Thu 17 Apr 2008
Most times the hockey gods (actually all of the sports gods) can be fickle and cruel. But every now and then they do provide an opportunity for redemption. Marc Staal took every advantage of that opportunity with his game-winning goal late in the third period of Game 4. While he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on Sunday night, the rookie blue liner was in the right place at the right time on Wednesday night.
Truth be told, Game 4 should served as Marc StaalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final coming out party. Not too many people would fault him if he had a below par Game 4 given what happened in Game 3. As it turns out, the exact opposite occurred. Not only did Staal elevate his play from the opening face-off, but he deserved every accolade he received Ã¢â‚¬â€œ despite finishing the game on a tender ankle after blocking a hot. And he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hurt that he picked a pretty opportune time to score his first goal at Madison Square Garden.
Think back to the beginning of the season. How many Ranger fans would have bet that Staal would be on the ice looking at Brandon Dubinsky taking a face-off with 70 seconds remaining in a game where the Rangers led by a goal? It just goes to show how far the Ranger rookies have advanced during the season.
Ranger fans should not get too giddy about being up three games to one over the Devils. While the numbers are strongly in their favor, the Blueshirts cannot and must not look ahead to the next round. Yes, teams with a three games to one lead have gone on to win 91% of those playoff series. However, the Devils are one of those teams within the 9% after rallying to defeat Philadelphia in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals.
As if that pressure wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough, the Rangers have never blown a three games to one lead. Then again, they had never lost a game where they had a five goal lead and we know what happened in the Rangers final trip into Montreal.
They Rangers must elevate their level of play as they return to the Prudential Center. The Rangers lack of intensity, at times, during the two games at the Garden was problematic. One would expect the devils to play with a level of desperation, but the Rangers are not that good of team that they can by on talent alone Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and if they were Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that only works during the regular season, not the playoffs.
Fortunately, the Rangers still seem focused on surviving and advancing. The same canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be said about the Devils. New Jersey continues to bemoan about the treatment Martin Brodeur is receiving from the Ã¢â‚¬Å“big, bad RangersÃ¢â‚¬Â.
“They are getting away with it, we should be able to get away with it, too,” Jay Pandolfo told Tom Canavan of the AP. “That’s the only thing you can do. It’s out of your hands after that. Sure enough, they are going to hit Marty and if we retaliate, we’ll probably get a penalty. It’s tough, but it’s been going on all series. We have to do the same to their goalie.”
Yes, Brent Sutter was quick to point out that his team failed to clear the puck on the first four goals, but the Devil coach continued his amazement at the Ã¢â‚¬Å“muggingÃ¢â‚¬Â his star netminder was receiving.
“There was definitely contact on the goaltender and if it’s allowed, that’s fine,” Sutter lamented. “I want to know it and then we’ll do the same. I didn’t think there was contact allowed on goaltenders.”
Funny, I guess Sutter must have missed it when Zach Parise slashed the stick out of Henrik LundqvistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hands prior to Mike MottauÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tying goal. I wonder if Colin Campbell will issue an Ã¢â‚¬Å“on the flyÃ¢â‚¬Â rule interpretation in reference to that.
While Campbell is looking for new rule interpretations, he might want to reaffirm the NHLÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s intolerance for diving because Brodeur is at his Greg Louganis best. Martin Brodeur is a world class Hall of Fame goaltender so it is not necessary for him to assume the pike position every time a Ranger brushes up against him. He is earning the nicknames that blog fans are giving him Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Brodiva or Brodiver.
I know that Brodeur did receive one diving penalty, but the official also penalized Fredrik Sjostrom Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even though Vitaly Vishnevski pushed him into the Devil goalie. The official also missed the fact that Sjostrom was cut.
Look, I really do hate to pile on the officials, but last nightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s duo of Kevin Pollock and Denis LaRue were beyond brutal. In addition to the aforementioned Parise slash, the two referees missed Bryce SalvadorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take down of Sean Avery prior to the Devils rush. Then again, it was Avery so it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t count. However, that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t explain their inability to whistle Salvador for a penalty while he delivered multiple cross checks to the back of Ryan Hollweg in the first period.
Just to show I am not a completely jaded Ranger fan; the refs blew the four-minute high sticking call on Travis Zajac. Replays showed that ZajacÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stick was lifted by Jaromir Jagr prior to making contact with Michal Rozsival.
The bottom line is that while the Rangers have handled the poor officiating by taking the high road and showing class, the Devils have been at the opposite extreme as they are in full Sidney Crosby Whine Mode.
If Ranger fans learned anything from winning the Stanley Cup back in 1994, the hardest thing to do is win that fourth game to close out a series. The Blueshirts can make their job so much easier if they could get their power play working on three cylinders, never mind working on all four cylinders.
Their four-minute power play was the golden opportunity to put away the Devils in Game 4. The problem is that the Rangers reverted to their bad habits. Their strategy was to sit and wait for that one perfect chance to reveal itself. If we have learned anything at all from this series is that offense has been generated by getting the puck at the net.
The best way to get the puck at the net, especially when you are on the power play, is through movement Ã¢â‚¬â€œ both of the puck and the player. When the Rangers set up and seem content to pass the puck around the perimeter, it makes killing penalties easy. Opponents can sit in their box and cut off shooting and passing lanes. However, if the Rangers work the puck while keeping themselves in motion, their opponentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ ability to shut off shooting and passing lanes diminishes.
There was no better example of this idea than Scott GomezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s power play goal that opened the scoring.
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