time.

This is what we’ve signed up for. With the Rangers extending a coach before his final year, Vigneault’s baffling decisions will continue. They like him. At times, he can make the right moves such as Glass for Game 3 which turned the series around or Pavel Buchnevich in Game 4 last round. However, the coach remains a liability despite a very good track record.

It isn’t to take away from what the veteran coach has accomplished. But for a guy who’s taken two teams to Stanley Cup Finals and came within two straight appearances in 2015 a period away, he continues to hurt the team at critical moments.

Once rookie Jimmy Vesey’s first career NHL playoff goal was confirmed by video replay overturning the call on the ice on what was a great try by Ottawa’s Craig Anderson for a 4-3 Rangers’ lead with 7:12 left, it should’ve been a win. Not anymore. Not this postseason when the team can’t close out the opposition. Game 2 of both the first round and this series and now you can add Game 5. A game they didn’t play particularly well in but were in a winning position before Vigneault cracked.

They iced the puck again leading to Ottawa offensive draws. But it wasn’t that that led to Brassard’s miraculous first goal of the series which may have altered his former team’s playoff fate. It was off an Ottawa rush when Anderson went to the bench for an extra attacker that they came unglued. Somehow, after a good shift by Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi with Kevin Hayes, Rick Nash and Vesey, Vigneault sent out Glass with Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Smith and Staal.

Why on earth wouldn’t the coach use either Jesper Fast or Michael Grabner in that spot? Those are much better defensive forwards than Glass, who gives a honest effort but has no business being out there protecting a one-goal lead that late. And why would he stick Staal out when he was two steps behind all game over Skjei? Even Nick Holden played better scoring again and playing physical. If Staal wasn’t on his knees, Brassard’s tying goal could’ve been prevented.

Instead, we’re left scratching our heads. Of course, the Senators dominated overtime until Kyle Turris beat Lundqvist through the wickets at 6:28 of sudden death to send Canadian Tire Centre into pandemonium. Guess who was out on the shift? The fourth line. It could’ve been any line. That’s how scared the Rangers played. Their top two lines were not good. The Hayes unit picked it up contributing two goals with Smith setting up Fast early and a strong Hayes forecheck leading to McDonagh’s tying goal from Grabner and Girardi with 2:11 left in the second period.

You just cannot make it up. This should’ve been a victory. Instead, Vigneault’s puzzling decisions cost them. Now, they must do it the hard way by winning the first elimination game at home on Tuesday. If they force the seventh game, the league’s best road team better figure out a way to take Game 7 in Ottawa. If they don’t, there’s gonna be a lot of second guessing.

The players didn’t play well enough consistently. There was more panic. They didn’t attack the Sens enough in the OT yet had two close calls with a J.T. Miller shot ring off the crossbar and a Grabner baseball bat swing beat Anderson but with a high stick, which was the right call.

On Turris’ winner, Girardi was defending. Turris was able to stay with it and get around for a wrist shot that Lundqvist missed. He made some good saves but also was culpable on at least two. His giveaway in the first with the Rangers already ahead 2-0 on goals from Fast and Holden swung the momentum. Ottawa converted with Mark Stone beating Girardi in front. They then took control by scoring goals 23 seconds apart in the second from Mike Hoffman (first of series) and Tom Pyatt (redirect).

Erik Karlsson was a decoy. He only hit the net once on his 12 attempts. But while playing on one leg, he racked up three assists and started the Brassard tying goal by finding Clarke MacArthur wide open. Brassard eventually scored in bizarre fashion off Glass with Staal kneeling and Lundqvist unable to get to the rolling puck.

It’s unbelievable how badly the Rangers have looked protecting leads away from home ice. How many times is it gonna happen? Well, if they don’t get it together for Game 6, they will have the rest of the summer to talk about it.

The coach should have known better. He didn’t. It cost his team the game and maybe the chance to play in another Conference Final.

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Game 5 keys for Rangers at Senators

In a series that’s now tied at two apiece, Game 5 is a huge one for both the Rangers and Senators. It’ll start soon on NBC in Ottawa.

The Rangers got off the deck and swept the two home games with identical 4-1 wins. Both masterpieces. They were total team efforts. They didn’t rely on Henrik Lundqvist. But rather their depth. As proven in Game 4 with Oscar Lindberg scoring twice and Tanner Glass tallying two assists with seven hits and a key block. Michael Grabner had a primary helper on Lindberg’s first. There also was a Chris Kreider sighting for a second game in the series as he lit the lamp on the power play.

Defensively, the Rangers were very good at limiting Ottawa’s counter attack. They controlled the neutral zone and got their sticks on pucks breaking up plays and countering. It led to two Grabner breakaways with the second a smart patient one where he waited for a trailing Lindberg for a nice one-timer blast past Craig Anderson top shelf. There also was Kevin Hayes finding a cutting Nick Holden for a goal in which the defenseman went forehand for his first this postseason.

They outworked Ottawa. Glass and J.T. Miller combined on Lindberg’s second from distance with Glass distracting Anderson. Then Kreider put the cherry on top with a power play goal in the third. Lundqvist did give up a goal to Kyle Turris, who decided to engage Glass as the conclusion turned nasty. Somewhat predictable.

The Sens showed frustration. Now, they’re supposedly dressing Chris Neil as a reaction to Glass. One thing to remember if Neil does play, the Rangers can’t get sucked in. Neil is as tough as they come. He was effective against them in the 2012 first round. He’ll look to make the big hit, finish every check and be involved in scrums looking to draw reaction penalties.

The key for the Blueshirts today is to stay disciplined. Don’t go for Neil’s antics. The Senators crowd will be fired up with one of their most popular players likely in. This is the game the Rangers need. They lost the first two there. Both winnable. Game 1 on an Erik Karlsson sharp angle shot that deflected off Derek Stepan and Lundqvist’s mask and in late. Game 2 on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s miraculous two deflection goals in the last 3:19. Then Pageau scored his fourth goal in the second overtime.

They want to play the same way. With good tape to tape passes, skating when the opportunity presents itself and getting pucks in behind Ottawa’s defense. Karlsson rested in the third period due to his ankle injury. He should be fresh. They can’t take it for granted. Even at 60 percent, Karlsson is dangerous. Anderson will be back in net.

There are no lineup changes for the Blueshirts. They want to limit penalties. Don’t give the Sens momentum. Take advantage of their aggressiveness. You know they’ll come out flying. If they can make smart defensive plays, they could get an early odd-man rush and cash it in. Getting an early lead would be huge to silence the crowd.

They’ll win if they play the right way. With the same desperation and without any panic. It must be a full 60. Nothing less will do.

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Tanner Glass owns the biased Rangers fans

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Tanner Glass had a message for the haters following a big performance in Game 4 that helped the Rangers even the series against the Senators headed into a big Saturday afternoon Game 5. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

It is a topic that has been discussed quite a bit. Following a satisfying 4-1 win in Game 4 by the Rangers to even their best-of-seven second round series with the Senators, Tanner Glass had a message for the critics. The biased Rangers fans don’t grasp the team concept. Something I’ve always been on board with.

Here was Glass following a two assist game in which he played a big role in helping set up a pair of second period Oscar Lindberg goals and then getting his chance to fight an overly aggressive Kyle Turris in the closing half a minute:

The interesting thing is he called the cynics uneducated. Ever since former GM Glen Sather signed him to a three-year contract worth an average cap hit of $1.45 million in the summer of 2014, Rangers bloggers and fans questioned the move. Everyone knew there was no way Glass could replace Derek Dorsett. The expectation became unrealistic when coach Alain Vigneault played him in 66 regular season games in ’14-15 and another 19 in a postseason run that fell just shy of the team reaching another Stanley Cup Final.

A loss that wasn’t on Glass even though he only contributed one assist scoring just once in 85 combined games. He was not an effective player by Corsi which measures puck possession metrics and shot attempts. In Year 2, he didn’t make the team out of training camp. By December, the organization felt they needed to recall him. Glass stayed with the big club the rest of ’15-16 showing improvement with four goals and three assists with 66 penalty minutes and a minus-three rating in 57 contests. He took part in four games against his former team the Pens, who easily dismissed a flawed Blueshirts in five.

Even with poor performances from its better players, the criticism remained for a fourth line energy player. Most of it unfair because if guys like Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and even Henrik Lundqvist had given more, maybe they wouldn’t have been such an easy out. Deadline acquisition Eric Staal was a total bust going without a point in the postseason never finding chemistry while playing out of position with Hayes. Dan Boyle stunk and then called out New York Post troll Brett Cyrgalis. It was an ugly end to a disappointing season.

Entering ’16-17, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton made some noteworthy additions to bolster the team’s depth. He was able to get top prospect Pavel Buchnevich to sign and come over from the KHL while landing Boston University Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey. He also made a good move in signing Michael Grabner. Even Brandon Pirri looked like a solid addition with a great camp and promising start. The Rangers were deeper. There was no room for Glass, who took his assignment to Hartford in stride and spent most of the year in the AHL.

That is until the Rangers got humiliated by the Canadiens 4-1 on March 4 at MSG. A loss so despicable due to how much Montreal manhandled them that the organization decided they had enough. Up came Glass from the Wolf Pack. He had a positive impact scoring a goal and tallying an assist in his second game in a 5-2 win at Tampa Bay. That earned him the game’s second star. A nice reward for a hard working team player who got plenty of support from excited teammates following his goal.

Maybe that’s where some of our fans get lost. Sure. Glass isn’t going to blow you away with his skating or scoring. It’s not his style. He’s a straight ahead North South player who finishes checks and plays a simple game. He wasn’t good in the first year. That much is true. Vigneault stayed with him because he’s loyal to a fault. Something we’ve seen with warriors Staal and Girardi even when they were hurt.

The thing is it wasn’t Glass who was to blame for the Game 7 home loss in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. That was on the players and coach for failing to adjust. They hardly mustered an attack making life easy for Ben Bishop, who pitched a 2-0 shutout to the Garden’s disappointment. It wasn’t Glass when they were totally dominated by a superior Pens team that went on to win a Stanley Cup.

In his final season of a three-year deal with him earning $1 million, the likable 33-year old got into 11 regular season games this season with the goal and assist to go with 37 hits and 17 PIM. He always hits hard. Unlike Year 1 when his skating wasn’t good enough and he was taking the wrong route which led to undisciplined penalties and even odd-man rushes, Glass adjusted his game.

He doesn’t over commit anymore. He picks his spots better and is a more effective player on the forecheck due to effort and hustle. Something unquestioned by even the biggest critics. Maybe that’s why he’s so effective when Vigneault’s dressed him this postseason. In five playoff games, it’s an improved Glass with a goal and three assists with a plus-three rating including his scrap and 25 hits with some bone crunching. Just ask Zack Smith.

Most notably, it was Glass who got the 2017 NHL Playoffs started with the first goal when his nifty backhand off a face-off surprised Carey Price going short side top shelf for the game-winner in a Lundqvist 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the first round at Montreal. That is the kind of effort that is rewarded during the postseason when things get tighter.

It’s harder to score at this time of year. In five games, Glass has more points than more skilled teammates Chris Kreider, Hayes and J.T. Miller. He has fit in with Lindberg, who’s been one of the team’s most consistent players since the tournament began. The playoffs reward grit. It’s players who can win battles that have success. Look at the performances from Lindberg, Glass, first round hero Jesper Fast and Grabner. They’re the ones succeeding.

While Derek Stepan has struggled even though he has three of his five points in the last three games, it’s the secondary players who are picking up the slack. Somehow, the Rangers find themselves tied with the Senators 2-2 with a huge Game 5 tomorrow afternoon in Kanata, Ontario. They have gotten no goals from Hayes or Miller. Mika Zibanejad leads them in scoring with a goal and six assists. But the ex-Sen has yet to find the back of the net against Ottawa despite creating chances. He’s outplayed Brassard though who’s been invisible with no points and minus-five through four games. Hard to fathom.

The thing about the playoffs is it doesn’t matter who you get it from. As Vigneault referenced last night following the Rangers’ 4-1 win, it’s about the 18 or 19 skaters. Having reliable depth is important.

Ditto for the contributions of deadline pickup Brendan Smith. The former Red Wing plays a rugged style suited for this time of year. He’s the toughest defenseman this team has had since Mike Sauer. He doesn’t back down having already gotten into two fights while dishing it out. He certainly took a lot of punishment from the Habs but kept going back. It’s no wonder Smith leads the Rangers in plus/minus (9). He has formed a potent third pair with rookie Brady Skjei, who’s tied for the team lead in goals (4) with Grabner and always pesky leader Mats Zuccarello.

When it comes down to it, it is nice to see Glass getting rewarded. Can anyone think of a better teammate than him? He has taken a lot of abuse. Some warranted but most unfair. Let’s be honest. For all the criticism of Vigneault and I get him on plenty too, he has pushed the right buttons. Following a no show in Game 3 at home last round to fall behind Montreal 2-1, he took Glass out and went back to Buchnevich, who was effective the rest of the series on a line with Zibanejad and Kreider. The Rangers took the final three to advance with the coach changing the look of all four lines.

Vigneault isn’t perfect. We know that. He made the silly mistake of going with Marc Staal and Nick Holden down the stretch with a two-goal lead against the Sens in Game 2. They weren’t on for Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s pair that forced overtime. That was McDonagh and Girardi. But Holden made a bad pinch getting caught along with two forwards leading to Pageau’s fourth for a Sens’ 6-5 double overtime win that put them in a 2-0 hole.

With Buchnevich ineffective and the coach not confident enough to play him regularly, he went back to Glass and changed the lines again. It’s worked out pretty well. The Rangers swept the two games at home by identical 4-1 scores. Glass’ energy rubbed off. He has formed chemistry with Lindberg and Miller, who got demoted after struggling on the third line. Hayes is working with Grabner and Fast. A line that has the hard workers needed to get more out of the pass oriented Hayes, who still needs to think shot more.

Vigneault also managed the shifts of Staal and Holden more, limiting them to third pair duty in Game 3. In Game 4, he was able to balance it out due to a 4-0 lead. So, they got a little more time than Smith, who exited after a fight with Phaneuf, and Skjei. He didn’t even play Girardi 18 minutes. So, they should be fresh for Saturday. Only McDonagh got the usual with over 25. A manageable amount for his horse. We’ll see how that plays on Derby Day.

So, here’s the rub. Glass is an intelligent, well spoken veteran who is a graduate of Dartmouth. If you’ve ever listened to him speak during interviews, he always gives reporters a lot on what the team needs to do to be successful.

Maybe where everyone is wrong is that Glass is a professional hockey player. How dare any of us question him? It’s more about usage. This time, Vigneault’s right. He’s made the right call on Tanner, who’s been very effective. He also delivered seven hits along with those two assists Thursday night. Glass distracted Craig Anderson on Lindberg’s long shot that beat the Ottawa starter high short side from distance. Anderson rested in the third period replaced by backup Mike Condon.

I’m not a beat reporter and don’t pretend to be. I’m not an expert either. Those who cover the team respect what Glass brings. They get it. The notion that there are actually misguided fan bloggers still complaining after last night is sad. Glass has earned his keep. It isn’t Glass vs Buchnevich. It’s about style. The coach makes the decision based on feel. He’s been proven right.

If you can’t see it, then maybe you should go support a different team. His teammates love and appreciate him. Good for Tanner.

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