Mon 5 May 2008
Before we address the officiating and its role in the postmortem for Game 5, there are some things we need to address about the Rangers-Penguins series Ã¢â‚¬â€œ things which even extended into the Devils series.
First and foremost, the history of this series was written in the 14 seconds it took for the Rangers to implode as a three-goal lead evolved into a precarious 3-2 lead in the second period of the first game. This turning point was not lost on Jaromir Jagr.
“I think we lost the series in the first two games, especially the first game,” the Rangers captain told Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “If we had won the first game it would be totally different, but that didn’t happen.”
There is no telling how the series would have played out if the Rangers would have handed Pittsburgh its first home loss since February 24.
Of course, the Rangers could very easily have pulled out Game 1 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or any of their losses in the playoffs Ã¢â‚¬â€œ had their power play not devolved into a way of killing two minutes off the clock. The stark contrast between the Rangers power play and the Penguins power play spoke volumes of how the series developed.
Whereas the Rangers were content to play a stagnant perimeter game, Pittsburgh featured a power play of movement Ã¢â‚¬â€œ both of players and the puck. As a result, where Ranger passes and shots found Penguin sticks, skates and bodies, Pittsburgh shots and passes found net.
Following Game 4, Butch Goring made the following prediction for SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the Rangers win the special team battle, they will win the game.Ã¢â‚¬Â Obviously, the Rangers did not win that battle and it was no mere coincidence that the only time the Rangers did win the special team penalty was in the only game they won in the series.
The Blueshirts were done in by their own shaky hands in the defensive zone. Far too many times there were unforced turnovers, which was matched by the too numerous times they were unable to clear the zone. Pittsburgh capitalized on this exact problem prior to scoring their first goal on Sunday. The Ranger forwards looked to break out of the zone rather than stay back and make sure the puck was cleared.
While the Rangers struggled to get offense, they did have opportunities that never came to fruition because they passed up shots (Marc Staal in overtime), missed the net (Fedor Tyutin with five minutes left in regulation), fanned on shots (Martin Straka on a few occasions), or they were just unable to get a handle on the puck (Nigel Dawes at the end of the first period).
Another disturbing trend was the Rangers inability to find a consistent sense of urgency in the series in the playoffs. It is a sad statement that the Rangers waited 40 minutes before they realized they need to play as if their season was on the line Ã¢â‚¬â€œ because it was. The Blueshirts inability to get anything going in overtime (save for StaalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inexplicable decision to pass rather than shoot) can be attributed to trying to regain their wits after killing off the nearly three minutes of carry over penalty killing.
Now we can address the officiating. First off, the referees made the right call in assessing a four-minute high sticking minor to Chris Drury. It is the right call no matter what point of the game it is. With that said, there is positively no excuse for two non-entities like Marc Joanette and Brad Watson to miss the obvious high sticking on Drury in the second period. How ironic was it that the Penguin involved in both cases was Ryan Malone.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That was ironic idiocy,Ã¢â‚¬Â Stan Fischler said of the call on Drury and non-call on Malone.
With four officials on the ice, there is no excuse for Malone not being hit with a four-minute minor of his own Ã¢â‚¬â€œ especially when you factor in that the penalty happened in front of the Rangers not. If it had happened behind the play, there might be a slim excuse for missing it. Of course, the non-call was further magnified when Jagr was called for a borderline penalty against Malone. The result was a six minute swing in power play that helped the Penguins dominate the second period.
I will not delve too deeply into the game-winning goal being offside because those things do happen Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even though one of the NBC color analysts did mention they thought the play was offside Ã¢â‚¬â€œ an opinion echoed by Tom Renney in the post-game remarks. Actually, Renney said a lot about the officiating without saying much.
The following paragraph is from Dubi Silverstein and his Blueshirt Bulletin blog.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ã¢â‚¬ËœYesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Renney when asked if he thought the winning play was offside. No more, no less. Later, when asked about the high stick Drury took that was not penalized, he said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœThere’s been on thing consistent. Night after night, different coaches, different teams are wondering about calls or non-calls. Maybe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a backhanded testimony to the speed of the game and the talent of the people playing it.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Maybe that’s a backhanded way of saying that the officials are too visible influencing the outcomes of games.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In the end, it is easy to blame the officials when your team doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t win Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and yes the officials do deserve their shame of blame. However, there is also another group that deserves Ã¢â‚¬Å“blameÃ¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the Pittsburgh Penguins.
You must give credit to Michel Therrien and his Penguins. Therrien taught a young Pens team that there is more to hockey than just scoring goals. They maintained their focus and concentrated on tightening up the defense when they had to and putting the puck in the net when they got the chances. The Penguins seem to be able to find their way to the majority of loose pucks. As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs earlier, the Pens did a superb job of getting their sticks on Ranger shots and passes.
Everything the Rangers did right against the Devils they did wrong against the Penguins. Pittsburgh capitalized on almost every big Ranger mistake. In other words, just as the Rangers out-deviled the Devils, the Penguins are out-rangered the Rangers.
In the end, the Rangers did not get big games out of their big players Ã¢â‚¬â€œ save for Henrik Lundqvist. In truth, save is the perfect word for the King. Outside of a poor third game, Lundqvist did all he could to keep the Rangers in the series. Had his teammates matched LundqvistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s desire and focus, the series would have played far differently.
While Sidney Crosby did not score any goals in the series, his presence was enough to open the ice for the likes of Marian Hossa to shine. While lucky to not draw more ire from the NHL for his Game 4 slew-foots, Evgeni Malkin proved that he might be the best player the Penguins have.
Conversely, the Rangers did not get a big effort from the likes of Jagr, Drury, Scott Gomez, Michael Rozsival and Brendan Shanahan in the final game. While it is great to see kids like Dawes and Lauri Korpikoski step up in the big game, it is more of an indictment of your veterans than it is a praise of your youngsters.
ShanahanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s post-game comments, following what could be the last game of a Hall of Fame career, pretty much summed up the feelings of Ranger Nation.
“The organization was filled with hope, and with the things we did in the offseason, our expectations were high,” Shanahan explained to Sam Weinman of the Journal News. “Because of that, it’s a disappointing finish.”
As the Rangers head into an early summer vacation, the Rangers organization faces many decisions in relations to free agents and returning players.
It is a subject that I will save for the coming days because I just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the heart or the energy to delve into the subject. You would think that after some 37 plus years of being a Ranger fan that I would be used to disappointment, but I am not. It is just another year where I am left wondering what might have been as the words of Sam Rosen echo in my mind and heart Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and not in a good way.
This one last a lifetime as well.