Finally, click here here for my notebook, which touches on J.T. Miller’s playoff debut, and all the stats about how teams fare after winning or losing Game 5.
1) Well, I’ve kinda been right about this series so far. I picked Rangers in 6, I thought it would be 1-1 after two and 2-2 after four and I told you guys I would be surprised if they didn’t play very well in Game 5. They sure did. But other than my Rangers in 6 pick, I have no feeling for Game 6, and frankly, just going by history—the Rangers having lost nine straight games after going up a game in the playoffs, and having lost a Cup record 11 straight games in series in which they’ve led—I think there’s probably at least a decent chance we’re back at the Garden for yet another Game 7 Wednesday. Don’t forget, though they never played a Game 7 at home before 1992, the Rangers are now 5-0 in Game 7s at the Garden, plus they won Game 7 on the road last year. Also, as we’ve seen over and over, the team that needs the game more often wins it. So …
2) There are way, way too many guys who played well in Game 5 to even think about listing. I’m trying to find someone who didn’t? You want to give me Carl Hagelin because of the penalties? Well, OK, but one was an awful call, one was a penalty he had to take to prevent a scoring chance. And I thought otherwise, he had a very good game, too. I actually liked that line with Hagelin and Brad Richards and J.T. Miller. Funny that Richards has played better, and his line has been better, with speed on the wings. And yet, with Daniel Carcillo in Game 3, that line was very effective.
3) And by the way, the move to Carcillo in Game 3 and the move to Miller in Game 5 both make Alain Vigneault look pretty smart, no?
4) Gonna say this about Game 5, too, because you guys who know me know that I often say a team looks better when the puck is going into the net, and looks worse when it doesn’t. The puck went in, somewhat thanks to Steve Mason and poor Hal Gill—his slow, 6-7, 39-year-old frame thrown by Craig Berube into a speeding playoff train with only six games of NHL experience this season. I wonder if the puck had gone in a couple of times in Game 4 if that non-desperate-looking performance might have looked like Game 5. I asked AV if he thought the pace was better in Game 5. He kind of said that he thinks all the games have had great pace and ferocity. He always says that. His team has been pretty consistent the last few months.
5) The Rangers’ biggest edge in the series—and whenever they’ve played the Flyers over the years—stood out again. Very rarely is Henrik Lundqvist not the better of the two goalies in these games. He was again. Very much so. And he didn’t have to be a lot better because the team in front of him defended so well. Again.
6) And it killed penalties brilliantly, especially early when the calls created a herky-jerky start, and when a Flyers PPG could have very much changed the game.
7) Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan. Both of them fabulous, start to finish. Stepan was so good defensively, so good on the PK. He won two draws before the 1-0 goal. After winning the second draw he won a board battle, then made a great pass to spring St. Louis, and St. Louis dropped it to Marc Staal and went to the net to disturb Mason—who said the puck dipped on him. St. Louis, who is playing like an NHL star again, also had a goal completely incorrectly disallowed by a much-too-quick whistle. Stepan’s been playing at a high level for a while now. I just really think he needs to shoot the puck once in a while, especially when the gameplan is to test these two goalies as much as possible. Ditto for Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.
8) Which brings us to the fine NHL officiating. Why is Justin St. Pierre not behind the net on that play, where he can—as is his main job—see if the puck went into the net. Because if he’s behind the net or near the side of the net, he sees that puck is loose, and it’s not even close. And he doesn’t blow the whistle. But that play aside, we’ve had five games and five different rulebooks in this series, with ridiculous embellishment calls and non-calls, with ticky-tack hooks called and terrible spears and slashes not called. If that Hagelin slash is going to be a penalty, fine. But it has to be a penalty later in the same game, and it should be a penalty throughout the series. Somebody mentioned this, I think, on the chat the other day. The NHL should consider assigning an officiating crew, or two crews, to each series, and let them just stay with that series. It would lessen the travel and fatigue on the officials, and maybe, just maybe, the two teams fighting their tails off might understand what is and what isn’t a penalty. Because right now, they have no clue what will be called and when. (BTW, for an NHL star, Claude Giroux sure seems to go down easily).
9) Daily Nash-O-Meter: I’m thinking of dropping this feature because too many people see it as black and white with this guy. He scores, he’s great. He doesn’t, he sucks. And I completely understand the frustration with his 1 goal in 17 playoff games since he got here, plus I totally agree that his effort or desperation or compete weren’t nearly good enough in Game 4, and in many games this season. But on Game 5 day, I thought he was good, and not “good” like he claimed to be in the ‘13 playoffs. He was engaged, was in the dirty areas, took some, gave some back, threw a body check and again was strong and dangerous on the PK. If he plays that way, you really shouldn’t complain, and if he does, he will score.
10) And while we’re at it, Richards was relatively physical, too. I thought other than the first one, he ran a pretty decent power play. I thought Game 2 was easily his worst, and he’s been much better since.
11) Dan Girardi—climbing the franchise playoff games-played ladder, he will tie two brand names, Mark Messier and Jeff Beukeboom, for sixth place on Tuesday—had another BlockNess Monster game. So did Staal. I thought Ryan McDonagh played his best game of the series. The other three, I had no problems with any of their games.
12) Didn’t even mention the strong, solid game played once again by Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, though I did in my column (link above). As I’ve said so many times, they’ve been a huge factor since Christmas in dictating zone time, and allowing AV to roll his lines in an up-tempo system. Moore’s been great, and a great story as you know. And when you compare the Rangers third line (whichever one you think is the third line) and fourth line, to the guys Berube throws over the boards, especially that sideshow Zac Rinaldo, well, huge advantage: Rangers.
13) So, thanks to NBC, after four games in 10 days, we’re now looking at the possibility of three in four. I don’t want to be a downer and suggest that Wednesday will be Game 7 at the Garden, but the Murphy’s Law that’s been hammered into my head by the Rangers the last few years says, well, it sure could be. Alsa, hate to say it for by colleagues on deadline Tuesday night … but we’re overdue for an overtime game, no?
14) Speaking of Beukeboom, I saw him on the bridge between periods. Then I had to go ice what was left of my hand.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Martin St. Louis.
3. Dominic Moore.
Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Marc Staal.
2. Dominic Moore.
3. Martin St. Louis.
Josh Thomson, 26’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Dominic Moore.
2. Martin St. Louis.
3. Henrik Lundqvist.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Dominic Moore.
2. Martin St. Louis.
3. Dan Girardi.
Photos by Getty Images.