Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some Sunday Musings

Just a few random thoughts as I still struggle to accept that the Rangers won't be playing tonight:

*Still squarely place much of the blame for the end of the season on Tortorella. The lack of chemistry, the lack of offensive imagination, the overuse of certain players, the misguided accountability, the fire and brimstone intimidation act, the Avery alienation ...

*Wonder which players will have surgery this summer. The news should come out on break-up day tomorrow but my money is on Prust (shoulder) and Hank (knee). Bet Boyle pulls a Staal and admits he is still concussed, Dubi that his foot is still broken and Girardi that he needs replacement parts. G has to be a cyborg, the way he blocked shots, and his kid is too cute not to be manufactured in some plant somewhere.

*Really feel bad for the Sauer family. Kent was a draftee of the Nashville Predators who was forced to retire due to knee problems, Craig played in the NFL until a foot injury forced him into retirement, Kurt, the Coyote, hasn't retired but hasn't played since he was concussed in 2009 and Mike, well, no news in this case is likely bad news. Really hope to see him step on the Garden ice again, but it's probably best not to get any hopes up.

*Friend of the blog Karol pointed out that despite Zuke's denial that he is going to the KHL, the Russians have already announced his signing. Metallurg, the team the Rangers beat in the Victoria Cup a few years back, already features another former Blueshirt in Enver Lisin ... Really hope the kid gets a real shot to stick in the NHL, as long as it isn't with the Pens or the Isles (both great fits for him).

*Please someone, anyone, sign Del Zaster to a offer sheet and have the Rangers refuse to match. Pretty please. With a cherry on top.

*The Hockey News had Stefan Matteau, son of youknowwho, ranked 30th in their draft issue. Wouldn't that be something if the Blueshirts drafted him? Especially now?

*We have two more seasons of Mike Rupp. Think about that before begging Sather to start signing people this summer.

*For season subscribers like myself who asked for upgrades/downgrades, I was told that they will be setting appointments over the next month to have us come in and select our new seats. It will be in that 'transformation' room where Cosby's used to be.

*Go Kings Go. Been a big fan of Willie Mitchell since his Wild days and hope he sticks it to the franchise that drafted him.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

R3, G6: So That's That, I Guess

The Rangers finished off pissing away a perfectly good season on Friday night by losing their third straight game to the New Jersey Devils, failing 4-2 in the best-of-seven conference final. In those three of those losses combined, the Blueshirts spotted New Jersey a 7-0 lead in the first periods and - not-so-shockingly - couldn't rally to win a single one. Unlike Wednesday's late lapse, they forced an overtime in this one but simply blew it a minute into the extra period and lost 3-2.

Really not sure what else to say at this point, I'm more shell-shocked than anything. I stood in my spot unmoving from the second the puck went in until the security started pushing people out of the arena and I'm still dazed. It is hard to accept that the season is over. And it ended like that. To them. Soul crushing.

The Devils weren't the better team, they were the better coached team. Their OHL bench boss set steady lines that played the same way shift in and shift out and period in and period out and that consistency carried them past the erratic and exhausted Rangers. Mmmaaarrtttyyyy was handed his redemption for '94, he hardly earned it - especially in this series-ender. Half the Blueshirts blueliners were exhausted, the other half incompetent. And the NYR high-priced help was no help at all while both Kovy and Parise played a part in their victory. But no matter the rambling reasoning, the simple fact is that the Devils won and the Rangers lost.

Go Kings Go.

No Late Hits tonight.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Martin Brodeur - 33 saves.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Adam Henrique - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Kovy - The Russian was a factor, the Slovak was not.
2-Cally - Really hard to imagine that this was his first season as captain.
1-Henrique - As a friend joked, Henrique said he would give his left nut for a chance to play in the Cup Final and he nearly did.

Programming Note: The annual report card should be done in the next week. There may also be a retrospective on the season as I experienced it at some point, as it started in Europe and (hopefully) will end in L.A. I'm not sure if I will bring back the Facts of Life series again, I may just do a longer, more detailed report card. Right now it is hard writing about this team.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

R3, G5: It Ain't Over, But It's Close

The Rangers moved one loss away from summertime on Wednesday night, losing 5-3 to the Devils in Game 5 of the best-of-seven.

In typical fashion, the Rangers stumbled out of the gate and gave up three quick goals to fall behind the eight ball. In typical fashion, the Rangers got their act together to mount a rally. They even tied the game ... before blowing it.

Supposedly it was wildly entertaining, but that is not what I would call it. I found it like many of the games this season: infuriating, and ultimately heartbreaking. The coach can't get the guys to show up on time, they struggled to establish their forecheck and for long stretches they made it all too easy for the opposing goaltender to make saves. But when they got their act together, the Blueshirts looked great - they looked like a team that could challenge Los Angeles for the Stanley Cup. The inconsistency killed them and it put the franchise in a perilous situation.

As someone said after the game (apologies to whoever it was), 'I look around out there, and I don't see any Messiers to make any guarantees. And that sucks.' It does, but this team doesn't need a singular saviour, they all need to step up their game and play the way that they can. For 60 minutes. For once.

Late Hits:

*The Mmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy chant after Gabby's game-tying goal was perhaps the loudest ever, definitely the loudest I ever bore witness to. So awesome.

*Finally saw the replays, shocked that Cally's goal counted. Absolutely shocked. Happy! But shocked. He clearly kicks that puck in with his left skate. Guess it just goes towards the whole 'going to the net is good' thing ...

*How did Cally not score on that power play?!? Damned post, helping out Brodeur. Red post, red jersey. Coincidence!?!?

*The power play went 0-for-2. Ugh. The Devils' kill is at 72.9% - 13th out of the 16 playoff teams.

*Not sure what was funnier, Brodeur's whale out of water flop on the Prust goal or Pruster's second period dive. The replay showed he kinda fell over the skirt on the net but, still, that looked hilarious.

*Hagelin is goal-less in his last 28 games.

*Rupp is pointless in his last 45. Check that, he has always been pointless.

*Richard$ doesn't have a goal in this series but damned if he didn't try to get one. On Henke. Whoops.

*Don't get the decision to start Stu over Eminger, as Torts' reasoning to insert Eminger still stood - Stu is so slow.

*After the 2-0 timeout, the Rangers had two exceptional chances keyed by Ruslan Fedotenko. The first he fed a sneaky, sneaky Gabby but the Slovak sniper was off the mark. The second he just shot the damned puck and forced a rebound that neither Kreider nor Gabby could jam past the girth of the goaltender. Despite seeing those chances squandered, the Ukrainian later threw the puck into space and Prust picked it up to score. Feds has more than earned his season salary with his performance in these playoffs.

*For all those who hold +/- in high regard, your hero was a Del Zastrous -3. But, unlike the last game, all was not entirely his fault. He went in for an unnecessary hit, abandoning his position on the 1-0 Gionta goal - which could also be hung on Step for giving up on the play after taking a stick to the face. On the 3-0 Zajac goal he was trying to help guard the 3-on-2 and Travis just blew it past him and Hank - Hank has to stop that. And DZ won the race to the puck on the game-winning goal but didn't bother addressing it with Kovalchuk coming. He took his hand off his stick to try to hold off Kovy, the stick came up and he didn't make any contact with the puck at all, allowing Gionta to feed it to Carter - a feed that went past Girardi and Richard$ to a player who got a step on Hagelin. Plenty of blame to go around for all. But I still hang him for two of the three (not the Zajac) and for the fact that, despite being an "offensive defenseman," DZ pissed away two minutes of power play time, wasn't on for a single goal for and didn't get a single shot on net.

*Saw that Boyle won 13 of 14 faceoffs. Honestly, didn't notice. Good for him.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ruslan Fedotenko - one assist.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Ryan Carter - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars:
3-Elias - Sure his goal was a fluke but he was involved all night. Have to hope that doesn't jumpstart the Czech back into being his usual Ranger-killing self.
2-Feds - Aside from Hank and mayyyybe McD, the best Ranger of these playoffs. There's no panic in his game, just all-out effort.
1-Little Gionta - Little Gionta, that's redundant. Stephen channeled 'big' bro Brian to actually be relevant for the first time in his NHL career. Nice timing. Jerk.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

R3, G4: The Double Edged Sword Of Truculence

Not to get all Brian Burke on you but truculence is one of the pillars of this sport of hockey that we love (and a fun word to say). It is a byproduct of the passion that its players have for winning. 'I want to win more than you do and I will do anything and everything in my power to do it.' When truculence is harnessed, it is as powerful as a slapshot. But when it gets loose, it hurts more than it helps.

In the first period Ryan McDonagh battled with Adam Henrique and was goaded into fighting. The Rangers have needed a good fight or three in recent weeks but never got it. And they didn't get it this time either. McDonagh lost his mind and his gloves and got 5 minutes for his trouble. The shame he was feeling in the box was heightened when the Devils scored a few minutes later, all but sealing their victory given the circumstances - the zombie-like effort given by the Blueshirt offense.

But, as mentioned, truculence is a tool for good as well and it was used as such in the third period. Mike Rupp, likely the best Ranger all night (man it pains me to write that), capped off his performance with a great hit on Peter Harrold. The ref inexplicably called a rough on the clean check and, perhaps responding to a wisecrack from Brodeur, Rupp gave the goaltender a little shove. Brodeur did his usual acting routine and a scrum broke out. Torts went nuts on the Devils' OHL coach and, of little surprise, the team responded soonafter by breaking Brodeur's shutout. It was not a coincidence, and it should have came two periods prior.

No matter how the media want to build shot blocking up, the success secured by the Rangers so far this season has been through the proper use of truculence, whether it be Prust fighting to set the mood or Callahan hitting everything that moves. The Blueshirts win when they channel that violence and use it to dictate play. Recent games have seen them reacting, not acting - and they have indeed escaped with a few wins - but they will not get the big win unless they start using that truculence again the right way.

The only way.

Late Hits:

*Del Zastrous. If the excuse is indeed a death in his family then he shouldn't have been playing. As the saying goes, if you aren't all there you shouldn't be there at all. And if he took the night off to mourn, no one would have blamed him for it (not even me, grandmas are special). But this begs the question, what is his excuse for making those same mistakes throughout the season?

*DZ's benching was a major topic of conversation but where was Arty Anisimov in this one?

*And, hell, where was Brad Richard$? Twenty quiet minutes of ice time. The best players need to be the best players and Parise was the Devils' best player. As mentioned above, I believe Mike Rupp was the best Ranger. Ugh.

*Have to ask again, why would Prust have headhunted Volchenkov? The Devils defender opened the door for a Ranger comeback at the end of the first period with a bad penalty. Sadly the Rangers were only able to get one good chance in the two minutes - from Kreider (who else?) - and Brodeur made his best save of the night.

*Carl Hagelin, the Swedish Scourge of the NHL. A serial offender! Credit to the Ranger PK for killing both ridiculous, fabricated penalties off. Wonder what would have happened had he scored off of the Salvador turnover in the first period, as Zajac made it a 2-0 game a minute or so later.

*Might be nice for Boyle to recapture whatever magic he had before the first round headshot right about now. He hasn't been using his size, he hasn't been going to the tough parts of the ice, he hasn't done much of anything. Except grow some great facial hair. So at least he has that going for him.

*Said for a long time that the Rangers are the Kings East or the Kings are the Rangers West as the teams have such similar constitutions. Sutter pointed out the other day that L.A. scores a lot of goals off deflections and through traffic - which is clearly the case with the Rangers as the Blueshirts D keeps putting up points. Feds got his goal by using a Devil D as a screen, Gabby would be wise to follow suit. Brodeur is easily getting a bead on the puck as it leaves the Slovak's stick.

*Anyone want to go fish Sean Avery's skates out of the Hudson for him? But seriously, if Dubi and Zuke are able to take contact, they should certainly be given a shot in Game 5 - this team needs some fresh legs.

*Saw that Ranger fans were allowed to skate on the Garden ice ahead of the viewing party. That is awesome, credit to the team for finally being fan-friendly. That being said, I'm quite glad I didn't use a vacation day from work to go either to the game or the Garden.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Bryce Salvador - one goal and one assist.
2-Martin Brodeur - 28 saves.
1-Zach Parise - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Zajac - Travis has chemistry with Parise thanks to spending many seasons together. There is little to no chemistry among the Ranger forwards.
2-Salvador - Turnover to Hagelin aside, solid game from Salvador. Three goals in the playoffs, none in 82 regular season games.
1-Parise - Don't care what team he ends up on next year as long as it is out West.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

R3, G3: Just do it, right?

"I said to you guys who aren't used to covering hockey or watching playoffs a lot: the most important part of the playoffs are goaltending, special teams, how your top players play. So just do it, right?" --Darryl Sutter, May 20th

Well, the Rangers got it done in Game 3 against the Devils with two of the three. Hank was his sovereign self with 36 saves - mostly tough ones - and the special teams came through with a power play goal and five kills. As for that last part, well, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richard$ had largely forgettable afternoons. So there's that left to do.

The game as a whole was, as everyone was readily pointing out afterwards, a mirror of the series opener: atrocious open, middling middle and exciting end. Girardi scored, then Kreider, then someone added an empty net, and then thousands of Ranger fans went home happy.

Late Hits:

*The Devils' act is getting old. Zubrus did it last round, Volchenkov did it yesterday. Go down, act like you've been bludgeoned and pray for a big call. Then get right back on the ice because you weren't actually injured at all. New Jersey's OHL coach is making his players act like children, whining and crying over every little thing and the sad part is that it is working. And DeBoer's ludicrous claim that Prust was headhunting? Who in their right mind would go after Anton Volchenkov of all people? Especially when he has been the Devils worst defenseman these playoffs. But it must be said that DeBoer's tactics have worked, as Prust has been suspended for one game ... by a man who owes the start and the end of NHL career to the New Jersey franchise. What a farce.

*How is it that this Kreider kid knows more about scoring from the tough areas then his older teammates? He slides through the crease and scores while Boyle and the other guys continue to play on the outskirts. Buzz around Brodeur and things happen. They have to pretend they are bees going after a picnic meal, which should be easy because Brodeur probably smells like sandwiches.

*Heard various stories about fights going on around the arena but there were none in the sections around me (118). Saw one going on downstairs in the third period that was quickly diffused with the Ranger fan, of course, being the one getting tossed.

*Do Devils fans know any words aside from 'sucks'? That seemed to be the insult of choice of the Jersey Mensans. It was so cute that they figured out how to spell their team's name - that's progress for the New Jersey public school systems.

*Loved participating in the Mmmmaaarrrtttyyyy chants, especially the one after the empty net goal. That was just rubbing it in, which is delicious.

*Brad Richard$ stupid interference penalty with four minutes left gave the Devils a golden chance to get back into the game and they came inches away from doing it, ringing a puck off the iron. All season long the Blueshirts have talked about being more disciplined and yet they took some horrid, unacceptable penalties.

*Mike Rupp took one, of course, because how else can he prove to his family that he is actually playing in this series? He can't skate, he can't stickhandle, he won't fight ... really, what's the point? He has the size, he showed he has a shot back in the Winter Classic (and that hat trick he scored against us), and yet he bounces around doing nothing.

*Steve Eminger actually looked better than expected, for his six minutes of ice time.

*Sorry, I don't pay as much credence to Torts' time out as the turnaround point, there was no sudden injection of energy or anything like that. The team that came out for the third period was different than the one that did for the first two.

*Fedotenko continued to be one of the most valuable Rangers of the playoffs, grinding, hitting, working the puck out of trouble areas. It was his work that led to Cally grabbing the empty net, just the usual soldier stuff from the Ukrainian. That's what you're paid for Braden.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Martin Brodeur - 19 saves.
2-Dan Girardi - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 36 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Kreider - So, working around the net is a good thing?
2-McDonagh/Girardi - Offense, defense, whatever. Just hope that they can survive all of these minutes ...
1-Hank - Yep. Again.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

R3, G2: Terrible Twos

I'm not a parent or anything, but I believe that the Terrible Twos are when screaming, squirming toddlers learn to use the potty. Well, the Rangers certainly soiled the bed on Wednesday night, their third straight unpleasant Game 2 performance.

As with the previous two series, the Blueshirts followed up a stellar opener with a stinker. They came out flat, they were not physical, they were not willing to pay the price to win. And they didn't. And it was thanks to John Tortorella, again. For all of his hollering on the bench (and obnoxiousness off it), the clueless head coach couldn't motivate his players to play the right way and his idiotic intimidation tactics backfired.

While letting Stepan and Del Zaster (among others) skate despite severe, unacceptable defensive gaffes, Torts decided to pick out another player - he benched Marian Gaborik, while his team was desperate for a goal. The head coach's ideas of accountability have been screwed up from the start of his tenure on Broadway (Sean Avery, need I say more?) but that he feels the need to push buttons and give lessons with his team in Game 2 of the conference finals is just asinine. Or perhaps that is just another instance when his ego takes center stage - he feels like his team can piss away a home win because they can prevail in the end.

Personally, I feel that belief is idiotic because the team that Torts insisted was not tired is clearly skating at a quarter of the speed that they were and they are playing a different style than the one that made them first in the East this season. They are far, far, far less physical and far more willing to sit back and block shots than to challenge the shooters.

But, hey, the Rangers prevailed in the last two series despite the different philosophy and obnoxious head coach so perhaps the trend will continue and the Blueshirts will survive. Perhaps.

Late Hits:

*After Game 2 of the Washington series I wrote, "the Blueshirts made little effort to get rebounds and barely had any bodies around the net ... the one time someone actually set up in front they scored." Same thing this time around. Instead of doing a flyby like Richard$ or Cally or Boyle or any of the other guys, Kreider actually set up and tipped in Anton Stralman's shot. The kid is continually proving that the Nash non-trade was the right move - Nash wilted in his first trip to the playoffs while Kreider is coming of age.

*For the second straight game, serious credit to Mmmaaaarrrtttyyy - this time for an amazing kick save while lying on his prodigious gut. Perhaps, like some kind of sick cannibalistic Highlander sequel, he ate Dominick Hasek and gained the Czech's power to make these sprawling, last second saves. Whatever it was, these saves were outstanding.

*Mmmaaaarrrtttyyy did his best beached whale impression multiple times and yet the Rangers were only able to take advantage once, with the ricochet off the end boards. The distended Devil is opening the door but the Blueshirts weren't bothering to walk through it. They were outhustled and outmuscled and they made Fayne, Greene and Salvador look like Robinson, Savard and Lapointe. That trio is not Robinson, Savard or Lapointe. Not even close.

*Now, on to someone who could have entered that pantheon of Habs blueliners: Ryan McDonagh. My exhausted memory recalls McDonagh having himself one heroic shift in the second period. First he hurt his hand blocking a shot with his glove, then he went to hit someone along the boards, then he took the puck off his skate and was still in the play basically on one foot. He soldiered through until the whistle, went to the bench and didn't miss a shift. Just outstanding to see.

*A note on Torts' idea of accountability: Mike Rupp played like he was petrified to take a penalty. Saw him skating behind a Devil at one point with his hands raised, to ensure that the refs saw that he wasn't hooking or holding or doing anything. But that is exactly it, he wasn't doing anything. Rupp couldn't goad Clarkson into a fight jawing across the red line and then did little to get the Devil or, frankly, any of the Devils off of their game. Having him slowly lumber around like a dinosaur isn't doing anyone any good. And Torts continually putting him on the ice immediately after a Ranger goal is utterly baffling.

*Brandon Prust was probably the best Ranger in the first period. Sadly he then saw just four shifts in the second period and couldn't keep momentum going.

*Saw Hagelin lose his lid, letting those magnificent locks flow free. And what a sight to see. Ron Duguay who? That interference penalty that was called on him in the first period was a farce. But the officiating in general was amusingly bad so whatever.

*As my buddy Lazz said, they ought to buy Stephane Matteau a seat on either side of the rink so he can sit right behind Mmmmaaaarrttttyyy all game. That ought to get into the goaltender's head a bit.

*Another friend of the blog, Joakim, was remarking to me on the weird career Stralman has had - from Sweden to failing on three poor NHL teams to rumours of a return to Sweden to decent minutes on the top seed in the Eastern Conference. He now has three goals and three assists in these playoffs - twice as many points as Feds and Hagelin, five more then Prust, Mitch and McD and six more than Rupp.

*Utterly Del Zastrous night. The team got stuck in their own zone during many of his 30 shifts, he was largely useless on the power play, he was on the ice for the last two goals against and he shoved a Devil directly into Hank. Taking out your own goaltender is a bad thing kiddo. As near as I can tell, when chasing for a puck, he would rather be beaten there, ignore the thing and make contact - so he doesn't get hit himself. Sometimes you have to pay the price to make the play and he should realize that. Also counted twice that he was farther in the opposition zone than the Ranger forwards, both of which plays ended up coming back the other way.

*Is Fedotenko snakebitten or what?

*The penalty box door getting stuck was outstanding. Talk about a player having to feel shame, Travis Zajac had to stand around the entire time. It was laugh out loud funny watching him as the staff tried everything to open the door.

*Kovalchuk's game-opening power play goal was bad. Real bad. Hank's angle was off, opening up the far side and the Russian sniper, of course, sent the puck right in there. Not the world class goaltending we've come to expect from the King.

*When they showed that hot chick Kate Upton on the big board, did I see it right? Did she have the rally towel upside-down?

*Clarkson scoring ... ugh. Need Dubi or Avery to come back and kick his ass (won't happen, but a nice thought).

*PHW Three Stars
3-Bryce Salvador - two assists.
2-Chris Kreider - one goal.
1-David Clarkson - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Marek Zidlicky - The former Ranger draft pick was everything that Del Zaster wasn't: calm, poised and capable carrying the puck.
2-Adam Henrique - Solid two-way play and success inside the circle gives him the edge over fellow rookie Kreider, who was perhaps the best Ranger forward in the losing effort.
1-Marc Staal - The Blueshirt blueliner played a game-high 27:26, wasn't on the ice for a single goal against, attempted six shots - more than any other Ranger - and scored.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

R3, G1: Another Game 1 Win

While it is truly delightful to defeat Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils - as the Rangers did 3-0 on Monday - any enjoyment must be tempered due to the other Game 1s the Blueshirts went through this spring. New York came out on top in the series openers against both Ottawa and Washington only to put forth an atrocious performance in the follow up.

Besides, it isn't like the Rangers blew out the Devils in any way. The first period was the two teams feeling themselves out and the second saw the Blueshirts sleepwalk their way to the buzzer, as Hank saved their bacon. They woke up in time for the third period and grabbed the momentum with Dan Girardi's goal in the first minute.

The trick now will be to carry that momentum to Wednesday. The Devils were a bit rusty at the outset of this one and were far from the physical team that stood up to the Bullies, you can be sure that won't be the case again so the Blueshirts had better bring it.

Late Hits:

*Always loathe to give Fatso any credit for his goaltending - most of his career numbers are a facade - but his diving glove save on Staal was outstanding. Good thing Steve Bernier boarded Girardi seconds later, eliminating any boost that the Devils may have gained.

*And the penalty resulted in a power play goal. Scored by Chris Kreider. How about that? A young scorer on the power play. The man advantage had been so poor the previous three attempts that people were actually calling for John Mitchell to get on the ice. Love Ranger fan sarcasm.

*The saddest thing about the Ranger special team is that Hank's best saves of the game came while the team had a man advantage - the back-to-back-to-back stops on Zach Parise in the second period. He had three straight shots on Hank, because Del Zaster completely botched the play. No shock there. For a few seasons now, when the opposition gets a penalty, I rock in my seat and rant 'no shorties, no shorties, no shorties ...' And DZ nearly handed one to the Devils on a silver platter in the Eastern Conference Finals. Gross incompetence. (BTW, the rant came thanks to that scarring Mike Richards three-on-five goal way back when.)

*And before anyone throws DZ's secondary assist on the first goal out there in his defense, it was actually a bank off the boards right to Bryce Salvador. Luckily the Devils defender turned his body sideways and missed it, allowing Kreider to streak in and take control. The kid then fed the puck back to Girardi, and Dan-O threaded his shot though traffic - two Devils skaters and Derek Stepan.

*Step was a soldier in this one, recovering from one painful-looking shot block in the first period on Kovalchuk. He has just one goal in his last 20 games but he has been doing the little things that help the team win. While he did not experience a sophomore slump this season - he actually increased his point total - the former Badger went through small stretches of invisibility. Once he puts everything together consistently, he will be one hell of a player.

*Really question if two of the Rangers' regular warriors Cally and Prust are battling injuries. Given the wear and tear they suffered this season, it would be no surprise. They are working as hard as ever but the level of play is not at the high standard they have set. Luckily Hagelin and Fedotenko have stepped in to lead the forecheck in their place.

*Hockey fans in New York must really feel that this series is something special, because there were far fewer Devil fans at MSG than usual. Most of those that were there were sadly subjected to scathing belittling and berating. Just because these people have no taste in hockey teams (and likely suffer from some sort of mental disability) doesn't mean they should be called, pardon me for repeating, "pussies and faggots." The part-timers and bandwagoners need to learn that they should have some class, they aren't from Philadelphia. We are New York Ranger fans, Original Six diehards and have the nobility to go with the history.

*That being said, the crass, classic "Uncle Daddy" chant right at the start of the night was fantastic.

*Anyone see David Clarkson? Did he go back to the minor leagues?

*And on that topic, yes the Rangers won and yes they did not need him tonight but I still missed Sean Avery. Well, more than usual. He and the injured Dubinsky always brought a snarl to the rivalry games that was absent last evening.

*It was nice to see Arty and Kreider click, but they had better be prepared for the physical assault that is surely coming. The Devils gave the kids a lot of room and DeBoar will certainly stop that going forward.

*Vince Vaughn hanging out at the game? He jumped on the Blackhawk bandwagon, will he now move to the Blueshirt one?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan McDonagh - very good defense.
2-Dan Girardi - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 21 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Staal and McD - Third star gets split between the two because they were both solid on both sides of the ice. They, along with Girardi, did quite well in keeping Kovy and Elias quiet.
2-Hank - Sure he made just 21 saves thanks to the Blueshirts blocking 26 more shots but of those 21 at least 10 were really solid saves. The crowd in front is a help as well as a hinderance and yet he still came through to pitch the clean sheet.
1-Girardi - An undrafted free agent, the best defenseman in these NHL playoffs. Saw him with the HNIC towel after the game, which must have been a dream come true for him - well deserved.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

R2, G7: Saturday Night Success

As the final seconds ticked off last night I raised my arms and closed my eyes. Sweet, sweet victory. The buzzer sounded and I was high fived, punched, hugged, mugged, drenched in beer ... and even congratulated by a Flyer fan. What a moment, what a feeling.

And it was only the end of the second round.

The Rangers defeated the Capitals 2-1 on Saturday night to continue their ulcer-inducing run though the playoffs. They closed out the Caps series with their second-straight Game 7 win and earned an invite to the Conference Final dinner dance with the Devils. Outstanding.

Before we get our fingers bitten off by Brodeur at the buffet, a few Late Hits from this one:

*John Druce, wherever you are, I have one thing to say to you: this.

*You know what would have made the victory sweeter? Tom Poti on the losing end. Pooooooooooooooottttttttttttiiiiiiiiiiii.

*7-0 Fedotenko. Supposedly he is Ukrainian but with luck like that there must be some Irish in there. Joking aside, his success in Game 7s is a credit to his hard work. You could tell that he was going to fight until the final buzzer and he battled all night.

*As did Carl Hagelin, who had one of his best performances of the playoffs - if not the season. The Wolverine was outstanding, a forechecking fury that outhustled and outworked the Washington blueliners. Hopefully Kreider was still watching and learning.

*And thanks to Hagelin, Brad Richard$ came through with the game-opening goal just 92 seconds into the night. It was a great one-timer from Richard$, one that Holtby should have stopped - perhaps the minor leaguer expected Nick Backstrom to block it? Doesn't matter, it went in. And then the Rangers tried to cling to that advantage the rest of the night.

*Speaking of such, Marc Staal is really starting to look like the old Marc Staal. Nice timing.

*0-2 power play, New York typical. Although, to be fair, the second wasn't a full two minutes. But, still, the Rangers will have to start taking advantage of the man advantage in the next round.

*Saw the replay of the Boyle non-goal, bad call. Very glad it wasn't the margin of victory (or defeat).

*But, for all of the complaining from the Blue Bloods about the officiating this series, the Rangers got away with one when Del Zaster tripped Ovechkin to force the turnover that resulted in his goal.

*That goal came off of a perfect shot that sailed through Roman Hamrlik's legs and inside the stick-side post on Holtby. All credit given and due.

*Of course, plenty of blame is due to him on the Hamrlik goal 38 seconds later. The goal was not Step's fault, as I have heard. Mike Green was Step's man, and the Vespa-rider was still up-ice. Kreider was with Laich at the point, Cally closed with Chimera on the right wing boards and Staal was battling Brouwer in front. That left DZ to come out and close with Hamrlik. Del Zaster misread the Czech's rush and turned towards the boards - opening up the lane through the slot for the shot. Another example of DZ's defensive deficiencies (ones that he does not appear to be working on improving).

*Notes on the bad guys: Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks were worthy opponents in this series, real warriors who gave their all. Still don't like Brooks Laich but will admit he is underrated. Marcus Johansson has to be the Caps biggest disappointment. Sad to see the proud Mike Knuble spend so much time on the bench. Semin should make a lot of money in the KHL next season.

*Gabby finished the series with three goals and four assists. And he still has yet to play his best hockey.

*John Mitchell ... supposedly Mats Zuccarello is getting closer to returning so the Norwegian gnat can take over his spot on the power play.

*Poor Stu, less than three minutes of ice time while McDonagh saw nearly a half hour. Perhaps Bickel will get more ice time against New Jersey. Or not. Maybe he can start at center again one night ... ?

*"We Want The Cup" chants. Really. Really? Really. After being taken to the limit by the two bottom seeds. I can't even comprehend it.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Michael Del Zotto - one goal and one assist.
2-Brad Richards - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 22 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Richard$ - Won some faceoffs, score a goal, no big thing for the former Conn Smythe winner.
2-Hank - The King only had to make a few big saves but he made them.
1-Hagelin - Bork!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

R2, G6: Nothing Done In DC

As has been the tendency this season, the Rangers proved unable to decisively finish the task at hand. Throughout the year they would take a lead and cling on to it, rather than put the hammer down. And last night, with a chance to close the series against the Caps, they did not put the hammer down. In fact, they didn't even pick it up.

The Blueshirts secured Game 7 revenue for big boss Dolan by tanking Game 6, limply losing 2-1 to Washington in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the scoreline. That isn't to say that they lost intentionally, but their hearts clearly weren't into it - at least after the first 88 seconds. Just as a Brandon Prust fight in the first two minutes has ignited the team in the past, the penalty to Stralman and the ensuing Ovechkin goal extinguished any fire the Rangers may have had at puck drop. They went on to spend the game reacting instead of acting, working on the outskirts of the Washington zone, unwilling to pay the price to make things happen.

Having home ice will be the key to Game 7 on Saturday because there is no way the MSG crowd will allow the Rangers to sleepwalk their way to failure the way they did last night.

Late Hits:

*Dan O'Halloran handed the Blueshirts chance after chance after chance to get into the game. And, of course, the Ranger power play went 0-5, wasting 10 minutes of man advantage time. New York typical.

*The biggest factor in that failure was John Tortorella, of course. He has yet to figure out a power play lineup that works and a philosophy that breeds success. The goals that have been scored this season have come in lucky bursts, as they did in Game 5. Too often the team goes through painful slumps that cost them, as they did in Game 6.

*Del Zaster at the point simply does not work because he does not think quickly enough. Having just one player - Ryan Callahan - willing to plant his ass by the crease does not work. Putting John Mitchell on the ice is just ridiculous. The guy has played 235 career NHL games and has 13 power play points, one being an assist off of that fortuitous faceoff loss in Game 5. Mitch's last power play goal came for Toronto against Atlanta in December of 2010. Yeah. And yet he saw 2:31 of power play time while Kreider, Hagelin and Boyle saw none.

*Kreider, by the way, didn't attempt a single shot in his stellar six minutes of time. What is the point of even dressing this kid if he is not put in a position to succeed? A young scorer saddled with Mike Rupp is going nowhere.

*When shorthanded, there is inevitably going to be one member of the opposition that will be uncovered. The Rangers can not allow that one person to be Alexander Ovechkin. On the opening goal both Girardi and Cally went across to Wideman and the Caps moved the puck across. Cally fell and got caught in Wideman's feet while Girardi went back low to take Johansson (who was smartly screening Hank). Ovie was left wide open. Ugh.

*Brad Richard$, who was almost as awful as DZ on the power play, lollygagged around the Ranger end on the second Caps goal. He was too busy watching the puck to cover Jason Chimera and Chimera cut to the post and scored. And yet the NBC idiots blamed Stu Bickel for not being able to block the shot from Carlson. Perhaps they have spent too much time with Torts and have gotten used to making Stu the scapegoat. Love the look on Chimera's face, even he is shocked he was left alone.

*Washington's minor league netminder had another easy evening of number inflating. Holtby barely had to move the Rangers put the puck in his chest or in his waiting glove. That last-minute glove save was nothing special, as Hagelin did him a favour by skating out of the way so he could see the shot.

*The one puck that did get past Hershey's finest was a gift as Gabby's shot was way off the mark. It luckily hit off of Carlson's ass and ricocheted in. Ugly goals are still goals though ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Jason Chimera - one goal.
2-Alex Ovechkin - one goal.
1-Braden Holtby - 30 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Alzner/Wideman/Carlson - The top three defenders for DC made things tough enough for the Rangers down low so the Blueshirts didn't even bother battling them.
2-Ovechkin - Yeah, so he's kinda good. Whatever.
1-Backstrom - The Swedish center played in all situations and set up both Washington goals.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

R2, G5: Better Late Than Never

All of the Rangers' flaws and bad habits were on display for nearly 60 minutes on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Their creative players didn't create. Their breakouts were abominable. They took terrible penalties. Their own power play was a joke. They inflated the numbers of the opposing netminder with poor shots. They skated past the crease without stopping. They left Hank out to dry. They took a lead and tried to hang on to it rather than add to it ... the list goes on and on, and yet the Rangers were able to escape the night with a 3-2 overtime win against Washington.

Will wonders never cease?

With the sands nearly gone, Blueshirts finally started listening to their own motto "The Right Way." They set out on that final minute man advantage and played the right way - they won a faceoff, they fought for position, they shot the puck and they kept digging until the job was done. If only they had decided to play like that at some point over the first 59:53.4!

Considering how the Caps controlled so much of that time, the Rangers need to get things done in Game 6 because a Game 7 against those guys (again) is just a scary proposition. You never know when a seemingly innocuous shot from Sergei Fedorov will deflect off of Wade Redden's stick to seal the series.

Late Hits:

*Joel Ward is probably the epitome of this year's series between the Rangers and Capitals: a fast skating, hard working, honest hockey player willing to do whatever it takes to win. He is not the most skilled player but he does all that he can to help his team. And his accidental high stick doomed his team on Monday to an ignominious defeat. Ya gotta feel for the guy.

*Getting hit by that high stick was the best thing Carl Hagelin did all game as he was manhandled to the margins by the Caps. He can do more and be more, not sure if it is the collegiate wall or a mental thing after the Alfredsson incident. But at least he is more active and visible than Washington's young Swede Marcus Johansson - that kid has been MIA.

*Hey Brad Richard$, 6.6 seconds? That must have felt like an eternity after scoring that winner against Phoenix with 0.1 remaining back in December.

*Anton Stralman showed why the Rangers need to work to get clean shots on goal - they happen to go in on this minor league netminder. Stralman went low and got a clean lane to fire a low percentage shot on net and it ended up being Holtby to open the evening's scoring.

*A key to Staal's goal, aside from the deflection on the shot? At the faceoff Arty shoved Karl Alzner into the linesman, stopping the defender from getting to the puck before John Mitchell could recover from his loss and send it back to the point.

*As with Tampa, if this team wins Tortorella will be underserving of much of the credit he receives. He puts together a line of Arty, Cally and Boyle - the first time this season that they have played as a regular unit (if I recall, they got a shot as he pulled names from a hat to 'ignite' the power play at one pont). Nothing like trying to figure out chemistry in Game #94. And I thought that the benching was Kreider's punishment for his turnover last game? Tonight Torts put the kid in the iron maiden, forcing him to skate with the plodders Rupp and Mitchell. Terrible.

*Dug the postgame fireworks.

*No, Del Zaster's secondary assist on the Richard$ goal wipe away another awful night. That was luck - for once one of his shots wasn't entirely blocked, only partially blocked. But the rest of the game he was just, well, Del Zastrous: bad penalties, bad passes, bad puck work, bad decisions ... the clueless kid has been horrific in these playoffs as all of his (many) faults have been exploited.

*Really wish Mike Sauer was around to be part of this success. He put in a lot of great, hard minutes filling in for Staal before his own head injury and to have the two of them together, in top shape on the Ranger blueline as a second pairing behind Girardi and McD would just be outstanding.

*Pruster was invisible.

*It seems every game there is a moment or three where Callahan does something that justifies his captaincy. Tonight was no different, as Cally put together a powerful third period shift that brought the building to their feet. Several folks called that the point when their hope was renewed.

*And finally, I know some Cap fans visit this space and I want to offer my apologies to them for the conduct of the Ranger fans, especially postgame. Saw several incidents where the Blue Bloods went overboard, drunk on victory (and booze) - screaming in Cap fans faces and being outright rude. It was unnecessary. Ovie sucks, yeah, we get it and I'm sure they do too. But the guy walking out alone wearing his beautiful throwback Al Iafrate sweater wasn't bothering anyone, there was no need to bother him. While I heard some Ranger fans faced the same kind of abuse down in DC, there is no need to sink to their level. We're better than that.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Braden Holtby - 35 saves.
2-Brad Richards - one goal.
1-Marc Staal - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-John Carlson - Wanted to put Jason Chimera here but Chimera wasn't on the ice for a single goal and played less than 11 minutes. That being said, his deceptive speed and hard-nosed play put the Rangers on their heels more than once. But Carlson gets the nod not just for being far better than Del Zaster (who was picked ahead of him in the draft) but for being a factor on both sides of the ice.
2-Cally - Running out of new things to say about our fair captain ... so, um, he's just swell.
1-Staal - Remember the years where a Ranger/Capital matchup was billed as Staal vs. Ovechkin? Yeah, he is back to that level.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

R2, G4: Familiar Failings

The Rangers collected a huge triple overtime victory in Game 3 against the Capitals, the kind that should have all but secured their series. But, instead, the Blueshirts bungled Game 4, stumbling out of the gate on their way to a 3-2 fall.

Against Ottawa the Blueshirts won a convincing Game 1, looked terrible in Game 2, barely won a tough Game 3 and fell 3-2 in Game 4. Against Washington the Blueshirts won a convincing Game 1, looked terrible in Game 2, barely won a tough Game 3 and fell 3-2 in Game 4. Apparently Battlestar had it right when they said 'All Of This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again.' Unfortunately, if the Rangers keep with the program, Washington will win Game 5 Monday ...

As that game is 24 hours away, let's just get into the Late Hits:

*For those that don't have twitter, my post-game rant: Remind me again how Torts is worthy of a Jack Adams Trophy when he can't get his team up to play a playoff game... Or how he can't get the power play to work. Or how he changes the lines incessantly so there is no chemistry. Or how he intimidates his players so they play weak and soft, afraid that their first mistake will be their last. Yeah, give that man a trophy.

*To only get 20 shots through to the minor league goaltender on the other end is inexcusable. The poor, predictable shot attempts from the edges of the offensive zone will not win games in the regular season, much less in the NHL playoffs.

*Often slam the various broadcasters (and for good reason, Joe Micheletti is atrocious) but in the middle of the first period Eddie Olczyk explained how Hank gets in the opposition's heads and they should just throw the puck on net with high shots. Alex Ovechkin just threw the puck on net with a high shot a few minutes later and scored the first goal of the game. Bravo Enzo.

*The point blank save by Hank on Ovechkin a few minutes earlier was absolutely one of the best of the King's career, a close second to my personal fav - the one on Marc Savard (maybe because I was actually at that one).

*The Ovie goal came thanks to two things - obviously Chris Kreider's foolish feed but also Brian Boyle's abandonment of his man. Boyle turned away from one of the most lethal scorers in the NHL, moving deeper into his own end and over towards the boards. The puck came out and he was left lost in the middle of nowhere. Whoops.

*Backstrom's tally was also the result of failed coverage. Torts had three of the youngest guys out there in Arty, Kreider and Hagelin - a group that had not been together to date - and not one of them bothered to pick up Backstrom in front. The feed from Chimera went though everyone to find the Swede utterly alone. Unacceptable.

*The Green power play goal completed the trifecta of defensive mistakes. The Ranger kill - which has been one of the absolute highlights of this season - failed by having three of their four players within a five foot span of the halfboards. They collapsed in and all it took was an observant Wideman to see that the rest of the ice was wide open for Green. There was no one in the passing lane, there was no one available to close on Caps defenseman.

*Plenty of people (correctly) complained about the call that brought that power play about but that wasn't the cause of the Ranger loss. There has been plenty of poor officiating on both sides of the ice throughout these playoffs and there will be plenty more. If the Blueshirts had scored on the cheap call on Joel Ward in the second period, they would have been up 2-1. Instead they blew the man advantage and Backstrom scored to put DC ahead.

*Gabby's game-tying goal? Sneaky, sneaky sir.

*Arty made a nice feed on that one after beating out an icing call - good hustle. The goal of his own earlier was just good fortune, as Brooks Laich doesn't make gaffes like that often. Offense aside, we've been saying for years now that the Russian needs more meat on his bones and Backstrom's goal proved it. Simply sad to see him go flying after attempting the initial hit. And then for him to give up on his man and go for another was just stupidity. A rookie mistake by a player with more than 250 NHL games to his name.

*Nice to see Stu play nearly twice as much as he did in Game 3, but he clearly was tentative. It has to be tough to play with an ax having over your head every second of every shift.

*Matt Hendricks has an amazing story, after getting drafted by Nashville he decided against signing with them and instead worked his way up from the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. Signed by Boston, traded to Colorado, played 60 games with the Avs, left Colorado and tried out for Washington. Solid defensively, physically strong and 9-0 at the dot in this one. Wow.

PHW Three Stars
3-Artem Anisimov - one goal and one assist.
2-Nicklas Backstrom - one goal.
1-Mike Green - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Arty - At least one Ranger forward realized where the Washington net was.
2-Green - He's no Tom Poti, but still worthy of loathing.
1-Ovie - The Cap captain came out flying and got his team going in the right direction. And he got away with trying to knock Girardi out of the series. Two minutes for a leaping head shot, it pays to be a superstar.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

R2, G3: Triple OT Torture

Normally, the fact that Wednesday night's game between the Caps and the Rangers went to triple overtime would indicate a dramatic exhibition of the best that playoff hockey has to offer.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Instead, it was 115 minutes of boring back-and-forth between two teams trying not to lose. It was dull, safe hockey that only featured as many great scoring chances as there were periods. But the lack of excitement is ultimately allowable as the result was the right one - the Rangers prevailed 2-1. They made up for their Game 2 gaffes to regain home ice and, hopefully, earned the moral victory that comes from surviving a marathon ... one that could carry them to a series victory.

Late Hits:

*Marian Gaborik will never dominate shifts the way guys like Malkin and Kovalchuk and Datsyuk do but that doesn't matter when he can pop up in good spots. How he got open in the slot to score the winner was shocking and impressive. Sneaky, sneaky.

*Poor Stu. At least he didn't have to pay for a front row seat but surely he would have been more comfortable changing back into his suit to watch the final four periods.

*The only issue to be had with Mike Rupp's game was that he hit Brian Boyle's big butt when he had his chance to net the winner. He was very active and grinded well, shocking, right? That's what you're paid for Brayden.

*First hockey fans were subjected to the Malkins, now the Holtbys. Was it sweet that mom and dad were there to support their little boy? Awwwa, sure. Do I care what their reactions were to everything? No.

*At least it was better than the Game 4 double OT disaster between these teams that all-but-sealed last season. That one was so soul crushing.

*Torts seemed to sheltered the skill kids Kreider, Hagelin and Arty. They all played less than a half hour and, of the trio, Kreider looked best. Hagelin's invisibility has been troubling; he has no goals, one assist and one suspension so far these playoffs. In fact, he has a 19 game goal drought going. It is certainly (sadly) possible that he has hit the collegiate wall.

*Certainly think that the league should look at the Hendricks' hit on McDonagh. Hendricks lined him up, saw he was vulnerable and put shoulder to head. He even extended his elbow upon contact.

*Cally's goal aside, the Ranger power play looked terrible. But there is nothing new about that.

*Heard Pantera twice - "Walk" and "Goddamn Electric" - that is fantastic. \m/

*Anyone else laugh hysterically when, after Pierre thanked him for his commercial break interview, Torts said "my pleasure"??

*Twice in the first period I noticed the Rangers stop and set up their breakout only to blow it on the second touch - once they iced it, once they turned the puck over. Inexcusable.

*Love that Cap fans need to be prompted by a blaring horn to start chanting for their team. Or is the horn sounded to make sure the Beltway bandwagoners haven't fallen asleep?

*Hockey players = men. Girardi, Knuble, Boyle. Take the hit, bleed a bit and stay in the game. Outstanding.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Braden Holtby - 47 saves.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 45 saves.
1-Marian Gaborik - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - Not much left to say about our fair captain. Heart, guts, grit, ability ... all credit to the secret American lab that is churning out guys like him, Backes and Brown.
2-McDonagh - Hit in the head? No biggie. Fifty-three minutes of shutdown, physical defending. Staal had his struggles but McD was there to quiet a motivated Ovechkin.
1-Gaborik - Sneaky, sneaky sir.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tick, Tock: Torts & The Clock

I've been holding on to this for a lil while but, given Brooksie's piece today I want to offer a quick look at playoff ice times, courtesy of friend of the blog Joakim Norberg. Joakim did this research a few months back after a discussion we had about Mike Rupp's usefulness:

Googled through TOI/G for forwards on Stanley Cup winning teams the last few years and the fact is that most of the teams didn't carry too many players that were playing less than 8 mins per game. The trend as you see is that the championship teams don't waste too much valuable ice time on one-dimensional thugs when playoff time comes:

Bruins (Majority of forwards played between 20:07 - 10:34 TOI/G)
- Paille 8:43
- S. Thornton 6:57

Blackhawks (Majority of forwards played between 20:58 - 11:01 TOI/G)
- Fraser 8:23
- Eager 6:02
- Burish 5:34

Penguins (Majority of forwards played between 20:57 - 11:55 TOI/G)
- Dupuis 8:23
- C. Adams 9:44
- Satan 9:54

Red Wings (Majority of forwards played between 22:36 - 11:22 TOI/G)
- Hartigan 5:21
- McCarty 6:22
- Helm 7:30
- Maltby 9:47

Ducks (Majority of forwards played between 21:43 - 14:04 TOI/G)
- Carter 3:12
- Hartigan 3:34
- Parros 3:49
- Motzko 3:54
- Thornton 3:57
- Shannon 4:03
- Miller 6:59
- May 7:21

When Rupp won the Cup with the Devils back in 02/03 he had 11:28 TOI/G. Quite a difference with today.

The comedy of it all is that Glen Sather likely took Rupp's playoff experience into consideration when signing him in lieu of a goon who could contribute night in and night out like Konopka. So, rather than give Rupp a chance to use that experience and make things happen when they are most needed, Tortorella is giving him the Avery treatment. And it is not just the big guy who is being cast aside but Arty, Stu and Mitch as well - and who knows who else will be next as this series progresses.

Torts is playing with fire, burning out his top guys but that has been his modus operandi from his time with Tampa - burn the bridges down as long as they get to you where you want to go. But if they don't, then we are all certain to get burned.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

R2, G2: Midseason Mediocrity

Outside of the loud, towel-waving crowd at MSG on Monday night it was all but impossible to tell that there was a second round playoff game going on. The Rangers showed little intensity as they played down to the level of their SouthLeast Division opponent and paid for it by losing 3-2.

Washington's top players were virtual nonfactors as their lower line nobodies easily held off the Blueshirts. Dale Hunter's minions were able to keep the Rangers from challenging their minor league netminder, even with their most physical defenseman in the pressbox. Just like in their late-regular season matchup, the Blueshirts made little effort to get rebounds and barely had any bodies around the net ... the one time someone actually set up in front they scored. Torts tossed meat into Hunter's grinders and the result was not tasty.

It was not entirely like Game 2 of the Ottawa series in that the Blueshirts were coming off of a win and did not capitalize upon it (get it, capital-ize? Bah dum, dum, chhh). They were less physical than they were in the opener, they overused and tired out their top players, and they made it easy for the opposing goaltender to make saves. Sure the result of the Ottawa series was good but something tells me that the Caps' captain isn't going to lie down and leave the series for a few games the way the Sens' one did.

Late Hits:

*Both teams hit posts - Ovie for the Caps and DZ for the Rangers - so the iron can not be an excuse.

*The officiating as well. Wocka Wocka Stephen Walkom may be a bad joke but he was a bad joke for both teams. Gotta love the Garden - minutes after scoring a power play they roared "These Refs Suck" as the inevitable retribution call resulted in a power play goal against.

*All three goals against were utterly inexcusable. Stu Bickel's bad turnover resulted in an odd man rush that Del Zaster stood and watched until Mike Knuble tapped home the game-opening tally. Hank thought he was Brodeur or Turco and wanders from his net only to turn over the puck and flop across his crease - and McDonagh came over to cover and kicked in the puck himself. Boyle blew a big defensive zone faceoff, the puck came out to Ovie, no Ranger came out to Ovie (as they were shorthanded), and Ovie fired through traffic.

*Nice of Ovechkin to pull out the Tom Poti hand-to-his-ear move after the goal. Wanted to beat the hell out of ole Peanut Butter for that, wanted to beat the hell out of Ovie. And the Rangers themselves are not big on message sending so they let it slip as they scrambled, ineffectually, to find an equalizer.

*No Capital played less than 9:29. Four Rangers played less than five minutes.

*What was worse: Torts juggling lines and taking a too many men on the ice penalty in a playoff game, or a Ranger (I forget who, Stralman maybe?) standing around for 5-10 seconds in the second period as the team set up their breakout only to ice the puck?

*Nice tic-tac-toe play by DZ, Gabby and Richard$ for the first Ranger goal. It was a blueprinted play that has worked before, and the only time Gaborik was noticeable the entire night.

*Hate to play the 'what if?' game but if the Ranger power play scored four minutes into the first period perhaps things would have turned out quite differently.

*As for the 'what if?' on the Chris Kreider breakaway, well, what can you do? He is a kid playing in his seventh NHL game. He came in just a little too fast and waited to shoot just a little too long.

*Love me some Hagelin, as is well known, but just one assist in six playoff games despite getting serious top-six time is not enough.

*Know that a lot of people were delighted to see Boyle return but he was not 100% and it showed.

*What? No free tee shirts? Cheap Dolan. Haha.

*Ruslan Fedotenko continues to justify his place on the roster by being one of the best Blueshirts. His hard work in the hard parts of the ice continue to be a high point of the Ranger play. Only wish Pruster was as effective.

*It has been great that Marcus Johansson has been kept so quiet through two games for the Capitals. If this kid gets hot ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Alex Ovechkin - one goal.
2-Michael Del Zotto - two assists.
1-Braden Holtby - 26 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - Richard$ was definitely into the action and McDonagh put forth another top notch performance (aside from the goal off his skate) but Captain Cally clearly was not going to go down without a fight. He hit, he battled, he scored ... hopefully he shamed his teammates into raising their levels for Game 3.
2-Ovie - 'Oh, yeah? I suck? Suck on this game-winning goal.'
1-Brooks Laich - Really, really starting to hate this guy. Plays in every situation, wins faceoffs, hits and creates scoring chances. Brooks Laich.