Rangers Magical Season Comes To Crashing End

One year ago yesterday, I was sitting in the exact same spot I was last night. Then I was watching game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and praying to see handshakes as that would mean the Rangers were in the Final. Last night I knew I would be seeing handshakes so I just hoped to be celebrating during them as I did a year ago. Unfortunately history didn’t repeat itself and the tears this year weren’t as sweet.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss’ words ring true right now. It hurts. It sucks. And it obviously wasn’t the change in ending we were expecting. But I just can’t look at this season as a failure. I know many will. But it wasn’t. It was amazing. A crazy ride that none of us expected (not that we ever do) that just ended earlier than planned. How can you cry about that? Sometimes another team is better on a specific night. Last night, I guess that was the case.

I won’t even pretend to say I came home and tried to write a recap of the game. I didn’t because I couldn’t. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream “how could this happen?”. I wanted to accept it was over. I couldn’t. I was numb. Honestly, I’m still numb. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that it really is over. And if this is how I feel, I can only imagine how the players are handling today.

Here’s the thing – I knew the law of averages had to catch up with them at some point. It’s why I thought they were done against the Capitals. A team eventually has to lose a game 7 at home. A team eventually has to lose an elimination game. The Rangers were 15-3 in elimination games the past four years going into last night. Yes, that sounds great. It also means they’ve played 18 elimination games in four seasons. That’s not normal. Now they’re 15-4. Still great but still means last four seasons ended in losses.

You don’t keep winning when you play that many elimination games. I don’t care what anyone says, elimination games take more out of you mentally. The Rangers had already played four this year, including one earlier this week that looked like it went better than it actually did. Mix that with the fact they have played almost a full season of playoff hockey the past four years (last night was game 76) and it was bound to catch up with them. We can’t sit and say the Kings and Bruins ran out of steam and assume that the Rangers wouldn’t. It is what it is. It’s why I was concerned after game 5. Stephen Valiquette said before that game they would need two cracks at the fourth win. He sounded worried when he saw they wouldn’t have it. He was right.

I don’t really know what else to say. I wasn’t nervous before the game because the “Find A Way Rangers” always find a way. I wasn’t happy with no score after one but I took it. I was worried about no score after two. That goal trickled in and I just knew. But because they always found a way and this year really felt special, I still held out hope. My last two games at MSG this year and no goal song. The Rangers picked the worst time to remember they play badly at home.

In the end, I’m not mad at the Rangers for losing much earlier than we all hoped or expected. Disappointed? Yes. But I’m not mad at them for that. I’m mad at them for making me believe, for making me have confidence that I would be watching them until mid-June and then celebrating down Broadway with them. I’ve never been as confident in them as I was this year. I always hope that is the case but I never treat it as fact. This year, I did. This year, I believed they would absolutely, without a doubt go all the way. And I’m mad at them for making me believe that. Because in doing so, this loss hurts a lot more than it would’ve if I had just hoped it would happen.

 

(Photo: Last winning stick salute of the year, game 1 vs. Lightning. By Melissa Andus.)

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Huge Third Period Helps Rangers Force Game 7

In a series that has been nothing but unpredictable, the Rangers and Lightning found a way to have something even more unexpected happen. That’s the only way to describe what transpired in Tampa tonight.

All day I sat at work and never once thought that tonight could be the last game of the year. As the game drew closer, I still never had that thought. It never felt like that could be possible. I guess that’s because it wasn’t. Or maybe I just have way too much confidence in this team.

I was a little concerned with the start of the game as Tampa seemed to have the best chances early. Then three and a half minutes in, the puck finally got into Tampa’s end. Dan Boyle kept it in at the line and passed to J.T. Miller who found Derick Brassard for the Rangers first shot of the game. The shot went five-hole on Bishop and the visitors had the early lead.

Did things get better after that? Of course not as this is the Rangers. Tampa came with a push but Henrik Lundqvist held his ground making a number of huge saves. Marc Staal would take his now nightly dumb penalty with seven minutes to go in the period. Somehow the Rangers would kill it thanks to their goalie making an incredible save as time wound down. Even better part was less than thirty seconds after it ended, the Rangers would head up the ice with Keith Yandle absolutely blasting one from the point. It deflected off of J.T. Brown and past Bishop to double the visitors lead.

A minute and a half later, things got dicey. It started with Stamkos throwing Ryan McDonagh into the boards and the referees ignoring the clear hit from behind. The Rangers didn’t like it and retaliated – Chris Kreider hit then crosschecked Stamkos, the second part getting caught. After the whistle Derek Stepan tried to goad Stamkos into a penalty. It worked but he went as well giving the Lightning the power play they didn’t deserve.

While I like seeing guys stand up for their teammates, teams don’t usually kill retaliation penalties and the Rangers didn’t kill this one. We won’t talk about what happened as my blood is still boiling over it but the lead had been cut in half.

Somehow the Rangers killed the remainder of the period to hold the lead through the first twenty minutes. Then came the second period. A typical second period by the Rangers. Fortunately they still have Henrik Lundqvist and the score remained the same after forty. (Yes I am completely ignoring that period. Otherwise I would be bashing a bunch of players who wore white tonight or reiterating how incompetent the referring was in this game. Apparently hooks and holds are illegal but if you want to hit a guy from behind, go right ahead.)

As the third period started, I thought to myself “can’t they make this easy on us?”. After watching the second period, the fact I even thought that made me laugh. Then it happened.

I have absolutely no idea what was said or done in that intermission but the Rangers finally realized their season was on the line. Finally realized that they were not going to be able to hold a one goal lead for twenty minutes versus this Lightning team. Finally decided to let their fans breathe for a third period of a playoff game.

It started at the first puck drop as the team that played the second period stayed in the locker room and in their place out came the team that won the President’s Trophy this year. The Rangers were first on pucks and got a couple of chances in the first few minutes. Then three minutes in Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and J.T. Miller came down on a 3-on-1. Bishop made the initial save (an incredible save, to be honest) but those three kept at it with Miller finally putting it in to make it 3-1. The goal was his first career playoff goal.

After the goal, the Rangers kept coming and you could feel another goal coming. It took three minutes as the fourth line finally cashed in with James Sheppard crashing the net allowing the puck to hit off him and in to make it 4-1. A minute later, it was the first line again as Brassard got his second of the night on a beautiful pass from Miller and it was 5-1, which would end Bishop’s night.

Of course things are never perfect in Rangerstown so the Lightning got one back 40 seconds later off a set face-off play by the triplets. But it didn’t matter as Morrow would make his impact of the night with a penalty and Rick Nash would get his third of the series to regain the four goal lead.

At that point, with a half a period to play, I just wanted them to kill the clock. Play defense but kill the clock. Tampa’s triplets would again get one back three minutes later and all I could think was how they couldn’t possibly blow this with six and a half minutes remaining. (If you want one negative to the third period, the triplets waking up could be trouble.)

Cooper would get creative, pulling his goalie with over five minutes remaining. The Rangers scrambled for a few minutes and Dan Girardi ended up taking a delay of game penalty which made me a little uneasy. For some reason Cooper put Vasilevskiy back in net for the power play. I guess he was afraid of the Rangers shooting for the empty net since they were able to ice the puck. He should know this team can’t hit one to save their lives.

The Rangers killed the penalty and shortly afterwards, Brassard got a chance at the empty net and actually hit it to get the hat trick and ice the game. I never in my wildest dreams expected tonight to end 7-3 even before the game started but definitely not when it was 2-1 at the start of third. It’s why they play the games…and why I’ve given up trying to understand this team.

It is also why I’m not going to look at stats or even begin to guess what will on Friday night. All I know is Tampa has to take that flight they didn’t want to and we will all be at MSG to decide who wins the east. It should be a good one, especially if these boys decide they are changing the ending.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Shutout In Pivotal Game 5

I’m just going to get this out of the way to start – I don’t think the Rangers deserved to win tonight. That doesn’t mean I thought Tampa deserved to win tonight either. Honestly, I’m not sure either team has deserved to win any game in this series as all five have been a mess in one way or another. Tonight, from my seat at MSG, I didn’t see either team with any sort of desperation or even desire to make the plays to win the game. That’s not to say they weren’t trying out there. Both teams were. But this was game five of the Eastern Conference Final. It looked like game five of the regular season to me.

I really don’t know how to put the game into words, something I have said a lot these playoffs. And I think that bothers me more than the loss. The Rangers have now played 17 games in the playoffs this year. How many of them can we actually say we saw the team that won the President’s Trophy this year? A handful, if that? Something has been off the entire playoffs and I just don’t get it. And I’m not expecting answers next week (or in June if they somehow get there).

I refuse to give up on them. I haven’t yet and they keep reminding me why each game. But I said after game four that they really didn’t deserve to win that game. I was hoping they would realize that and come out with a better effort tonight. They didn’t, at least not in the effort category.

The pregame started great as John Amirante returned to sing the anthem and was given a huge ovation. It got the crowd pumped and ready to cheer on their team.

As for the actual game, that started out okay as I didn’t think they looked horrible in the first period. Never really had the feeling they would score but I would say they had some control of the play so I took the scoreless period in stride and said they would get something in the second.

They got two power plays to start the period, after two others in the first period. I’m pretty sure the Lightning had more shots on those four power plays combined than the Rangers did on any one of them. They were just complete momentum killers.

But somehow the Rangers still got a few chances after the second one ended. Then with six and a half minutes remaining in the period, a bad play in the neutral zone led to Filppula coming in all alone and blasting one past Henrik Lundqvist to give the visitors the lead. I originally thought it was Marc Staal who made the mistake. I was told afterwards it was Tanner Glass. It was Glass who missed his man along the wall in the neutral zone but I can’t exactly say Staal played defense after the mistake.

At that point, the Rangers looked defeated. We honestly could’ve ended the game there. Still a full period to play but from that moment on there was never a point the Rangers looked like they would get back in the game. It was as if the goal took any wind out of their sails. I can’t explain it nor do I understand it but at that point, the game was basically over.

Add the fact the Lightning would get a power play goal five minutes later (that I won’t even talk about the horrible defensive coverage on) and MSG was more like a funeral than anything else. You could hear a pin drop in the building, outside the occasional boos thrown at some members of the team. (I won’t say the team played well but they didn’t play bad enough to be booed in my opinion. Not as a team nor individually.)

The good part about the third period is it went by quickly and rather painlessly. Neither team looked good but the Lightning didn’t have to. They didn’t care if their passes didn’t connect or their shots missed the net. They just needed to make sure the Rangers did the same and they did, all on their own.

As I said, I can’t sit here and say the Rangers deserved a better fate. I also can’t sit here and say the Lightning deserved to win the game. I wish I could. I wish I could say the Lightning were the better team and deserved to win. I would if I could. I can’t. Neither team deserved to win. But there had to be a winner and Tampa managed to get two goals so they are now one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.

If they get there, they better pray the Blackhawks do as well. While the Blackhawks are a million times better team than the Lightning, they also play like the Rangers so Tampa may have a chance. If they play like they have this series against the Ducks, that will be the easiest sweep in Stanley Cup Final history. That said, if the Rangers pull off another miracle and play like they’ve been while facing the Ducks, it will probably be the same outcome.

But at this point, I expect to see handshakes on Tuesday night. I’m not giving up and I hope to be back at the Garden next Friday. But Tampa is too good at home and there was nothing I saw tonight that told me they could win two games in a row against this team. It was another game where I was left with more questions than answers. And I have a feeling that’s how the season will end as well.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Lundqvist + Rangers Respond To Tie Series

Everyone wanted to know how Henrik Lundqvist would respond to giving up 12 goals in the last two games. The answer? By making 38 saves and keeping his team in the game basically for 60 minutes.

Anyone who didn’t watch the game and looks at the score will think the Rangers dominated. They didn’t. They didn’t even come close to dominating. My hope is that they realize that. But at the end of the day, Lundqvist was Lundqvist. And if that continues for the next week, there won’t be anything the Lightning can do.

Once again the Rangers said all the right things yesterday and this morning with Carl Hagelin giving the best quote. But once again, I didn’t think they listened to those words. Honestly I thought the Rangers looked nervous on the ice to start, afraid to be the one to make the mistake leading to all of them making mistakes. Tampa was given two point blank opportunities in the first half of the first period and lucky for the visitors, they missed the net on both. But that doesn’t usually happen when Kucherov and Johnson have the puck on their sticks.

The only positive is the Rangers did look like they were trying to defend more. Since Tampa didn’t score, it will look like they were successful. I would say they were better than they were in game three but that isn’t really saying much.

Eight minutes into the period, Marty St. Louis took the first penalty of the game. I really wish I understood why Tampa fans have been booing him since he’s been helping them more than the Rangers this series. (Yes, I know why they boo him.) Somehow, I’m really not sure how, the Rangers killed the penalty. Two minutes later, they got a power play of their own…and killed that too. The best play was when St. Louis again lost the puck at the point leading to a Tampa breakaway. I have never wanted to hear a player is injured more than I hope to hear St. Louis is. Problem is, I know that’s not the case.

As time started winding down in the period, I began to hope it would end tied at zero as Tampa was clearly getting the better chances. Then Carl Hagelin got the puck to Kevin Hayes who found Rick Nash breaking in all alone. This time instead of putting a soft shot on net and heading to the bench, Nash powered to the net and crossed in front of Bishop, barely sliding the puck in-between his pad and the post to give the Rangers the lead. Yes, you read that correctly. Rick Nash scored. I was shocked as well but it happened.

The Rangers killed the rest of the period, with the team literally trying to kill the clock in the last minute, to get to intermission with the lead.

But a one goal lead against the Lightning is never safe, especially when you take a dumb penalty just 28 seconds into the period. Did the Rangers take this many stupid penalties during the regular season and we just ignored it? I really don’t remember there being so many on a nightly basis.

Somehow the Rangers killed it but the Lightning started pushing…and the visitors had no response. A little less than eight minutes into the period, Chris Kreider got unlucky as he spun around to try and find the puck and ended up taking down Morrow. It’s an easy call but it wasn’t what he was trying to do. Somehow the Rangers killed that too.

But the Lightning kept getting clear chances and it was only a matter of time before they tied it up. With nine and a half minutes to go, everyone forgot about some guy named Steven Stamkos and we had a 1-1 game. I understand there’s been a lot of focus on the triplets (which the Rangers forgot about at times in this game as well) but how does Stamkos end up all alone in the slot? There’s no excuse for that.

You know what else there is no excuse for? Going over ten minutes between shots on net. But the Rangers did that as well in the second period. I actually cheered when Derek Stepan put a soft wrister on Bishop to break that streak.

Then with less than five minutes remaining, something strange happened. The Rangers had been getting bounces in the defensive zone but suddenly they got two in the offensive zone. First it was a giveaway by Morrow behind the net with Rangers passing it to almost everyone on the ice before Chris Kreider slipped the puck through Bishop’s five hole to regain the lead.

Less than two minutes later, Keith Yandle took a shot from the point that hit Hedman and deflected into the net to make it a two-goal lead for the visitors. Tanner Glass was standing in front of the net and I fully admit I hoped it had hit him. It didn’t as Hedman had the own goal and suddenly after outshooting the Rangers 19-6 and dominating the entire period, the Lightning were down 3-1.

As the third period started, all the Rangers had to do was win the period. If they played like they did in the second, I didn’t think they would. Early on, Tampa got another wide open chance and I figured I would be holding my breath until the buzzer sounded.

Then four and a half minutes into the period, Marty St. Louis drew a high sticking call. He was trying to get a double minor but the referees weren’t buying whatever he was telling them. Less than thirty seconds in, the puck landed on St. Louis’ stick in his favorite spot and the veteran winger finally got his first of the post season. The relief on his face was probably the same on that of all Rangers fans as a three goal lead sounded much better than a two goal one. And if the Rangers want to feel good about one thing, at that point they had four goals on only 16 shots. Put a few more on net and this game could’ve been out of hand a lot earlier.

Shortly after that, Tyler Johnson was down on the ice and slow to get up. Apparently he has a nemesis as on replay, Kevin Hayes clearly slashed him in either the stomach or ribs. The two were going after each other all game and it worked as the triplets were finally silenced. I have no idea what got into Hayes but as long as he kept it clean, I had no problem with him going after the Calder winner. That play, though, was questionable. Somehow he got away with it but he needs to be careful going forward.

At the halfway mark of the period, the Lightning took another penalty. I was just hoping to kill the clock but the Rangers had other plans. It took most of the power play but Keith Yandle got the puck on net again with the rebound going to Rick Nash who pushed it through to make it 5-1. I think this tweet says it best:

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If you had told me before the game that would happen, I would’ve laughed at you. And if you told me the Rangers power play would be six for their last ten with three straight games of having two power play goals, I would’ve said you were nuts.

Although there were eight minutes remaining, the outcome was basically decided as both teams tried to kill the clock. As time wound down, the Lightning reminded everyone they were a young team as they started taking a few cheap shots to show their frustration. I say cheap shots in the sense of stupid little hits, nothing really dangerous. My favorite part was somehow the Rangers got all three triplets off in one play with two and a half minutes remaining. They lost a few important guys as well but it was impressive to see all three get frustrated at once.

So now the series is tied. Am I confident the Rangers will now go on to easily win the series? Absolutely not. The only thing I’m confident about is the Lightning are no longer guaranteed to win. (If Tampa had won tonight, series was over in my mind as there was no way they were coming back from 3-1 against this team.) The Rangers still have a lot of work but they have a right to feel okay about themselves. They scored 10 goals the past two games. When was the last time they did that? Remember how to defend so Lundqvist doesn’t have to do everything and there may indeed be another trip to the Final in their future.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Lose Wild One In Overtime

That title makes it sound like the Rangers were actually in this game at some point over the 63:33 played. They weren’t. Even with an early lead, I never felt they had control of the game. And in the end, they got what they deserved.

From the moment game two ended until the puck dropped for game three, the Rangers all said the right things. They showed anger in how game two went and said they knew they had to be better. I heard the words but to be honest they meant nothing to me because I know how this team is – sometimes they follow through with what they say and sometimes they are just words. This time, they were once again just words.

One of the things the Rangers kept saying was they needed to not take stupid, selfish penalties. It’s possible the Lightning will be saying that after tonight as just 26 seconds into the game Paquette took one of the dumbest penalties I’ve seen – punching Jesper Fast after the whistle. (It would just be the start of a fantastic night for the young Swede.) My instinct was this wasn’t the start the Rangers wanted, an early power play. Derick Brassard had other plans as less than 40 seconds into it, his rifle from the circle alluded Bishop and gave the visitors an early lead.

The Rangers looked good until two minutes later, Dominic Moore ignored his captain and took his regular dumb penalty of the game. (There was no excuse for the cross check he threw other than to say it was a stupid move.) Somehow the Rangers killed it.

A little less than five minutes later, Derek Stepan collided with Matt Carle in center ice allowing the Rangers to head up ice with both players shaken up. Stepan did return but Carle missed the remainder of the game with an undisclosed injury. (I won’t even guess what it is from replay I saw.) Of course the Lightning wanted a penalty but the broadcast said it was an incidental collision. From the one replay they showed, it looked that way but it wasn’t a great replay so I’ll reserve judgement. Either way, no penalty called and Chris Kreider headed up the ice with the puck. After entering the zone, he made a beautiful pass to a wide open Jesper Fast who did this:

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I didn’t even know Jesper Fast could do that. My guess is he didn’t either. But he did and the Rangers had a 2-0 lead.

But the Lightning weren’t backing down and honestly had the better of the play up until that point. A little over a minute later, with the Rangers in the Lightning zone, the puck got passed to the point where Dan Boyle was. I don’t know if it was a bad pass that got caught in his skates, if he straight out messed up or if Stamkos just stripped him, but he lost the puck and the Lightning headed the other way. Henrik Lundqvist made the initial save but poked the rebound right to the Lightning captain who buried it to cut the lead in half.

I’m really not sure how they managed it but the Rangers managed to get out of that period without any more damage. But as soon as the buzzer sounded, I said they would need to be better in the second period. They weren’t and the period was a disaster.

I wish I could explain it. I wish I could understand what I am seeing this series. I was never on the Lightning train. I knew they were good. I knew they would cause trouble for teams. But I never believed they were this good. Problem is I’m still not sure if they are as the Rangers literally spent the period beating themselves. It was embarrassing to watch.

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But here’s the thing – are the Rangers beating themselves? Or are the Lightning forcing the Rangers to beat themselves? I honestly can’t figure it out but I can only imagine the words the Rangers will use to describe the second period after what they said Saturday night. And if Ryan McDonagh even dares to try and call out his teammates again, I might go to Tampa and take care of him myself. After calling out his teammates like he did, he needed to be much better than he was through most of this game.

As for the period, the Rangers got two early power kills that they didn’t even generate a single shot during. (Yes, four minutes of power play time and not a single shot. I guess they hit their limit for the night when they scored on their first opportunity.) Then Tampa took over. Getting a power play goal shortly after the kills and two more after that to take a commanding 4-2 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the period.

Fortunately for the visitors, one player came to play as just 29 seconds after Tampa’s fourth goal, Jesper Fast got his second of the night on the rebound of a Kevin Klein shot. The goal gave him his first multiple goal game of his career. Rick Carpinello asks after every game for the three stars from the Rangers. On Saturday, Fast was the only name I could come up with. Tonight was the same.

Just like Saturday, the Rangers took a one goal deficit into the third period. Unlike Saturday they gave themselves a chance to get back into it…and then handed it away after they had.

The period started well as Sustr tripped Fast just a minute and a half in. If you’re going to trip a Ranger, might as well be the one who showed up to the game. Somehow, I have no idea how, the Rangers made them pay as the captain I planned to rip in this recap knotted the game at four as he roofed one from the circle. Honestly might have been the only competent play he made all night but I’ll be nice since he scored.

After that it was clear the next goal would win. I didn’t know if it would be the only goal but whoever scored the next goal was going to win the game. Both teams had chances as the puck went up and down the ice. Then, with a little under six minutes remaining, Chris Kreider took out Dan Girardi allowing the Lightning to come in all alone and regain the lead. I said it before the playoffs started – the only way this team would lose is if they beat themselves. I still think that is what is happening in this series, no matter how good the Lightning are trying to look.

And just when I was about to say the game (and possibly even the series with the way the Rangers were playing) was over, Anton Stralman iced the puck. No big deal right? Somehow the Rangers won the ensuing face-off, kept control of the puck and it ended up in the crease with Dan Boyle banging it home with 1:55 remaining. Both teams killed that time and the find a way Rangers headed to overtime. I said we wouldn’t have 2-1 scores in this series. I never thought we would have 5-5.

The Rangers entered overtime with a perfect 4-0 record in games that have gone past regulation these playoffs. Everyone knew that couldn’t last. It didn’t take long as just three and a half minutes in, Kucherov ended it. I don’t know if I blame Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh for parting the sea and letting him skate in or Henrik Lundqvist for not stopping a shot he absolutely should’ve had. Either way, at least they didn’t make us wait hours for a horrible goal like that.

I just don’t get it. I want answers and I don’t have them. Did the Capitals do more damage to them then we realized? Is the past few post seasons finally catching up to them? Can they really just not beat the Tampa Bay Lightning? I honesty do not understand it. And am not looking forward to watching this Lightning team play for the Cup.

No, I’m not giving up but it’s very difficult to feel confident right now. The Rangers have been clearly outplayed for two straight games. They honestly deserved to be in this one less than they deserved to be in Saturday’s game. I’m not sure what will randomly turn this around. A lucky bounce? They got that in game one. To expect it to happen again in three out of the next four games isn’t likely. It’s just not. Could they surprise me? Absolutely. They’ve done it before and things are never over until they are over with this team. But something is off. And to come out like they did tonight after everything they said after game two does not leave me feeling confident.

Honestly, I’m glad the Red Wings lost Babcock today. I’m going to blame them like I blamed the Sharks last year. You had them and you gave it away. And now the rest of us have to deal with it.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Lose Stinker At MSG

The Rangers gave game two of the Eastern Conference Final to the Lightning. And the Lightning gladly took it.

I honestly could end the recap there because that’s what happened tonight. The Rangers handed game two to their opponent. I’ll give some credit to Tampa for taking it and running but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Rangers play as sloppy as they did tonight. (Yes, I know some people will say the end of November. Yes, it kind of resembled those games. No, I don’t think it was the same. They may have played better in those games.)

I just don’t know how to process what the Rangers did tonight. They turned over the puck like it would bite them if they held onto it for more than a second. They couldn’t complete a pass to save their lives. And forget actually communicating on the ice as that was non-existent. Could the Lightning have won this game no matter what the Rangers did? Absolutely. But I have no idea if they would have since the Rangers came out with their sticks upside down and their skates on backwards.

Simply put, they were due for a stinker and boy did they have one. At least the one goal game streak is over.

The worst part is the day started off well as Rangers fans got great news on the injury front this morning:

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That is huge. I am not (nor should anyone else be) under any delusions that it means Mats Zuccarello will be back soon but the fact he is skating is a very good sign, even if it’s on his own. (Granted he wasn’t shown at MSG tonight so not sure what that means other than our good luck charm was missing.) He is going through the process of returning but the fact he could get on the ice means he is moving in the right direction. Now we have to hope he is able to skate again tomorrow. A couple days of that and he might be able to join the team too. It is probably a stretch to say he could return this series but if it goes seven, anything is possible. But assuming he keeps on this track and the Rangers remember how to play hockey, it is definitely not out of the question to think he could return for Final.

You would think that would motivate the guys but…I really don’t know how to recap that disaster. I mean I could but none of us want to re-live it. So I’m just going to point out things I noticed.

I honestly knew we were in trouble on the first shift. Tampa started their third line and the Rangers started Marc Staal and Kevin Klein. Okay, interesting. As period went on (before penalty parade began), it turned out the Rangers had made a change in defense. The Stepan line would still get the Triplets but it would be with Staal and Dan Boyle, while Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh got the Stamkos line. Why, Vigneault? Why change something that worked in game one? Because everyone questioned what you did? I could care less what the media thinks. You have over 500+ regular season wins and have led two teams to the Cup Final. You know what you’re doing. Ignore them and coach.

Then came the penalties and…that power play is so bad. I joke it’s a power kill when it does nothing but at least it doesn’t give up a shorthanded goal on a regular basis. There is absolutely no excuse for giving up a goal on a 5-on-3 power play. (And don’t tell me Boyle had just come out of the box. It was technically given up on the 5-on-3.) There is no excuse for giving up a 2-on-0 when you have five guys on the ice and the opposition has three. There is none. I was furious to see Marty St. Louis back on the ice for the next power play after that disgrace. The only thing that calmed me down was knowing he has at most 12 games left of his Rangers career. (Cause I will rip up my tickets if they re-sign him.)

I have no idea why the referees felt the need to be a part of the game in the first period but after seven penalties, somehow the score was only 2-1. Granted it was two power play goals and a shorthanded goal but still manageable for both teams.

Each team got a goal in the second period and we’ll just leave it at that. I honestly don’t remember the second period other than Derek Stepan throwing the puck out front from behind the net and Coburn putting it past Bishop to get the Rangers within one and then the fourth line somehow missing a completely open net as Bishop got caught behind it while trying to play the puck.

But the Rangers were within one goal with twenty minutes to play. They took three penalties in the third period and the Lightning made them pay on every one of them. The first one I won’t blame Stepan for as it was all due to a horrible play by Henrik Lundqvist, who lost the puck in his crease causing a mad scramble to try to get it out of the zone. It didn’t work and Stepan ended up tripping Palat. The Lightning would score just as that one ended. The other two were dumb penalties and the Rangers paid for them. Although someone needs to explain to me why the Lightning were trying to score with less than three minutes to go in a 5-2 game. That’s when a team with class plays keep away.

After the game, Ryan McDonagh apparently called out his teammates for “stupid, selfish” penalties. That’s great but tonight might have been the first game of the playoffs that he didn’t take one so he really shouldn’t be talking. I’m fine with being mad at how the night went (and it sounds like the players were mad after this one) but sometimes you need to think before you talk. When your dumb penalty caused game one to be tied, you really can’t say anything publicly to your teammates. But that’s just me.

At the end of the day, it’s one game. There is no one who thought it would be a short series and now we know it won’t be. And really, when do the Rangers ever win both game one and two in a series?

The good news is I firmly believe the Rangers gave this game away. Yes the Lightning made adjustments and played better than game one. But if the Rangers had played even remotely competent hockey tonight, there is no way this game would’ve ended 6-2. None. And while it sucks to know the outcome was preventable, I like knowing that it’s also easily fixable. If the Rangers are as mad as they sound, then I expect a much different game on Wednesday night. And if Cooper actually made this comment, then the Lightning better watch out. I have no idea the context of that quote but I know how I would use it if I’m the Rangers.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Surprise! Rangers Win 2-1

One day they will surprise us. One day they will win by more than one goal. One day. But not today.

That said, what a different series this will be than the first two rounds. No more chippy, boring hockey. This one will be wide open. And the Lightning will be much better than they were today…and they weren’t bad today.

Couple pregame notes for both teams. No surprise for the Rangers as the lineup stayed the same with Dan Boyle, who somehow was fine from that hit, and Tanner Glass, who missed practice yesterday, both in the lineup. (Side note: Glass’ wife and son were at the game as I saw them in the lobby before going in.)

Tampa wasn’t so lucky. Everyone was paying attention to if Ryan Callahan would play (of course he did) and missed the fact apparently Brian Boyle was also injured. I didn’t notice if he took warmups but the ex-Ranger missed game 1. You know he had to be hurt to miss this game so definitely something to keep an eye on. I know they’ve done this before but Boyle being out led to them going 11 and 7. With Callahan clearly not 100%, I didn’t understand that move.

Onto the game.

As they have for most of the playoffs, the Rangers came out flying in the first period. To me, they dominated play the entire period so I have no idea how the shots ended up so close (11-7). The only problem they had was hitting the net with shots. They hit the post on a couple and threw a bunch over the net. I’m not sure why they we’re shooting high on a guy who is 6’7″ but the coaching staff must know something.

I really thought they were going to regret not scoring in the first period as I never know what to expect from the second. The Capitals would always come out ready so I expected the same from the Lightning. While they pushed, the Rangers came out with the same push as they did to start the game leading to another phenomenal period of hockey.

The first penalty of the game went to the Rangers as J.T. Miller was called for a light slashing call. (I say light cause I still haven’t seen the slash even though showed numerous replays in the building.) Fortunately Palat took a stupid penalty less than 30 seconds into the kill to get Tampa’s power play off the ice. But 4-on-4 between these two teams is not easy to watch.

Two minutes after those ended the Lightning decided to try a shift with six or seven players. The referees informed them that wasn’t allowed. The ensuing power play was interesting. The first 30 seconds were competent and gave us hope. Then the puck left the zone. I don’t think it re-entered the Lightning zone until we were back to even strength.

With time winding down and the game still scoreless, the building was starting to get nervous. Low-scoring, tied games we’re used to. No scoring is worrisome. Then with less than a minute remaining Chris Kreider took a shot that left a juicy rebound. Derek Stepan pounced and batted it in with 12.7 seconds to go in the period. To say that goal was huge would be an understatement. That said, how crazy has these playoffs been with all the late goals?

Roughly six minutes into the third, the Rangers captain had his dumb moment of the game taking a really stupid high sticking penalty. Fortunately it was only two minutes but the Lightning still made him pay by tying the game. One thing I learned watching that power play? The Rangers better stay out of the box.

Of course they didn’t learn that and took two more stupid penalties in the period, the second with less than five minutes to go. On that one, Dominic Moore got beat by Anton Stralman, reached over and tripped him. To say MSG wasn’t pleased with Moore would be an understatement. I know I wasn’t.

But he would redeem himself as the Rangers killed the penalty, got a chance they messed up but got the puck back and made the visitors pay. The puck went down low where Kevin Hayes picked it up and shrugged off Callahan to throw it in front of the net where it deflected into the net off Moore with two and a half minutes to go.

The Lightning pushed for the equalizer, not realizing Rangers only play 2-1 games, even pulling Bishop with 90 seconds remaining. The Rangers had a couple chances at the open net but obviously missed because as I said they have to play 2-1 games. (Bishop joked after the game that he thought they did it intentionally.) Fortunately they kept the puck away from Lundqvist and took the victory.

Did this game, which the Rangers were clearly the better team, make me feel better about the series? Nope. Tampa is a very good team and will be even better on Monday. But the Rangers are on a mission so I think they will be prepared. You want to change the ending boys? Surprise us and win both games one and two.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)