1) First of all, a little tempest was set off in Pittsburgh by a couple of shots Marc Staal took on Sidney Crosby (click here to see them), both of which should have probably been penalties, but as you know, our fine NHL referees are more than likely to miss most fouls. I didn’t see either one until I saw Twitter on the train home. One of them was a low-stick, about a foot and a half off the ice. One was a too-high crosscheck on which Crosby crouched and took the brunt to the back of the helmet. Anyway, the Pittsburgh media (some of whom should wear their Penguins jerseys to the game) are going all Adam Graves/Mario Lemieux again (the most embarrassing sportswriting saga I’ve seen in 35 years doing this job).
As if Alain Vigneault sent Staal—one of the cleanest players in the league, with his own concussion history—to chop off Crosby’s head. Again, they should have been penalties, and in today’s NHL, with NHL Player Safety leaping through hoops to not suspend anybody, those shots are nothing more than $5,000 fines, if that, as we’ve seen over and over and over. I do get a kick out of the Pittsburgh writers who cover James Neal, Brooks Orpik, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz getting their panties in a bunch over somewhat dirty plays. Neal whacked Jesper Fast in the face with his stick in Game 3. Malkin ended Game 2 swinging his stick at Brian Boyle’s head. These are the writers who sang the praises of Matt Cooke, filthiest of the filth, repeat-career-ender, and nominated him for the Masterton Trophy. Clowns.
2) Now about your Rangers, who did indeed face an absolutely absurd schedule—they were the first team in 25 years to play five playoff games in seven days, and played six in nine. It’s a gripe, but not an excuse. And yeah, I agree with Vigneault and some of the players that their performance in Game 3 was better for 60 than Games 1 or 2, when they were overwhelmed at points by the Penguins. But their big guys—whom Vigneault implored to put on their “big boy pants” didn’t do nearly enough. Not nearly. You can read my column on that topic right here.
3) Which naturally beings us to the Daily Nash-O-Meter. Gave it the old college try early. Then did squat. That whole line, with Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis—who did hit a post—just not close to being a first line. Not close. You don’t/can’t expect them to be Crosby/Malkin. You can expect them to be Kunitz/Jokinen, right? Is that too much? Nash: 1 goal in 22 playoff games as a Ranger. Stepan is 7-11-18 in 47 playoff games, including 2-2-4 in 10 this year.
4) And say what you want about Marc-Andre Fleury, the supposed weak link, but he was good in both shutouts, especially last night. Yeah, St. Louis, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello hit pipes, and Fleury might have gotten hit with some good deflections early. But he made some big stops, too. And, as you know, the Rangers don’t get rebounds. So Fleury has shut them out in eight consecutive regulation periods. The Rangers hadn’t been shutout in consecutive playoff games since the 1937 finals against Detroit. Chris Chelios’ rookie year.
5) I am not one of those crying about the lineup changes Vigneault made. Not at all. He needed to get some fresh legs out there and he did. None of those guys hurt the Rangers. None did much to help, either. But none hurt. If Daniel Carcillo, Derek Dorsett and John Moore had played, you know what the score would have been? 2-0.
6) How about some of the brain-deadness of the Rangers at the end of power plays. First Stepan makes that awful play at the blue line and Henrik Lundqvist had to rob Kunitz short-handed. After the wasted four-minute power play, Robert Bortuzzo finds Crosby with the TD pass. That was money. Then Zuccarello, at the end of a power play, makes the back pass to nobody and Jussi Jokinen breaks away for another goal, the clincher. Power play 0-for-35—though it mixed in a few relatively good ones—and now it’s giving up kickoff returns too. That can’t fail. The Jokinen Jack-In-The-Box goal was the fifth in 10 Rangers playoff games already—three for (Carcillo 2, Dominic Moore 1) and two against (Voracek, if memory serves, and Jokinen).
7) Speaking of the fine officiating, Zuccarello rings one off the post. He thinks it’s in. The crowd reacts. The referee, who clearly did not see whether the puck went in or not, blows the whistle? Huh? Why? You have video replay. The play is supposed to continue until a stoppage. That actually was unfair to the Ranagers in that case, because they had the Penguins running around. At least Toronto got the call correct … for a change.
8) As you may have heard, I do not believe there is momentum or carryover from game to game in the playoffs because, well, there isn’t. So I don’t think this loss necessarily kills the Rangers in this series. But I will say, what will probably kill them—and why I picked Penguins in 5—is how much better Pittsburgh is. The Rangers, again, might have a fighting chance if their top line guys would, you know, toss in a goal every week or so. But with the way Crosby has played the last two games, and the way Pittsburgh has defended, and the way so many Penguins are playing individually and in groups, I don’t see the Rangers being competitive the rest of the way.
9) Unless they can successfully chop off some heads (that’s sarcasm).
10) Meanwhile, out in California … nah, I won’t even mention what a certain ex-Ranger continues to do out there. Put it this way, he has three more goals the last two games than the Rangers do. And for the playoffs he has as many as Nash, Stepan, St. Louis and Zuccarello, combined.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Benoit Pouliot.
3. Dan Girardi.
Josh Thomson, 26’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Raphael Diaz.
2. Derick Brassard.
3. Martin St. Louis.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist.
2. tie, Marc Staal, Brian Boyle, Raphael Diaz.
Photos by Getty Images.