“I haven’t changed. I never dove. I don’t,” Sidney Crosby offered during Thursdays meeting with the media. “That’s just part of the playoffs, part of the gamesmanship,” he said. “If I go down it’s because I’ve been forced down. If not, I’ll find a way to stay up. I think he should be the one worried about guys diving.”

Apparently, Crosby forgot about that statement as he felt a breeze and found a way to go down on the thinnest of calls against Martin Straka late in the third period. Of course, both Don Koharski and Kelly Sutherland somehow managed to miss Straka being crosschecked moments earlier in front of the Pens net, but were on top of the Crosby call. Interesting, indeed.

As bad as that call on Straka was, it did not cost the Rangers the game. There is no excuse for any team to blow a three goal lead – especially one that is built on defensive responsibility first. It was that lack of defensive responsibility that let Pittsburgh get back into the game.

John Dellapina of the Daily News had a telling quote from Brendan Shanahan in reference to the Straka penalty.

“I think it was certainly a big play in the game,” Shanahan explained. “But it wasn’t the game. I think the moment of the game was really when they get their first goal. They’re pretty dead, trying desperate things. And kind of out of nowhere, their fourth line gets the goal that gives them momentum.”

Michael Rozsival presented the Penguins with their first goal by committing a turnover at the Rangers blue line and them compounded that problem by getting caught standing in the crease when Jarkko Ruutu pinballed one in off Rozsival’s skate.

The Rangers need to heed Butch Goring’s post-game warning to “stay out of the crease”. I have counted at least three goals that have bounced off Rangers defensemen who have been standing in the crease (last night’s goal, the Devils’ Game 3 winner that deflected in off Marc Staal and the Devils’ Game 5 goal that bounced off Fedor Tyutin).

Heck, even the Rangers caught a break when Straka’s power play goal deflected in off Sergei Gonchar, who was standing in the crease.

Defensive breakdowns played a huge part on goals two and four. On the second goal, four Rangers left Pascal Dupuis all alone in the slot and on the fourth goal Tyutin poorly misplayed a two-on-one on Petr Sykora’s goal.

Of course, it would be another pinball-type goal that would prove to be the game-winner – this time off the leg of Evgeni Malkin rather than a Ranger.

One disturbing trend from last night’s game was just how fragile the Rangers psyche was. The Penguins scored their first two goals in the space of 14 seconds and their third and fourth goals in the space of 20 seconds. While the Blueshirts do rely on young players in key spots, this team still has enough veteran leadership that should prevent the team from losing its poise so easily.

The Game 1 loss reflected the same problems the Rangers encountered in Montreal when they blew their five goal lead. The Broadway Blues had the game in control, but then took their skate off the pedal. They stopped fore checking and they stopped hitting. They let the crowd get back into the game and affect their performance.

As a result, for only the second time in their playoff history (covering 94 games), the Rangers lost a game where they had a three goal lead. On the other hand, Pittsburgh rallied from a three goal deficit in the playoffs for the first time since May 1992 when they came back to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I had a bad feeling when Versus announcer Joe Beninati started to say that the Penguins had not rallied from a three-goal deficit all year. Unfortunately proved to be true as the “dreaded three goal lead” came back to bite the Rangers.

“(Ahead) 3-0 in the playoffs, you’d like to think it’s over, but what are you going to do?” Scott Gomez told the AP. “We can’t get in a track meet with those guys. It’s over, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Actually, there is something the Rangers can do. They can, once and for all, learn from their mistakes. They got away with mistakes against the Devils because New Jersey does not have the offensive firepower to capitalize – the Penguins do have that kind of firepower.

The Rangers veterans need to find a way to make sure the team does not fold at the first signs of adversity. Far too many times it seemed like the Rangers had that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look.

The Blueshirts have to remember that their team is built on taking care of defensive responsibilities first. The Rangers cannot go toe-to-toe with the Penguins offensively. As a result, the Rangers have to bring the tempo down top their level. That means playing a smarter game in their own zone by keeping ice balance and making sure each player has their man marked while keeping a body between the puck and the net.

That means being more careful with the puck in the defensive zone. The Rangers dodged a couple of bullets on some poor clearing attempts. The Blueshirts have a bad habit of trying to break out of the zone with ill-conceived passes up the middle rather than chipping the puck off the boards.

That means establishing a forecheck and taking advantage of the Penguins blue liners who do not handle the puck that well (e.g. Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik).

For the most part, the Rangers stayed silent about the officiating during the Devils. The same was not true following the Koharski-Sutherland Show.

“I think it’s a weak call at that time in the game,” Shanahan stated. “Sidney embellished and you could make the call that he was interfering with Martin Straka. It’s too bad it had to happen to a guy like Martin Straka. He’s such an honest, hard-working player… I think it was a tough call for the referee to make at that time in the game.”

Jaromir Jag had an even more telling quote. While he explained, half-heartedly, that he didn’t see the play, the Rangers captain said, “I was kind of expecting something like that.”

While we are at it, can we expect another “rule clarification” from Colin Campbell in reference to Ruutu taunting Rozsival before a faceoff. The Pens uber-pest stole a page out of Sean Avery’s playbook as he put his stick in front of Rozsival’s face. Before anyone starts screaming about a double standard, I did not say that should be a penalty. All I am asking is if the NHL will overreact and issue a Ruutu Rule like they did with the Avery Rule.

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