Thu 17 May 2012
An anonymous quote starts off “Hell is the knowledge of opportunity lost ….” Last night the New Jersey Devils turned Madison Square Garden into the New York Rangers private hell by tying the series as the teams head across the Hudson River for a pair of games at the Prudential Center.
In what is becoming a disturbingly bad habit, the Rangers failed yet again to take a two-game to none lead in a playoff series. For the third consecutive time, the Blueshirts found a way to lose a 3-2 decision in a Game 2 where they entered the third period tied.
Frankly, the Rangers should consider themselves fortunate that they only lost by a goal given the dismal performance they put forth in the first period and for too many parts of the third period.
Coach John Tortorella has gone on record as saying that being tired is not an excuse, but outside of a great 18 minutes in the second period, his team was a step behind the play. Or as he told Pierre McGuire during his in-game interview, “We’re way too slow.”
The question to ask is why were the Rangers slow? Were the Rangers tired? Was it a case of the Devils taking the game to a Rangers team that had no answers? Was it a case of the Rangers being unable and unwilling to match the Devils intensity and urgency?
Given the way the Rangers responded in the second period, I think we can eliminate them being tired. Odds are the Rangers inability to win Game lies in the latter two excuses.
We will never know what Tortorella thinks the reason is. Even if he were the most outgoing coach in the NHL, no coach is going to dress down his team in public – but you can bet the paint on the walls of the Rangers locker room was blistering at about 10:30 pm last night.
He must have done that between the first and second periods because Brian Boyle was supposed to be the first intermission guest on radio, but he did not show up.
One quick aside about Torts and his “press conferences” (if you can call them that). The media is like a starving dog that finds a bone. They are all over his case like white on rice. Okay, I promise, no more clichés.
We get the idea that the media is pissed off that Tortorella is acting like a jerk at press conferences. No one says he has to give away state secrets, but he could be more professional. With that said, the media’s response is almost as bad as the coach’s behavior.
There is a large group in the media who are acting more like whiney kids then professional journalists. You can see a sampling of the media’s whining by reading Adam Rotter’s SNY Blog post .
The problem is there are those in the media who break out in cold sweats during the middle of the night if they have to write a story without getting quotes from the coach. Let the media walk out on the Torts press conference. Guess what, he would love it. For all the grief Tortorella gets, the media needs to look inward.
No one comments when they ask dopey questions like “Why did you call that timeout” after the Rangers ice the puck after being pinned in their zone for a couple of minutes. That has happened in each of the last two series with veteran reporters asking the question.
Earlier in the playoffs someone asked him why he only had one assistant behind the bench. Combine these questions with the fines he has racked up, can you blame him for being curt with the media?
As a result, outside of the Tortorella quote written above, you are going to find no comments from either coach and I bet I won’t have a problem writing a recap of this game. Mind you, I am writing as I go, so it’s not as if I wrote the article and then placed this paragraph in as an afterthought.
One of the very first notes I wrote down last night was how the Rangers needed to a better job of getting the puck out of the zone on battles along the boards near the blue line. The Devils were being much tougher on the puck and outworking the Rangers – something is always a bad omen for the Blueshirts.
The Devils first two goals came indirectly (Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal) and directly (Ryan Carter’s goal) as the result of the Rangers not winning those board battles near the blue line.
Kovalchuk’s goal came with Boyle in the penalty box for slashing, which came after the Rangers were unable to clear the puck out of the zone. The Devils sniper found himself alone as the Rangers defense was slow to rotate as the Devils moved the puck.
As for Carter’s goal, we all saw the mistakes that Marian Gaborik made. After failing to get the puck out of the zone at the blue line, he half-assed a shot block attempt that led to Carter’s deflection in front. Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News referred to it Gaborik’s “flamingo” attempt to block a shot (one leg in the air). If Gaborik goes hard at the defense and block the shot, the Rangers could have had a breakaway.
Should Tortorella have benched Gaborik? Yes, he should have. Should he have get on the bench as long as he did and at the end of the game? No, but Tortorella has shown that if you don’t give an effort on defense you aren’t going to get ice time.
It’s not as if Tortorella hasn’t benched Gaborik in a must-win situation. As Kenny Albert pointed out, Torts benched Gaborik in Game 81 last year against Atlanta.
The question I had at the time was how would the Rangers bounce back after the Carter goal. All season long, the Rangers have shown an ability to be resilient. Last night, that resiliency was just not there.
Albert and Dave Maloney made a point that Stu Bickel saw ice time in the third period ahead of Gaborik – and that might have cost the Rangers a chance at the game.
Bickel chases Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky behind the Rangers net and all the way up to the left wing half-boards. I am not saying that is the wrong play because I don’t know how the coaching staff wants him to handle that play, but I would rather see Bickel turn the Zidlicky check off to a forward while Stu gets back into position.
Even with that said, no forward covered for Bickel and David Clarkson was left alone in front for the game-winning goal. Talk about being a clutch player, Clarkson has three goals in the playoffs – all of the winners. Give him credit, you might not like the way he plays but he has transformed himself from a tough guy into a valuable power forward.
“Mr. Clutch? I don’t know about that,” Clarkson told Ira Podell of the Associated Press. “I’m going to skate up and down and finish the checks and just bounce off people. It’s just a great feeling to be able to contribute. To get a tip on that felt pretty good.”
“That team blocks so many shots,” Clarkson continued. “It’s unbelievable how many. I think we found a way to shoot it and get sticks on it, and definitely that was big for us.”
Credit also goes to Chris Kreider who continues to show glimpses of being a special player once he matures an NHL player. Not only is the talent there, but you see that he has a sense for the game and knows what needs to be done. Yes, he is going to make mistakes, but the key is to learn from them.
With Game 2 in the books, the Rangers must learn a couple of hard lessons as they head into Game 3 on Saturday afternoon. First off, if they are not prepared to match the Devils urgency, intensity and passion, then they are going to be in for a long day at The Rock.
The Blueshirts have to match the relentless forecheck the Devils showed in the first and third periods last night in order to pressure the Devils defense corps.
While much has been made about the Rangers blocking shots, they are going to work harder at clearing the Devils forwards away from the top of the crease. New Jersey’s last two goals both came off of deflections.
The Rangers also want to pay attention to Devils strategy of working the puck down low and using cross-ice passes as a way to beat the Rangers shot blocking.
They must learn that the first goal is more valuable than gold. In the Rangers last 10 games, the team that has scored first has won the game. The first goal gets magnified even more when you realize that 13 of the Rangers 16 games have been one-goal or one-goal plus empty net goal games. Interestingly enough, the only games that were not those type of games were their Game 1 victories.
I would like to see them try more wraparound shots on Martin Brodeur. As solid as Marty was last night, Ryan McDonagh had him beat on a wraparound only to hit the post and Brandon Prust came close on the third period. At the same time, they also might want to positions a forward in the high slot and look to feed him for a one-timer as they walk out from behind the net.
My final piece of advice for the Rangers is to heed the words of another anonymous quote. “Opportunities are never lost; someone will take the one you miss.”
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