First this: Planning a Live ECF Chat Friday at noon. Let’s talk Rangers-Habs, Rangers-Penguins, Rangers-anything. Be there. I will provide notes to your bosses.
Meanwhile, here’s my column from The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
Penguins in five.
Those words were printed right here on May 2. There was some derision, and at least two angry e-mails promising never to read anything I write ever again. But most agreed. Rangers would be a long, long shot to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Not looking for an excuse or a reason or an explanation, because that prediction was wrong, awfully wrong, even if it looked accurate after three straight Rangers losses made it 3-1, Pittsburgh.
But let’s be honest here — again, not excusing my level of wrongness — the Rangers who won Games 5, 6 and 7 to become the first team in 17 opportunities in franchise history to come back from 3-1 down were a very different group.
One hundred and eighty degrees different than the one that lost Game 4 in such ugly fashion that Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, in particular, and the team in general, were booed at the Garden.
They are a very different group, with a different dynamic, a different belief, a stronger focus. So in this next round, in the Eastern Conference finals, they will not be overwhelming underdogs against Montreal. Underdogs, yes, but with a biting chance.
So what happened? Well, out of tragedy comes triumph. The Rangers had a tragedy in their family. As Brad Richards said the day before Game 7, the Rangers would rather have had Martin St. Louis still have his mom than have had the energy and togetherness St. Louis’ loss inspired.
It did inspire. St. Louis getting off that plane in Pittsburgh and going home to Montreal, then getting on another plane and returning for Game 5 — and nobody, not a soul, would have blamed him if he skipped it — changed the Rangers.
It’s impossible to say they wouldn’t have come back from that horrible Game 4 performance, but St. Louis pulled it all together.
How much different were the Rangers? Well, the Penguins got pushed around and frustrated and distracted by a team that pretty much everybody thought was too soft at times. They got outplayed for most of the final 180 minutes of a series by a less-skilled team pretty much everybody thought was too inconsistent.
They got out-willed by the core of a team that has summoned such will so very often when faced with elimination these last three springtimes.
Of course, they got out-backstopped by Henrik Lundqvist, the best Game 7 goalie in the game (NHL-record five straight Game 7 wins, allowing a total of four goals), though Marc-Andre Fleury down the other end didn’t completely implode, and was in fact quite good in Game 7 after tossing a pair of shutouts in Games 2 and 3.
The Rangers did it with speed and depth, their supposed third and fourth lines much better than Pittsburgh’s third and fourth, and most of the series, better than Pittsburgh’s first. Their star scorer didn’t score, but Pittsburgh’s bigger star scored only once.
Alain Vigneault pushed just about every correct button, getting his matchups, getting his guys rest when they needed it, shortening the bench when warranted (while Dan Bylsma, it seems, will inevitably be fired). He preached focus. His players bought.
You look at these Rangers, after the last three games, differently. You have to. They are different. They think they can beat anybody, anywhere, when it counts.
More important, they are closer now than they were during the season or during the roller-coaster series they created with an inferior Philadelphia team.
What this team now feels and believes about itself is obvious and apparent. What it feels and believes is, because of that, anything is possible.
Photo by the Associated Press.