Wed 30 Apr 2008
In 1994 the New York Rangers had to climb one more hill to win the Stanley Cup and that hill was Mount Vancouver. For the Rangers to survive in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, that hill might as well be Mount Everest – never mind Mount Pittsburgh.
To say that the Rangers face a daunting task would be an understatement. Only three times in the history of sports has a team come from three games to none down to win a playoff series. The last time it occurred was in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox exorcised the “Curse of the Bambino” and eliminated the New York Yankees. Rangers fans looking from solace can take hope in the fact that two of three times it was a hockey team pulling off this feat. In 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to defeat the Detroit Red Wings and in 1975 the New York Islanders survived and eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins. A real diehard fan will point to the 33 year difference as a glimmer of hope – faint as it may be.
On the other hand, the last time a team won its first seven playoff games they went on to win the Stanley Cup. That team was the 1994 New York Rangers.
As if the Rangers road ahead were not tough enough, it may get even tougher with the potential losses of Chris Drury, Blair Betts, and the loss of Sean Avery. It was obvious that Drury suffered some type of “upper body injury” as he labored through the third period. It is uncertain if Betts will recover from taking a puck to the face.
The Avery injury was not revealed until this morning when John Dellapina and Larry McShane of the Daily News broke a report that Avery lacerated his spleen during the first period last night and remained in the game. Dellapina reports that Avery went to the hospital at 3:00am this morning and that a St. VincentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Medical Center source said the feisty winger remains in the intensive care unit.
According to the Rangers, Avery was admitted following a CT scan. He will miss the remainder of the season and he is expected to make a full recovery during the summer.
As bad as the Rangers Game 3 loss is, believe it or not, it could have been worse if past Rangers history held true. April 29 is remembered as the date of two of the longest playoff games in Blueshirts history. In 1971, Pete Stemkowski scored in triple overtime as the Rangers defeated the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year, Michael Rozsival’s double overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres briefly turned the tide in the Rangers favor.
Unfortunately, the only heroics last night belonged to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin who celebrated his being named as a Hart Trophy nominee with his playoff coming out party. While Sidney Crosby may get all of the headlines, Malkin has been the leader of the Penguins this season.
During the first two games, special teams and bad penalties spelled doom for the Broadway Blues and Game 3 was no exception. The Penguins two power play goals and the Rangers inability to muster any offense with the man advantage spelled defeat. The Blueshirts had a chance to sink a dagger in the Penguins with their two five-on-three advantages, but they could not solve the Pens penalty killers. People argue that the Ranger can’t find the shooting lanes. Funny, but other teams manage to find those shooting lanes.
The two power play goals the Penguins scored were the direct result of two careless and stupid penalties. Ryan Callahan’s four-minute high sticking penalty at the end of the first period and Ryan Hollweg’s boarding penalty at the end of the second period buried any hope the Rangers had of getting back into the series. While Callahan’s penalty was bad, Hollweg’s could not have come at a worse time given the fact the Rangers had erased a two-goal deficit and had Pittsburgh back on their heels. Actually, the Rangers did a pretty good job of killing off the Hollweg penalty. The problem is the penalty killers were exhausted because they could not get off for a change. The Rangers had one good chance to clear the puck, but once again, went up the middle with the clearance rather than bang it off the boards/glass.
While the Rangers did show a willingness to return to the style of attack that helped beat the New Jersey Devils, they still made the same defensive mistakes – the difference being Pittsburgh’s ability to finish off their chances.
Oh there was one other difference. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury outplayed Henrik Lundqvist. While some will say The King played badly because of the five goals allowed on the 17 shots, more often than not Lundqvist was hung out to dry. His sin was not being able to make up for his teammates mistakes – something he did on a regular basis against the Devils. Turnovers, players falling down, players out of position and wingers having to take defensive zone draws all contributed to the loss.
To their credit, the Rangers are not ready to throw in the white towel yet. Despite being down three games, hope still exists in the Rangers locker room.
“I have a very funny feeling about this series. It’s not over,” Jaromir Jagr said. “It’s just my feeling. I don’t know how many believe me, but we’ll see.”
Whether Jagr truly believes what he is saying is a matter that time will tell. It could be that he believes it, or it could just be the captain saying what he is supposed to say. One thing is for certain, if this turns out to be the captain’s last time in a Rangers uniform he is going out doing all that he can do to will his team to victory.
Does Tom Renney insert Petr Prucha and/or Colton Orr into the lineup of does he pull a page out of Phil Esposito’s playbook? During the 1989 playoffs, Esposito gave Mike Richter his taste of NHL action against the Penguins with the Rangers trailing three games to none. Will Renney give Artem Anisimov and/or Greg Moore their first taste of playoff action if any combination of the injured forwards can’t go and does he replace an ineffective Christian Backman with Bobby Sanguinetti or Corey Potter?
According to Sam Weinman of the Journal News, Moore and P.A. Parenteau were on the ice at practice today.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter who is in the lineup and who isn’t. The bottom line is the Rangers have to revisit their play against the Devils if they want to extend the season at least one more game. We saw flashes of it last night as the Rangers managed to get more traffic in front of Fleury and relied on some forechecking to create scoring chances from behind the net. The Rangers need to translate that sense of urgency to their moribund power play. It is amazing that a team that has so much success when they move their feet and commit to forechecking can be so passive when it comes to their power play.
Rather than carry over that idea of player (and puck) movement, the Rangers become five statues content on passing the puck on the perimeter in a fruitless search for the perfect shot on goal. If the Rangers were as committed to moving the puck and themselves on the power play, they would find that the clogged shooting lanes would open up.
Obviously, the Rangers also need to stay out of the penalty box. While it is impossible for the Rangers not take penalties, they are in no position to take the lazy and careless penalties they took in Game 3 (see Callahan and Hollweg).
No one knows for sure how much longer the Rangers season will last. However, Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News relayed an excellent story that pretty much sums up the Rangers situation.
“It’s been said often in this situation. The first time I heard it, it came from Rangers coach Ted Sator, whose team was down 3-0. ‘One way or another,’ he said, ‘we’ll be history.’”
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