Just when I start to think the East is closing the gap on the West, another Western team on the bubble comes along and pops my eyes wide open. L.A. is a pretty solid team, big and fast and talented, and was only ninth in the West coming into the game, despite it’s 10-game streak without a regulation loss.
The West is much, much deeper. And I thought the Penguins, before they all started falling down, might win it all because of the top level talent plus the way they play so hard and nasty. But now it’s hard for me to see any Eastern team other than Philly having a shot to take home Stanley. And I’m not convinced that Philly has the — everybody say it with me — goaltending. (Speaking of which, did you read the story on the Flys and Bobrovsky by SI’s Michael Farber — the best hockey writer on the continent — last week? Here it is.)
All that said, your boys beat ’em. It took some sick shootout moves and some blown leads and some roller-coaster emotions and mental toughness. But …
1) I love it that John Tortorella is so passionate about this team that he says stuff like he said last night. You know, about his team’s, ahem, guts.
2) About the skills competition: If I were Tortorella, I would always go first at home, especially now that he has those near-automatics. And if I were Tortorella, I would think about having Marc Staal on my list somewhere after the top three — he has good hands in close and a long stick. And I would show Marian Gaborik some Steve Larmer penalty shot tapes. Larmer would skate right down the slot, wind up and fire a slap shot … and score almost every time. It doesn’t have to be a slapper, but Gaborik should be able to pick a corner with a snap shot from 15 feet out.
3) As distasteful as I find the skills competiton to be in terms of deciding outcomes of hockey games, Christensen and the Italian kid from Norway sure make it fun to watch. But I look at it this way, too. If Zuccarello didn’t score, for example, and the Rangers had lost, would they have felt as good as they did about that game? How stupid is that. You play 65 minutes of hard hockey, and you judge the whole freakin’ thing by a breakaway contest? But I’m not going to get into that again.
4) These three games in three and a half days might be as hard a three-game stretch as any NHL team will play this season — against the two hottest teams in the league, followed by an early matinee against an archrival that also happens to be the best team in the conference.
5) About the Devils, as we look ahead. People are talking cooky about them making the playoffs, and maybe they will. But I don’t see it being at the Rangers’ expense. I fully expect the Rangers to not fold at any point, to play above NHL .500 the rest of the way, and to ultimately at one point or more, have a stretch where they win four of five, or six of eight, and that will go a long way in assuring them of staying well ahead of the Devils.
6) That said, the Devils are going to be hell to play for any opponent on their schedule the rest of the season … and hell to watch with that Jacques Lemaire style. Say what you will, it works.
7) Ryan Callahan=Monster.
8) In today’s NHL, you’re better off having a shootout expert on your fourth line than a goon. That’s a fact, jack.
9) Guess I spoke too soon the other day about the coach having a knack for calling timeouts at the right time. I mean, it may have been the right time last night. But it backfired.
10) Several players said it afterwards, and I noticed it right off the bat last night, but it was one of the best crowds of the season for some reason. Maybe because there have been so few games lately.
11) We’ve all noticed this all season long. The Rangers are better and more effective when they start banging, or being banged around, and they were last night, too. Lots of hits in this game. Gotta like that.
12) I especially enjoyed it when Ponikarovsky knocked down Girardi hard and who came to his defense? Mats Zuccarello, who at 5-7 (maybe) got right in the 6-4 Ponikarovsky’s face. Well … OK, maybe in his chest.
13) They closed up the old John F.X. Condon Press Room for good last night, one in which I’ve been working since 1978-79. The new press room will be elsewhere in the renovated Garden. I won’t miss the old one, but I sure hope somebody has enough sense to keep the name of the late, great, classy and understated former Garden public address announcer on the new room.
14) Fitting that Henrik Lundqvist gets win No. 200 against the Kings. Good for him.
AP photo, above.
I’m going back to my other job today, which means I have a basketball playoff game — and I will have a lot of those over the next four weeks. So I won’t see Rangers-Devils live. Might catch the third period on the radio. Hope they show it again late tonight. Then I’ll be at MSG Sunday.