Friday, April 10, 2009
42-30-9: Punching That Playoff Ticket
Once the majority of the MSG crowd filed out content with the edge-of-your-seat, finger-gnawing 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Garden staff announced that the New York Rangers officially made the playoffs. While it was sad that that wasn't the first thing announced after the final whistle, it was the story of the night.
The New York Rangers - they of the franchise-best start, they of the cap-pushing salary - officially secured a place in the Stanley Cup playoffs in game No. 81 of 82. It is an interesting dichotomy to see that the Blueshirts kept everyone nervous that they wouldn't make the playoffs, and they made it in a game where they kept everyone nervous that they would blow the lead.
After scoring their second goal of the evening, the Rangers didn't get many chances after that as Philadelphia picked up their play. And they only answered the bell when the bell-like metallic *ding* rang out of a Flyer shot hitting the crossbar with less than four minutes left in the game.
But now they are in the postseason where, as I was reminded by several people several times, anything can happen. I won't go so far as to guess who the Rangers will play just yet (Boston? Washington? Jersey???) so let's just take a quick look at this one:
*A physical game devoid of fighting. Who'da thunk it? It was a pre-playoff playoff game that was pretty good, aside from a slow second period.
*Another game, another bunch of noncalls on edgy hits on Sean Avery. Someone in the second next to me made the point that if half of what happens to Avery in a given shift happened to Crosby, the Penguins would be constantly on the power play.
*That being said, there weren't a lot of penalties called. Some that were were dubious - especially the goaltender interference on Naslund. Biron rushes out of his crease to play the puck, Nazzy makes a little contact and Biron goes down like he was shot - instant call. Not that it was incidental contact on a goaltender who is technically fair game outside of the paint - but Flyer power play nonetheless.
*Perhaps that was meant as retribution for the goal that Naslund scored to open the game as the refs never blew the whistle as the Rangers pushed, shoved and chopped at the Philadelphia netminder. I still haven't seen the puck go in as the few replays they aired in the building didn't show a damned thing.
*Cally's tally came after a nice shot by Derek Morris, who had one of his best games in a Blueshirt to date.
*Chris Drury collected assists on both goals and acquitted himself well in the Ranger zone, begging the question where was Gomez? The increased Philly forecheck seemed to stop his every rush and he couldn't compensate. Then again, he dominated in the faceoff circle (17 of 22) so it wasn't like he didn't contribute.
*Nik Zherdev actually worked himself into a few good spots and got scoring chances but his effort certainly paled compared to that of Nik Antropov. Borat definitely had his hustle on and didn't shrivel under the pressure of the more physical Flyers. Surprisingly the same can be said for old man Naslund.
*Torts decision to move Lauri Korpikoski up to the third line worked as the kid was the hardest working Ranger on the ice aside from Hank. When neither he nor Freddie Sjostrom or Blair Betts weren't on the ice in the last two minutes to shut down the Flyers, I got nervous.
*I wouldn't be surprised if Sean Avery's jersey had streaks of orange on it by the end of the game as they were all over him. He seemed to be the closest marked Ranger and had shot after shot blocked - which is just fine as it opened room for his linemates.
*Stat of the night - 21 blocked shots for the Rangers with Morris and Girardi each recording four.
*They held the Blueshirts Off Our Backs after the game and it was done ridiculously fast. Where in the past they said where each lucky fan was from and who's jersey they would get, this time they just rattled off the names and the players skated over, signed and left the ice. Very anticlimactic. (And depressing that I didn't get one for the third straight year.)
*I'm sure there is more but a quick turnaround for work led to a lack of sleep so feel free to fill in the blanks in the comments!
*PHW Three Stars
3-Markus Naslund - one goal.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 37 saves.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Korpedo - We knew the kid had talent, he just needed opportunities. Renney gave him the occasional bite but the second he made a rookie mistake, he was gone. Torts has shown his faith and it is paying off.
2-Cally - The second the season ends, they had better re-sign him. An RFA, all he is doing is soliciting one helluva offer sheet. Young? Check. Can skate? Check. Can hit? Check. Can score? Check.
1-Hank - Postgame bar conversations last night led to the obvious conclusion - the Rangers will go as far as Hank takes them. While I don't necessarily see Stanley in this team's future, I did bring up the point that Jon Casey took the North Stars to the Cup Finals so you never know ...