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I have to admit I completely underestimated the Penguins before this series. I look back at my series preview and I can’t believe I gave the edge to the Rangers offense. I let the flashy shot totals from the regular season get to my head. What I didn’t take into account was which team was going to capitalize on their scoring chances.

These Penguins certainly know how to put the puck into the net, scoring on 5 out of 17 shots in this game. You can’t fault Lundqvist. His save percentage looks terrible on paper, but not one of those goals was his fault. He wasn’t spectacular, but he wasn’t bad either.

How did the Penguins score 5 goals? It’s as simple as this: The Penguins offense was faster than the Rangers defense with and without the puck. The Rangers defense was burned several times, and frequently coughed up the puck throughout the game.

In the 2nd period, the Rangers seemed to have stolen the momentum after tying the game at 3 and keeping possession deep in the Penguins zone for well over a minute and a half. Then, Ryan Hollweg took a braindead momentum killing boarding penalty.  The Penguins power play, which was absolutely killer, capitalized to make it 4-3. The Pens only had 2 power play chances, but scored on both. (The Rangers went 0 for 5).

So where do the Rangers go from here? The series isn’t technically over, but really, it is.

I’d be surprised if the Rangers can even pull out a win in game 4.

Game notes: I’m not sure what happened to Drury, but he’s definitely hurt. After missing most of the 2nd period, he came back in the 3rd but wasn’t taking faceoffs. (Avery skated at center with Drury on the wing). Blair Betts might be seriously hurt after blocking a slapshot. Renney tried a number of different line combinations, but none of them seemed to work. I really don’t like seeing Brendan Shanahan on the 4th line. Gomez and Avery did not generate any scoring chances with Sjostrom on their line. If Renney was going to keep Shanny on the 4th line, why wouldn’t he dress Prucha instead of Hollweg?? I just don’t get it. I’d really like to see someone, anyone, other than Hollweg after that braindead momentum killing boarding penalty.

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Folks, the Rangers were still in this one until the start of the third period. They looked dead right from the start of the third. They couldn’t get the puck deep and when they actually kept the puck in the Penguins’ zone, they couldn’t get shots through to the net.

Then there’s the Power Play. The Rangers went 0 for 6 with 9 shots. So that’s a shot and a half per PP. The Penguins went 1 for 5 with 15 shots (almost half of their total). That’s 3 per.

The Penguins’ Power Play is just S-C-A-R-Y. It’s so much different than the Rangers’ PP. They just keep feeding the puck to the point for the quick, low slapshot and wait for the rebounds. Why can’t the Rangers do this? The second line (Gomez-Drury-Shanny) seems to be trying but just can’t get it done. Jagr’s line is just wasting time looking for the perfect shot. It’s just terrible. GO TO THE FRONT OF THE NET! STOP CUTTING BEHIND THE NET! YOU’RE NOT GONNA SCORE A GOAL FROM BEHIND THE NET!

Anyone notice who wasn’t on the ice when the Penguins scored their only Power Play goal? It was the guy in the box who was off for a questionable call that could have gone to either player. Chris Drury.

Chris Drury is the best penalty killer on the Rangers right now. How many times do you see him breaking up the other team’s power play and clearing the puck? Lots of times, that’s how many.

I’m kind of pissed off right now. If Marc has any thoughts he’ll add them later.

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Watching that game, I felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Recapping it feels like something not as bad as passing a kidney stone but not as good as slipping on an icy sidewalk and cracking your head. I also have a massive hangover, so I’ll try to keep this short.

It would be easy to blame the referees for some of the Rangers problems, but let’s be honest, the Rangers defense looked terrible. The Penguins were faster and caused about 10,000 turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones. The Rangers need to be more confident with the puck and, as my Canadian college hockey coach would say, they also need to stop treating the puck like a “hot potato.” There were stretches where 3 or 4 shifts went by with the puck spending 90% of the time in the Rangers zone. The other 10% consisted of the Rangers softly dumping the puck to be picked up by the Pens defense in the neutral zone and rushed back towards the overwhelmed Rangers defense and the suddenly vulnerable Lundqvist… not exactly a winning strategy.

Still, the Rangers managed to build a 3 goal lead… only to see it disappear in about the time it takes my buddy Spivack to pound an Irish car bomb. But I digress.

And you know what, while I’m on a roll, I think I will complain about the officiating. My problem is that it was inconsistent, and it has been throughout the playoffs (not just in Rangers games). Sometimes it looks like a classic playoff hockey game, with the refs swallowing the whistle to allow 2 elite teams to really play some hard-nosed hockey. But, at other times, the refs suddenly decide to call the game like its a November matchup between Tampa Bay and Atlanta. It’s completely inexplicable and there’s no way to know when they make this transition. It’s almost like the refs slip into their usual playoff mode for a chunk of the game until they realize, “oh crap… If I want to keep my job, I better start calling penalties.” The result is the weak penalty called on Martin Straka at a crucial point of the game. 3 minutes left in a tie game and you call that? Really?!? The same thing happened in Montreal on Thursday. No penalties for a while, then they call a questionable one and change the outcome of the game. Why is it so difficult for the NHL to let these guys play 5-on-5? [I’ll be right back. I have to go slam my head against the wall for 10 minutes]

[Okay, I’m back]. Here’s what Brendan Shanahan said. “I think it’s a weak call at that time in the game. Sidney embellished and you could make the call that he was interfering with Martin Straka. . . I think it was a tough call for the referee to make at that time in the game.” Ding ding ding.

Oh, and one more thing… Jarkko Ruutu is a [expletive deleted]. Now I know how other teams feel about Sean Avery. There’s no doubt that Ruutu waving his stick in Rozsival’s face during a faceoff should have been an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Maybe I’m missing something, but didn’t they just make a rule about that? The ref went over and actually pushed Ruutu’s stick down but didn’t call a penalty! What’s up with that? Then he scored. I have to go slam my head against the wall again. See you tomorrow.

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After jumping out to a 4-1 lead, the Rangers held on for 5-3 victory.

I don’t have much to say about the game itself other than the Rangers really dominated play throughout the game and seemed to fall victim to a few unlucky bounces. Let’s hope that’s out of their system and we stop bouncing pucks into our own net. Also, the 3rd period was a superb performance by Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers defense. But especially Lundqvist. That penalty shot save was a thing of beauty.

Best unintentional comedy of the night: 14:45 left in the 1st period, the Devils P.A. announcer starts to announce the Devils first goal in that super-excited announcer voice. “a NEW Jersey DEVVVVIIILLLLS goalll scored by NUMBER 14, Brrrrrrr-ian, Gionnnnnntaaaaa.” Meanwhile, the Rangers had already tied it up and were starting a power play on which they were about to take the lead. Maybe a little bit more sense of the moment would be appropriate there?

As for handshake-gate, I think it’s a little childish of Brodeur to pass Avery by. The handshake line in hockey is supposed to be a beautiful display of sportsmanship, where 2 teams who have been beating the hell out of each other for 2 weeks can shake hands and say job well done. It’s disappointing to see a future hall-of-famer like Marty disrespect the tradition like that. Here’s how I think the Avery/Brodeur exchange on the handshake line went.

  • Brodeur: I’m not going to shake your hand. You have no class.
  • Avery: Are you upset because I scored 3 goals on you this series?
  • Brodeur: NO! [starts crying]. I played like crap. I gave up a bad goal in EVERY game. Plus, I got called for diving. I suck 😦
  • Avery: Whatever, fatso.

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Someone asked me why I didn’t comment on the officiating of yesterday’s game. Well, the answer is that, in general, I don’t like to complain about the refs. They usually do a decent job and it’s a cop-out to blame them for the outcome of a game.

And while I wasn’t thrilled with the way the game was called yesterday, I don’t think it was as horrible as some people have been saying. Calls were going both ways. The only call, or non-call I should say, that really bothered me was when Bryce Salvador was holding Avery down to the ice as the play went the other way. Salvador had pretty much put his knee into Avery’s back and pinned him to the ice. The ref was right there but didn’t call the penalty. And if you think that non-call is not related in any way to Avery’s antics in game 3, you’re crazy.

Plus, any ref who calls a diving penalty on Brodeur is OK with me. Now, if you could just explain to me how they called a goalie interference penalty on the same play, we’ll be all set. There. I complained about the reffing. Happy?

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Nobody was blaming Marc Staal after the Devils overtime winner in game 3 ricocheted off his foot past Henrik Lundqvist. But you can bet Staal wasn’t too happy about it, especially after the play earlier in the game where he couldn’t clear the puck and Elias scored. But wow, the kid played awesome tonight. The game winner was sweet, but that wasn’t the only bright spot about Staal’s game. He was solid through all 3 periods. Along with his partner Rozsival, Staal was very effective breaking the puck out of the Rangers zone, and when Staal and Rozsival were on the ice, the Devils barely got a sniff at the net. Plus that game winner was sweet. Did I mention that his game winner was really sweet?

My favorite public address announcement of the night came 13:36 into the 2nd period. It was, “Devils penalty on #30, Martin Brodeur. 2 minutes for diving.” HAHAHA. FINALLY. If a referee gives you a penalty for diving, he is basically calling you a little bitch. That probably didn’t sit well with Marrrrrrrrr-teeeeeee. Brodeur is a flopper, plain and simple.

Game highlights can be found here.

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Heartbreaker

The Rangers just looked tired in OT. More later.

UPDATE – April 14, 2008 @ 5:30 PM
The Rangers came out firing last night getting a couple of great chances very early in the game. Whatever momentum the Rangers had to that point was broken when Sergei Brylin kicked the puck into the net leading to a long review and the Devils’ first lead of the series. About 10 minutes later, Brandon Dubinsky scored on a goal that was a mirror image of Jagr’s goal in Game 2. Which you can see here:

The officiating was generally terrible but the Rangers did nothing to avoid making the stupid plays that would lead to those calls being made.

About what Sean Avery did.  Watch for Marc to write something about that later.

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