1) Dan Girardi called it a gong show. That’s as good as I’ve got. The Canadiens won, so they can be happy about it, but that’s a hideous game. Two in a row, actually, but Game 5 worse than Game 4. Ghastly. After Game 4, after all the talk about discipline, the stench began right off the bat with the mindless penalty by Chris Kreider—who had maybe the worst one goal, three assists game in playoff history. Power-play goal Canadiens, and right down the plumbing from there. Not exactly the Matteau, Matteau, Matteau game.
2) Not putting this all on Kreider. The entire Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello-Benoit Pouliot line was awful. This unraveled. Look past the fact that the Rangers managed to come back against a shaky rookie goalie who looked scared to death in an elimination game. They fell apart. The Rangers calling card is defending and poise and goaltending, and they got Fs in all three departments.
3) For a team on the cusp of the Stanley Cup final, the Rangers sure have had some malodorous performances. Game 6 vs. Philadelphia. Game 4 vs. Pittsburgh. A few others sprinkled in, including Game 4 just two nights earlier. I guess that’s the new NHL. The team everybody is ready to declare champions—Los Angeles—has had two three-game losing streaks in these playoffs. Two.
4) And you can see it coming with this Rangers team. First they get pass-happy, trying to thread fancy wish-passes when the better option is to shoot—especially with Dustin Tokarski looking ready to give up a crooked number, as he was. Derick Brassard, Martin St. Louis, Kreider, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan all gave up good shot opportunities to make a pass that failed early on. You can also see the panic-chasing of the puck in the D-zone, such as the Marc Staal (left defenseman) for no reason, playing the man at the half wall on the other side of the zone on the Max Pacioretty goal. And then the bad backchecks by the forwards, such as Kreider’s on, well, I forget which of the first six goals it was. Woeful.
5) And Henrik Lundqvist deserves plenty of blame in this one. Though, honestly, I said it before the second intermission, given that Cam Talbot looked rusty and unsettled, and that he just had one go off the crossbar and had allowed the 5-4 goal after the Rangers came back, I would have gone immediately back to Lundqvist to start the third. Mike Keenan would have. Book that. Lundqvist, if I was hearing correctly, thought it was best for Talbot to stay in. Maybe that’s why Alain Vigneault went that way. We’ll never know. I thought it was the wrong move.
6) And AV, I thought, had a terrible night after everybody was singing his praises—I’m actually working on a story that virtually puts him on a pedestal. But in this game A) the lack of discipline, after Game 4, has to fall at his feet to some degree; B) the Lundqvist/Talbot decision, I thought, was bad; C) I said it at the time, and I know everybody’s leaping on the Patrick Roy bandwagon because it worked a few times, but I thought it was too early to pull Talbot for an extra skater. I thought, and said it at the time, that you give the power play a chance against this kid who’s shaking in his boots. Then, if you tie it or you don’t, you pull the goalie. I think the chances of an ENG are too, too great. And that it’s kind of a white flag. The ENG ends the game. I’m not giving up an ENG that early. No sir. AV’s decision to pull Lundqvist worked, but a timeout there might have worked just as well. AV saved another timeout in this game. He’s gonna need a bigger closet for all of them.
7) Making that decision worse: Goalie pulled, offensive zone faceoff, man advantage coming up. Stepan loses the draw and the puck goes right out. ENG to follow. Just like that 5-on-3. Offensive-zone draw. Brad Richards loses the draw and the puck goes right out. Been happening all year.
8) If Lundqvist and the Rangers need bulletin-board stuff, well Rene Bourque of the Chatty Canadiens provided it. “Everybody talks about how he’s a great goalie. Has he been better than (Tokarski) this series? I don’t think so.” Yikes.
9) Now on to the stupidity. First the embellishing. Rocket Richard must be throwing up in his mouth looking down on this crap. So unmanly. So un-hockey-player like. Kerry Fraser tweeted to me that he pushed, a few years ago, for the embellishment penalty to be a four-minute penalty. He obviously despises it. I know that Colin Campbell despises it. The league has to get rid of it, and that means the referees have to start calling it a lot more. Then again, given the state of officiating, can we even think that there’s a 50/50 chance these referees will get it right? Probably not. They sure fouled up a few in the Philadelphia series. The Rangers, or any of the four teams still playing, better not hitch their wagons to the hope of consistent officiating. Not happening.
10) John Moore. He went back and forth with Dale Weise all night, and had a big clean hit earlier. His hit on Weise that got him ejected and in trouble, in terms of the contact, was the exact same hit as Brandon Prust that broke Stepan’s jaw. The same hit as Chris Neil’s that concussed Brian Boyle. The first two didn’t even get a minor penalty, and Prust’s was called interference by the league, because it was deemed NOT to be a head shot, but a late hit. So Moore’s, which was about half as late in seconds and tenths of seconds, as Prust’s, can’t possibly get more than one game. And Weise wasn’t hurt. I think he will get one game. If he gets two, it’s a joke. If he gets three, time for an investigation.
11) And here’s why. The guy who took over Brendan Shanahan’s position in the laughable department of Player Safety is Stephane Quintal, who already messed up the Prust situation. I am not impugning Quintal’s character at all. In fact, I found him to be a pleasant guy when he played for the Rangers. But he did indeed play most of his career in Montreal, and at the end of his dismal 1999-2000 Rangers season, he said his “heart was in Montreal” and was suspended by Garden president Dave Checketts, interim GM Don Maloney and interim coach John Tortorella. I was there in Boston and they ripped him a new one, deservedly so. So with that potential motive out there, Quintal really, really, really should excuse himself from making decisions on events in this series. In journalism we are taught that even the perception of a conflict of interest is as bad as an actual conflict of interest. A perception exists and Quintal has already botched one decision. He should step away.
12) And how about Stepan, with his broken jaw thanks to Prust’s “interference” (not a head shot, mind you) coming back four days after surgery and scoring a couple of goals? Good for him. Prust comes back for Game 6. That’s just wrong.
13) At the end of the game, Derek Dorsett bumped heads with Mike Weaver. Not even close to some of the garbage that has gone on in the playoffs the last several seasons (Shea WWEber, anyone?). Chatterbox Bourque cross-checked Dorsett up high and got a major and game misconduct at the buzzer. The NHL is looking at both of those. They should be squirt-bottle, couch-cushion change fines, at worst. But NHL Player Safety obviously has taught us to never assume, because as Roger Neilson said, “Two things you don’t want to know: What goes into a hot dog, and what goes on at NHL headquarters.”
14) Daily Nash-O-Meter. Scored his third goal in five games in this series. Had an assist. Had one blown coverage on a Montreal goal. Made one pass too many when he had a chance to fire. Put another one right into Tokarski’s CH logo.
15) Best thing for the Rangers is that they usually respond when they have a smelly game like this one. And that Lundqvist usually comes back strong. And that there is never, ever any carryover of momentum from one game to the next, it all starts completely new at the next puck drop. And that Tokarski was exposed. In fact, if he doesn’t miraculously get the butt-end of his stick on that Carl Hagelin shot, maybe this series is over. He gave up four, and should have given up even more, and the Rangers are to blame for this coming back to the Garden.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Kevin Klein.
3. Rick Nash.
Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Chris Kreider.
2. Derek Stepan.
3. Rick Nash.
Josh Thomson, 26’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Rick Nash.
3. Chris Kreider.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Kevin Klein.
3. Ryan McDonagh.
Photos by Getty Images.