2012 Playoffs

This is why the New York Rangers fought so hard to secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference. While home ice advantage has been anything but in this series, there is no other placed I want Game 7 to be played other than Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers are just 3-5 in seventh and deciding games in their history. However, all three of those wins have come at the Garden: 1992 and 1994 against the New Jersey Devils and 1994 against the Vancouver Canucks.

Don LaGreca of 1050 ESPN radio brought up and interesting stat during the Michael Kay show. Prior to Game 6, the Rangers scored only five goals in four games. According to LaGreca that only happened once during any four-game stretch – in mid-January when the Rangers beat Phoenix 2-1 in a shootout, lost to Ottawa 3-0, beat Toronto 3-0, and then lost a 4-1 game to Montreal.

The Blueshirts Game 6 victory was not without its controversy, horrible officiating and potential Ranger injury concern.

Andrew Gross of The (Bergen) Record wrote, “The biggest concern for the Rangers might be the health of Captain Ryan Callahan. Callahan did not miss a third-period shift in playing 24:28 but he appeared to have injured his middle finger blocking Chris Phillips’ shot at 3:00 of the third period while on the ice as a penalty killer.”

“Trainer Jim Ramsey examined the finger on the bench and Callahan, who was credited with six hits and three blocked shots, was not available to the media after the game.”

Odds are, short of amputation, the Captain will be in the lineup. The question will be how effective can he be.

As for the controversy and horrible officiating, where shall we start?

Both teams have reasons for being displeased with the tandem of Steve Kozari and Tim Peel – something I warned about in yesterday’s Chris Neil article.

I can understand trying to get control of the game early, but to call a ticky-tack roughing call on Mike Rupp is beyond belief – especially when he is matched up with Zenon Konopka as opposed to Jason Spezza.

A couple of minutes after the Rupp penalty, that jackwagon Neil gets away with tripping Brad Richards.

Ottawa fans should be upset at the goalie interference call on Nick Foligno because Dan Girardi did push him into Lundqvist. However, Foligno got away with a slew foot-like trip on Lundqvist earlier in the period and the goalie interference goal on Chris Kreider was a joke because Craig Anderson turned his body into Kreider to initiate the contact.

I guess we really should start, and probably end, with the goal Ottawa scored in the final minute – the one that is probably going to cost Henrik Lundqvist a few fishnagels give The King’s Post-game comments.

“Oh my God, it scares me, ” Lundqvist lamented. “When it’s such an obvious play, goalie interference and a kick, and they still call it a goal, it scares me that someone can call that. It’s just unbelievable. It still upsets me. We have this game and they get a chance. Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there’s no other explanation.”

I really hate to give any credence to conspiracy theories, but if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it must be Aflac.

When you factor in the Carl Hagelin suspension, the lack of any disciplinary action taken by Brendan Shanahan (more on him later) on the Chris Neil hit on Brian Boyle, and then you toss in the Senators second goal, it gets difficult to remain neutral in the conspiracy theory debate.

Credit is due to NBC analyst Brian Hayward who jumped all over the interference portion of the sham goal. As Hayward pointed out during the game, if Neil’s kicking motion causes Lundqvist’s stick to knock the puck into the net, the goal must be waved off.

Taking it one step further it is hard to believe that four officials did not see what Greg Wyshynski (Yahoo’s Puck Daddy) termed “Chris Neil using Lundqvist as a Swifter” as Neil harpooned the Rangers goaltender during the scramble.

Isn’t interesting that the second Senators goal was credited to Spezza as opposed to Neil? Then again, if they credited the goal to Neil they couldn’t defend the odious “inconclusive” call on Neil’s distinct kicking motion.

Why would the NHL want its biggest market out of the playoffs in favor of a small Canadian market? I am not so sure they do, but there is also a groundswell to keep Canada’s lone team alive given that a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993.

Given the inconsistent and haphazard nature of the officiating and the rulings coming out of the NHL, the Blueshirts would be wise to make sure Game 7 doesn’t come done to one play, penalty call or video review.

Speaking of video reviews, Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post made an interesting observation stemming from the controversial goal.

Senators’ first-line winger Milan Michalek may be facing a suspension for Game 7 as a result of kicking Dan Girardi twice in the midsection with his skate blade, ” Cyrgalis writes. “The play was part of the scrum in front of Lundqvist that resulted in the second goal, and Canadian television outlet CBC has numerous angles of the altercation.”

Sadly, if you think any suspension is forthcoming then I still have that bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

Setting aside the shanahanigans that arose out of Game 6, there were plenty of positives points. First, and most importantly, we saw the coming of age part for Chris Kreider. The rookie from Boston College is growing in confidence and is showing why President/GM Glen Sather refused to consider including him in any trade talks for Rick Nash.

While Derek Stepan is a “grizzled veteran” when compared to Kreider, the Wisconsin Badger hit the scoresheet in a big way registering his first three playoff points of his career.

Give credit to Brandon Prust who managed to finally “goad” Neil into a fight. While Neil might have won the fight and whipped up the Scotiabank Place crowd, Prust’s actions stirred on his team and did quiet Neil down for a period or so.

“Prustie does it for us all year, but what he did for us tonight was unbelievable, ” Richards admitted to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “We didn’t want to let him down. We talked about it [after the first period]. I love the guy.”

For his part, Prust knew exactly what he was doing.

“We were down 1-0, ” said Prust commented to Newsday’s Steve Zipay. “Whenever I’m fighting, it’s usually not for me, it’s to get the guys going. I think most of it’s just trying to get the guys going, to get a little spark, a little jump…maybe a little bit for Boyler, too.”

Speaking of Richards, he stepped up his play as he orchestrated both of the Rangers power play goals while finishing second in ice time among the team’s forwards.
Brandon Dubinsky stepped up and filled in admirably for Boyle and was the best center on faceoffs – winning 52%.

Carl Hagelin showed just how much his speed was missed during the game. His second period forecheck with Ruslan Fedotenko drew the first of the two Senator penalties that lead to the five-on-three advantage.

“[Hagelin] adds speed and I think he makes everybody else play quicker, ” Coach John Tortorella stated prior to Game 6.

Michael Del Zotto deserves a pat on the back for hammering Neil behind the Rangers net with a little more than five minutes left in the third period. Neil stayed down long enough for play to be whistled dead.

Neil’s response. “I’m sure I will catch him with his head down, ” Neil confessed to Garrioch.

Overall, the Rangers just played a smarter game – especially when they took the lead. Unlike previous games, the Blueshirts did not try to sit on the lead. Instead, they did look to add on to the lead. The only time they hunkered down was late in the third period when Ottawa finally played with the urgency that their coach Paul MacLean thought they lacked.

“I didn’t think we played very well or consistently until the last six minutes of the game, ” MacLean told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun. “I’d like to see us play harder.”

As promised, we now we revisit Brendan Shanahan one more time. My wife Roe was a huge fan of Shanny when he was a Ranger. One of her prized possessions was a Rangers tee shirt with his name and number on it – key word WAS.

To say she was a bit upset over his lack of disciplinary action against Chris Neil would be a major understatement. After Ottawa took the lead, she got up and grabbed her Shanahan tee shirt.

As the first period continued, she calmly and methodically took a pair of scissors and cut the thing into neat and measured shreds. First went the sleeves and then rest of the shirt, including his name and number. The only thing she did not cut up was the “Rangers” on the front.

She then sat down and wrote him a letter expressing her displeasure over his job as NHL Director of Player Safety. She also explained that she was mailing him back his tee shirt because he does not deserve to wear it.

Okay, truth be told, when I am the sane Ranger fan in the house – Houston, we have a problem!

As a result, you can see why the Rangers have to win Game 7 and vanquish the Ottawa Senators. Not so much for Roe’s sanity, but for my safety. Needless to say, I will be sleeping with my goalie equipment to protect me from Lorena, I mean, Roe. :-)

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I suppose that NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan’s arms were too sore from patting himself on the back for imposing a 25-game suspension to Raffi Torres for him to issue a disciplinary hearing for Chris Neil’s hit on Brian Boyle during Game 5.

There really is no other reason for Neil not to face some disciplinary action because his hit on Boyle met the three basic points that Shanahan has used when suspending players this season – including the Rangers very own Carl Hagelin.

Despite what Neil apologists have written on the Internet, he did target Boyle’s head as the primary point of contact, the hit is delivered from Boyle’s blindside, and most damaging is the player was injured as a result of the hit.

While we can’t always determine a player’s mindset in terms on intent (although Shanahan did in reference to the Hagelin hit), if you think Neil wasn’t targeting Boyle then do I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. It is no bit of irony that Neil drops the hammer on the same player that Matt Carkner jumped at the start of Game 2 as retaliation for Boyle’s jabs at Erik Karlsson.

Some have said that the fast-paced nature of the game at that point would not lend itself to Neil being able to zero in on Boyle – despite the fact that at 6-foot-7 he is the tallest player on the ice who was not on the Senators bench dressed as the backup goaltender (Ben Bishop).

Neil’s defenders point out that the Ottawa tough guy has never been suspended for any on-ice transgression. Well, prior to his hit on Daniel Alfredsson, neither had Hagelin. While we are it, neither has Sean Avery. How many games do you think Avery gets if he delivers the same hit to Kyle Turris?

For his part, Neil claims his hit was legal – much like he did back in February 2003 when he knocked the Buffalo Sabres co-captain Chris Drury out of game. Here is how Buffalo Coach described the play.

“It was a predator-type of hit where Chris was vulnerable, ” Ruff told CBC sports. “Neil went out of his way to deliver a blow to Chris’ head.

“It was a deliberate attempt to put somebody out.”

Drury suffered a concussion and missed four games, to go along with a 20-stitch cut to his forehead that occurred when his head hit the ice.

So before everyone points out that Neil has never been “suspended” for this type of play, he has been “involved” in it. Writers might want to ask Martin Biron about it because he was one of three players (teammate Andrew Peters and Ottawa goalie Ray Emery were the others) who were suspended as a result of the ensuing brawl that saw 110 PIMs handed out.

Fortunately for the Rangers, they have a history of dealing with concussions. The last thing any competent organization would want to do is force a concussed player to fly after suffering his injury and then let the player on the ice less than 48 hours after suffering what is termed as a concussion.

You have to give Shanahan credit for one thing; he could have had a sham “hearing” where he pointed his finger at Neil while making the Ottawa winger promise never to do it again.

If he wanted to truly heartless, he could have nailed Neil with one of his patented $2, 500 fines. Oops, I forgot, those are saved for superstar defensemen who attempt to inject a little WWE action into the NHL.

I know there are some who are saying that as a Rangers blogger I am biased. To those people I say you might be right. That is why I am asking for some consistency when it comes to disciplinary actions. Rangers Coach John Tortorella was correct when he called the play “a dangerous, dangerous, cheap hit”, but he was way off base when he compared it to the one Torres delivered to Marian Hossa. To call for, or even expect, a 25-game suspension is ludicrous.

With that said, there are others who have no horse in this race who are just as perplexed that Neil escaped any disciplinary actions. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star is one writer who finds Shanny’s actions, or lack thereof, quite puzzling.

“It seems unthinkable, given all the circumstances, that Shanahan would now, after laying down the law so heavily on Torres, permit Neil to walk away unpunished for his head shot on Boyle, a hit that certainly appeared to break Rule 48. Consistency is what hockey fans seem to want, and there can be no consistency when one player – a multiple offender – is getting 25 games for a head shot while another gets nothing for a head shot of his own. Yes, Neil would at least in theory be a first time offender; then again, so was Hagelin, ” Cox wrote on April 22, 2012.

“Any reasonable person would suggest Neil should at least get one game; reports that Boyle’s head was not the principle point of contact are laughable.”

As to addressing the old adage that Boyle needed to keep his head, Cox provides a telling quote from a former NHL player.

“Not sure how we teach our players to look at the net, shoot the puck and then check out the danger at 45, 90 and 180 degrees in one motion, ” Cox quotes a disgusted former NHLer this morning. “We cannot just say the game is hard and concussions happen. It’s not right.”

As we look ahead to Game 6, Alfredsson and Neil will hailed as conquering heroes at the Scotiabank Place while Hagelin will sure to draw the boos usually reserved for Sidney Crosby at Madison Square Garden.

While Ranger fans hope that Hagelin’s return to the lineup is the tonic for the offensive malaise that his hit Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, it is my hope that Hagelin makes it through the game in one piece.

With Steve Kozari and Tim Peel set as the referees, it might be a long night for the Blueshirt faithful.

We’ve already witnessed Ottawa’s thirst for frontier justice when Carkner jumped Boyle in Game 2 and then again with Neil’s predatory hit on Boyle in Game 5. Is there any Ranger fan out there who does not believe for one second that one of those knuckle-dragging guttersnipe Senators (i.e. Neil, Carkner or Zenon Konopka) aren’t going to take runs at Hagelin?

And when they do, you can bet that Shanahan will have their back much like he had Neil’s following Saturday night’s game.

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At the start of the playoffs, all Ranger fans would agree that for the Blueshirts to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist would have to be the best goaltender on the ice in any given game. While Lundqvist was good in Game 5, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson was even better as he stopped all 41 shots he faced in posting his second career playoff shutout.

While the Rangers had lots of chances to get on the scoreboard, Anderson has now stopped the last 65 shots the Rangers have taken going bacl to early in the first period of Game 4.

Truth be told, Game 5 might have been the Rangers best game of the series as it came the closest to being a full 60 minute effort. This game should probably have been the third to go to overtime had John Mitchell not messed up his assignment on the Senators first goal.

Rather than stay with his man, Jason Spezza, Mitchell peeled off to check rookie Mark Stone (who was making his professional debut) – even though Ryan McDonagh had Stone contained. With Mitchell losing his check, Spezza was home free to notch his first playoff goal in his last 19 games.

After being called by Coach Paul MacLean, Spezza responded with two goals and six shots after being held without a shot in Game 4.

It is no coincidence that Ottawa has one the last two games as their two best players have ended up on the scoresheet – Spezza with his two goals tonight and Milan Michalek with the first goal in Game 4.

Conversely, the Blueshirts are waiting for Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to break free and score goals – something they have not done since Game 1. Discounting his horrendous pass/turnover that turned into Spezza’s empty net goal, Gaborik was engaged during the game and showed some good jump and showed a willingness to play a physical game.

It will be interesting to see how the Chris Neil Affair will play out. Boyle has a concussion and is out indefinitely. Following the game, Coach John Tortorella called it “dirty” and “cheap” and likened the hit tp the one Raffi Torres delivered to Marian Hossa and cost Torres as 25-game suspension. Let us not forget that Neil delievered a borderling knee-to-knee hit to Ruslan Fedotenko prior to Neil’s headhunting hit on Boyle.

Arthur Staple of Newsday tweeted the following quite from Neil, “The hit was clean… When you’re cutting thru the middle with your head down, you’ve got to expect to be hit.”

That would be true had Neil not cut across and led with his shoulder and nailing Boyle in the head.

Either way, the ball is now in Brendan Shanahan’s court.

If Carl Hagelin received a three-game suspension for what was termed a “premeditated” play, then Neil deserves the same suspension. Neil made Boyle’s head the primary point of contact and the hit came from the blind side – the exact two things the NHL is SUPPOSEDLY trying to legislate out of the game

The Rangers have shown the ability to bounce back from adversity all season long, a point that Brandon Dubinsky ame following the game.

“We have to try to find a way to it the hard way, ” Dubinsky explained. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to make sure we’re focused on one 60-minute game of hockey. This team has been really good all year rebounding from tough hockey games like this.”

The road the Rangers face is not an easy one come Monday night. In 22 previous best-of-seven series that were tied at two games apiece, the team that won Game 5 went on to win the series 91% of the time. One notable excception was the 1994 Rangers who lost Game 5 to the New Jersey Devils in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

On the plus side for the Rangers, they re not that far off. Their defense and penalty killing ar e at the top of their games. The Blueshirts must find a way to solve Anderson. During the post-game show on MSG Network, Billy Jaffe offered an interesting take on the Rangers offensive production tonight.

While Jaffe did concede the Rangers did a good jon of getting some traffic in fron of the Ottawa netminder, he noticed that most of the shots were “straight on”. Jaffe urged the Rangers to try and get Anderson to move more, especoially side-to-side as they attack. That would open up the Rangers for more rebound opportunities and leave Anderson, at times, at a disadvantage positionally on the? rebounds.

As for the power play, Torts needs to make them watch the first two power plays from Game 4 and them contrast them with the subsequent nine man advantages so the team can notice how they jus stopped shooting the puck. The Senators have become more aggressive in the penalty killing so the Rangers need to make on or two passes to get the Senators penalty killers moving and then start firing shots on goal – with as much traffic as Ottawa is throwing at Lundqvist.

The one part of their game that is not going to get better at any point during the playoffs is their faceoff percentage – especially now that Boyle is out of the lineup. What the Ranegrs need to do is work even harder on the assignments after the faceoff is lost. That means going as hard as possible to the point of they lose defensive zone draws, and it means getting inhard on the forecheck if they lose offensive zone draws.

The Rangers can no longer view this as best-of-seven series. They must look at Monday’s game as the seventh and deciding game. whatever it takes to beat the Ottawa Senators must be done.

We can expect that the Hagelin, Gaborik and Richards line will be reunited. If I were the coach, I would put Chris Kreider with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan and roll the dice that Kreider is ready to translate his collegiate success into NHL success. You can team Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Fedotenko as a third line with Michael Rupp, John Mitchell and Brandon Prust as the fourth line. Depending on the tenor of the game, I might flip[ Fedotenko and Prust.

I might even dress Steve Eminger for Stu Bickel looking to get a little more experience and a little more offense from the blueliners.

Above all, it doesn’t matter what the lines are or what the defensive pairing are, the bottom line is that Monday night’s game is one where the Blueshirts best players have to be their best players. Secondary scoring and contributions will be greatly appreciated, but the Rangers must rely on their to find a way to bring the series back to the Garden on Thursday night.

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To paraphrase, and expound upon, noted philosopher George Santayana, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it – that is until the Rangers repeat enough of their mistakes to lose their series to the Senators.”

It is puzzling hot a team that made its bones during the regular season by playing disciplined hockey can become so undisciplined that are making the same mistakes from game-to-game and within games.

One could say that since it is the playoffs, the competition is much better. That might be the case, but I think the root of the problem might stem from the increased stakes at hand.

During the grind of an 82-game schedule, it is easy to see how an opponent could become frustrated by the Rangers style of play – almost to the point of exasperation. However, come playoff time every game takes on added importance which forces an opponent to bear down and focus and overcome the frustration and exasperation.

Of course, the Rangers inability to put away Ottawa has become the biggest repeated mistake the Blueshirts are making. At a time when they should keep their foot on the gas pedal, within moderation, they are letting up on the gas and easing the seat back.

It was somewhat understandable in Game 2 because the Rangers were hunkering down late in the third period to defend a one-goal lead. Game 4 was a different animal altogether because the Rangers seemed to expect two goals would be enough after Henrik Lundqvist shutout the Senators in Game 3.

The ironic thing is the game started out about as well it possibly could for the Rangers as they capitalized on their early power play chances as they were able to win faceoffs, maintain puck possession and do something they don’t do enough on the power play – SHOOT THE PUCK!

Just as quickly as the Rangers righted their power play, was just as fast they went back to their old ways and repeated past mistakes. The shots stopped coming and the Rangers spent more time fighting to hold the puck than they are attacking the Senators’ net.

Leave it to the Rangers to go against their own conventional wisdom come the playoffs. Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News posted an interesting fact on his Blog. The Rangers were 25-2-4 during the regular season when they scored power play goals. During the playoffs, the Rangers are 0-2 when they score a power play goal.

In the end it was an ineffective power play that paved the way for the Senators to open the scoring as the Rangers lost track of the penalty time remaining that led to Matt Carkner leaving the penalty box and keying an odd-man rush.

One mistake they kept making that didn’t cost them last night, but bears watching for the rest of the series, was the Rangers habit of looking to make cross-ice diagonal passes (especially on the power play). That type of pass is a recipe for intercepted passes and breakaways against.

The biggest Game 4 mistake cost the Rangers a pair of goals against – and eventually the game. The Rangers had defensemen caught deep on Ottawa’s first goal (Marc Staal) and game-winning goal (Ryan McDonagh).

Once the game went into overtime, one of the teams was going to end a negative streak. The Senators win ended a seven-game home playoff losing streak at the Scotiabank Place. The Rangers overtime loss is their seventh straight overtime loss in the playoffs.

The biggest concern so far is that the only time the Senators have led in this series is when they have scored their overtime goals. If the Rangers are unable to maintain the control of play when they have a 2-0 lead, how are they going to cope and respond if/when they fall behind?

Even with the two goal lead, the Rangers never seemed interested in putting that extra nail in the Senators’ coffin. Not only did the Blueshirts let Ottawa off the hook, they sat back and allowed the Sens to take control of the game – again.

The Rangers can’t be content to sit back in defensive postures as Ottawa piles up offensive zone time. The Rangers have been at their most effective in this series when they are able to maintain possession of the puck – an absolute muss if they want to keep the crease-crashing Sens out of Lundqvist’s way.

The best way to accomplish those tasks is for the Rangers to ramp up their forechecking, which should increase their offensive output while slowing down Ottawa. When the Rangers are aggressive on their forecheck, they win. When they aren’t, they lose.

When you factor in shots on goal, blocked shots and shots that go wide, the Senators out-chanced the Rangers 85 to 49. If you are wondering why the Rangers look so tired during stretches of the game, you need to look no further than that telling statistic. It also helps explain how, after scoring four goals in Game 1, the Blueshirts have managed to score just five goals in the next three games.

Looking forward, the Rangers have to realize that they need to play with a sense of urgency for 60 minutes, or longer, if a game happens to go into overtime.

They also need to get more offense from their star players – especially during five-on-five play. While Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards did rack up a pair of assists in Game 4, they are not producing enough offense in terms of goals.

Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky must take a page out of Brian Boyle’s playbook and elevate their offensive games. Both players have the ability to impose themselves more on the game.

After watching the way the Senators are congregating around Lundqvist, one has to wonder if the Rangers would have been better off with Dylan McIlrath making his NHL debut in the playoffs.

Given the way the referees clamped down during Game 4, both teams can expect the same treatment for the rest of the series. As a result, special teams’ play just got exponentially more important.

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True poetic justice would have seen rookie Chris Kreider score the lone goal in the New York Rangers 1-0 win in Game 3 as the replacement for the suspended Carl Hagelin. Well, the fickle finger of fate had the right school (Boston College) but the wrong eagle (Brian Boyle).

While Boyle provided the game’s only offense, it was The King who shined brightest among the Blueshirts. Henrik Lundqvist made 39 saves in posting his fourth career shutout, but none were bigger than the ones he made in the final minute. After stopping a sharp angle shot from the left wing corner, Lundqvist stoned Kyle Turris in front to preserve the victory.

There was some disappointment at not preserving the Game 1 shutout, but when you have a four goal lead in the third period it is always good to hold on to those shutouts when you really need them – like last night.

Fans have come to expect that type of dominating performance from Lundqvist. However, the same can’t be said about the roll Boyle is on. After struggling for most of the season to find his offensive game, Boyle is as hot as any player can be – scoring eight goals in his last 12 games, including one each playoff game.

Lundqvist is not surprised by Boyle’s run of offensive prowess.

“He’s doing all the things he’s been doing all year, but now he’s scoring some big goals or us, ” Lundqvist explained to Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun. “And I’m not surprised. He’s a really skilled player. He’s been really hot in practise the last few weeks. We need guys to step up right now, and he’s doing that.”

Boyler was quick to pay back Lundqvist’s praise.

“Once again, as has been the story all year, No. 30 back there, the guy was unbelievable, ” Boyle said to Dave Lozo of nhl.com. “He was the biggest difference, I think.”

Boyle is relishing his role as Ottawa‘s Public Enemy Number 2 (obviously, Hagelin takes the top spot).

“If I’m the villain to them that’s good, ” Boyle admitted to The Canadian Press. “If I knew (I would score this often) I probably would have tried to do it a lot earlier. It’s been fortunate bounces.”

Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti were spot on when they said that no player has stepped up their play like Boyle. In a way, that is placing the Rangers in a Catch-22 situation. On a team with the likes of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan, your best skater can’t be Brian Boyle. It is a recipe for a playoff upset.

Yes, the Rangers do need secondary scoring – a problem they encountered throughout the season. However, they need to see production from their primary scorers as well. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if a couple of secondary scorers (like Brandon Dubinsky) followed Boyle’s lead.

One of those potential secondary scorers could be Kreider. Fresh off winning his second NCAA championship in the three years, the young forward did not look out of place as he is the first rookie to make his NHL debut in the playoffs since Lauri Korpikoski did so in 2008. Of course, Korpikoski had the advantage of playing 162 AHL games before making his NHL debut.

Kreider saw just over 11 minutes of ice time before giving way to Derek Stepan midway through the third period. Coach John Tortorella wanted to let the youngster watch up close how the Blueshirts defended their lead.

You had to wonder if it was going to be another one of those nights where the bounces were not going to go the Rangers way, especially after watching the puck pinball in the crease with 11 minutes left in the second period. Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson and captain Jason Spezza combined to keep the puck out of the net.

Did anyone else wonder if that had been a Ranger skater scrambling to keep the puck out of the net that a penalty shot would have been called?

Perhaps Brendan Shanahan’s screwball logic when it comes to suspensions has me paranoid to the point of questioning every call and non-call. However, just because I am not paranoid does not necessarily mean people aren’t out to get the Rangers .

There is one glaring example that caught my attention. At least three times during the game, I heard a referee warn the Rangers to “watch the crease” and “stay out of the blue”. I never heard a referee offer the same warning to Ottawa – even after Zenon Konopka jabbed at Lundqvist. It was bad enough to warrant a response from Lundqvist who went after Konopka and then complained to the referee.

I know that Tortorella is persona non grata when it comes to the NHL and their “precious” officials, so it might be time for President/GM Glen Sather to come out of hiding and get in front of this “crease crashing” from the Senators because you can expect even more of it as the series progresses.

“We ran into a hot goaltender (Monday), ” Anderson told The Canadian Press. “We just have to find a way to get more traffic and put a couple by him.”

In addition to dealing with the onslaught of bodies in front of Lundqvist, the Rangers will need to stop being so tentative with the puck in their own end. With about eight minutes or so left in the third period, the Rangers ran into a stretch of play where they just could not bang the puck out of the zone and were getting badly outworked along the boards.

Speaking of the boards, the Rangers definitely want to be mindful of the lively boards and glass at Scotiabank Place. More Blueshirts need to follow Daniel Girardi’s lead (as he did on the lone goal) and fire pucks towards the net with the intent of utilizing indirect passes off the boards and playing the caroms and bounces into scoring chances.

Another key to Game 4 is making sure they are able to contain Erik Karlsson. The Senator blueliner had 10 shots and a goal in their Game 2 win while combining for eight shots in their two losses.

The Rangers have been up two games to one in a seven-game series 18 times in their history, posting a 13-5 series record.

By the way, thanks to my wife Roe for coming up with the “Boyler Maker” headline. Just goes to show, behind every good man is a better woman! :-)

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The New York Rangers sixth consecutive overtime playoff loss did not stem from any change in momentum as a result of Ottawa’s two third period goals in Game 1. It also did not stem from Matt Carkner’s Hanson Brotheresque imitation on Brian Boyle. Rather, the loss came because the Rangers did not manage to maintain puck possession and a couple of bounces went against them in the 3-2 loss last night.

“There’s always a natural tendency where you end up defending. I thought we could have made some plays to try and keep some puck possession, but that’s what happens when you get into a little bit of that, ” Rangers Coach John Tortorella said following the game. “I don’t think we’re that bad, it’s kind of a fluky goal that goes right through Marc (Staal), right through his legs and they bang it in. We were four minutes away from winning the hockey game and I still don’t think we played that poorly tonight, but I do think we need to continue to attack.”

Even the other two Senators goals came off bounces that went against the Rangers. Erik Karlsson’s bank shot that tied the game at 1-1 deflected off Michael Del Zotto and into the net. Ottawa’s winning goal also came off a fortuitous bounce after a shot from the point hit Ryan McDonagh and bounced right to Chris Neil.

A quick memo to the Blueshirts blueliners (especially Del Zotto) – nothing good ever happens when a defender is standing or skating through his own crease.

Bad bounces and possible momentum swings were not the story of this game. Instead, it is the way that the hatred between the two teams has been elevated exponentially.

At the start of the 3rd period, Joe Micheletti made a comment about how “tough” the game was. Honestly, Joe was downplaying the tone of the game. It was a chippy game that often turned downright dirty – a game just short of hand-to-hand combat.

And depending on how Brendan Shanahan handles the review of Game 2, Monday night’s game could turn into a WWE Battle Royale. It means nothing if Shanahan suspends Matt Carkner because he accomplished what he set out in Game 2. Quite frankly, if Shanny wanted to mete out punishment he would force Ottawa to dress Carkner and give him 20 minutes of ice time on defense.

Boyle addressed how he expects the intensity to pick up as the series continues.

“It’s going to get elevated every night, ” Boyle told the Associated Press. “We have to keep trying to raise our game, raise our level of intensity throughout. I am sure they are going to do the same.”

As an aside, you had to love the way radio color analyst Dave Maloney characterized the Senators’ opening salvo in Game 2. The former Ranger captain likened Carkner’s hit and subsequent mugging to old-time Philadelphia Flyers hockey. Maloney went even further by saying that Carkner had no business being dressed for a playoff game.

Carkner’s thuggery is not the only action that Shanahan has to review. You know that he will be taking a long hard look at Carl Hagelin’s hit on Daniel Alfredsson – especially in light of the Ottawa captain missing the rest of the game.

We have seen that Shanahan is more concerned with the injury status of the recipient as opposed to what the offender has done. The Ottawa press is anticipating a one or two game suspension while the New York media expects Shanahan deals out one of his $2, 500 fines to Hagelin.

My only question with the Hagelin-Alfredsson hit is why didn’t Ottawa draw a minor (or even a third-man in penalty ala Brandon Dubinsky) when two Senators went after Hagelin right after the hit?

Both Carkner and Hagelin have hearings scheduled for this afternoon. Tortorella didn’t think Hagelin deserved a suspension, but Torts said if Hagelin gets one then Chris Phillips deserves one for his high hit on Ryan Callahan.

The problem with handing out suspensions and seemingly basing them on injuries is that sometimes the only thing separating a player from getting a little banged up and suffering a serious injury is plain dumb luck or happenstance.

For example, Brooks Orpik drew no fine or suspension for his hit on Derek Stepan and the Rangers forward was lucky to have not suffered an injury.

Looking back at last night, the extent of Alfredsson’s injury was made worse because he suffered a concussion earlier in the season – thanks to former Ranger Wojtek Wolski.

The difference between the Stepan non-injury and Alfredsson’s injury was luck and happenstance. If a player deserves a suspension then he should get one whether the opponent is hurt of nor. You can base the length of the suspension on the result.

If Hagelin, or even Dubinsky for that matter, face disciplinary action then it could mean an early start to the Chris Kreider Era because the options are limited.

Unless Coach Tortorella wanted fight fire with fire, John Scott is not going to see any action in this series. Andre Deveaux could get the call if Torts wanted to add more muscle, but that would be a long shot.

The Blueshirts could dress a seventh defenseman and even move Stu Bickel up to play forward. But I doubt Steve Eminger is ready to play and I am not sure if it would be fair to expect Jeff Woywitka to give you any major minutes.

The pickings with the Connecticut Whale are slim. The three best options are Kris Newbury, Andreas Thuresson and Casey Wellman. All three are veterans of the Calder Cup Playoffs, but none of them have appeared in an NHL playoff game.

One other possibility would be to recall rookie center Jonathan Audy-Marchessault who turned an invitation to play in the Traverse City Tournament into a fine rookie season with the Whale as he scored 24 goals and 40 assists in 75 games. However, at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, the rookie would be an inviting target.

Odds are it would be best to give Kreider his first professional action. With Game 3 being played in Ottawa, the spotlight would be lessened as would some of the pressure. Tortorella could start him on the fourth line with Michael Rupp and John Mitchell with Brandon Prust moving up with Ruslan Fedotenko and Boyle. Dubinsky could be moved to the first line and given a chance to return to the lineup with a vengeance.

As a whole, the Rangers just need to remember the style of play that got them to the top of the Eastern Conference. They need to return to their tenacity of their Game 1 forecheck while making sure they play smartly in their own end.

During an interview on ESPN radio earlier on Saturday, Maloney warned to Rangers to not get caught running around in their zone when the Senators are working their own forecheck. Maloney advised the Rangers to hunker down and maintain their positions rather than risk being caught out of position.

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The New York Rangers found a solution to the “dreaded three-goal lead” curse – score another goal and stretch the lead to four goals. As a result, there was no repeat of Ottawa’s 4-3 come-from-behind shootout win. Instead, the Blueshirts finished off the Senators to take Game 1 of the First Round series.

Time for a “true confession” – how many flashbacked to that October 29 game when Brian Boyle extended the lead to 3-0? I have to admit that was the first thought that crossed my mind – especially considering my wife and I were at that game. My fears were eased once the Rangers managed to get through the rest of the second period with the 3-0 lead in tact.

I know some fans have expressed a concern that Ottawa’s two third period goals serve as a jumping point for a shift of momentum their way for Game 2. I do not see it that way.

It is far too early in the playoffs, and in this series, for two (more or less) meaningless goals to swing the momentum from game-to-game. Much like baseball has the cliché that momentum is only as good as your next game’ starting pitcher, hockey has a couple of corollaries to counteract the momentum theory.

In hockey, momentum is only has good as the play of your goaltender is at the top of that list.

In hockey, momentum swings are more common in-game than between games. Momentum can easily be derailed by a bad bounce, a chance deflection, or if you are the Pittsburgh Penguins, a missed call by an on-ice official.

Ottawa may very well win Game 2, but it will not be because of anything they did last night. It will stem from adjustments they make in between games. It will be interesting to see if one of Paul MacLean’s third period adjustments carries over to Saturday night.

Looking to change the momentum heading into the third period, MacLean rolled the dice and put his top three forwards on the same line (Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza). It did pay some dividends as that trio got the Senators on the scoreboard.

If MacLean keeps that threesome together, the Rangers game plan for Game 2 will be two-fold. Not only will they have to work hard to keep the top line from scoring, it will be even more imperative they make sure they shut down Ottawa’s secondary scoring.

Coach John Tortorella has to be happy with his team’s effort for most of the night. While Ottawa did carry the play and dictate the tempo at the start of the second period, the biggest concern should be the way the Blueshirts eased their foot off the gas pedal in the third period.

Much has been made of Tortorella’s timeout call in the second period as the Rangers were being pinned in the own end. Some likened it to the timeout called by Mike Keenan in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey in 1994. While both timeouts did serve to shift the momentum of the game, they are not the same.

What gets lost in Tort’s use of his timeout is that he called after an icing call to rest his weary skaters. It would have been interesting to see if he would have used his timeout if the team didn’t ice the puck? During the regular season, Tortorella was more likely to use his timeout following an icing call rather than as a means of shifting or even stemming momentum.

Whatever the reason, the timeout worked like a charm because the Rangers got back to playing Ranger hockey.

“That is the way we have to play to win, ” Ryan Callahan explained to the Associated Press. “We felt like we’ve been playing playoff hockey right through the season.

The Rangers pretty much followed their regular season blueprint for success to a “T” last night. They got Vezina Trophy style goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist when they needed it. Their big three (Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards) are chipped in with goals and they got some timely secondary scoring from Brian Boyle (who continues to be en fuego). As usual, the penalty killing was superb and even the power play showed some life. While they didn’t score with the man advantage, it was the power play’s momentum that led to Boyle’s eventual game-winning goal.

Despite all the things that went right last night, there were enough things that went wrong that will allow the coaching staff to keep the team focused and prevent over-confidence from seeping in.

On both Ottawa goals, the Rangers were guilty of undisciplined hockey. On the first goal, the Blueshirts inability to get the puck deep forced a turnover at the Senators blue line and paved the way for Alfredsson’s goal. On the second goal, Marc Staal pinched in the neutral zone and got caught – thus leading to Erik Condra’s goal.

Those two miscues and the Rangers tendency to late their opponent’s dictate the tempo at times should serve as practice fodder for today.

Much of the Rangers problem with other teams dictating tempo, and their struggles in the second period last night, stem from the way their forwards drop down low to try and clog the shooting lanes. As a result, teams are able to sustain their forecheck and offensive pressure by easily utilizing their defensemen at the point. With the likes of offensive d-men like Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar and Matt Gilroy; and wily veterans like Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips, the Rangers must be very wary of Ottawa’s point play.

However, all-in-all, it was a good night to be a Ranger fan. The Blueshirts series opening win helped allay some of the concerns over Ottawa’s success at Madison Square Garden and it provided the first glimpse that Craig Anderson is beatable after all. Prior to last night, the Ottawa netminder was 6-0 with a 1.13 goals against average against the Rangers.

As Ranger fans breathe a sigh of relief over winning Game 1 and not having to play on Friday the 13th, it also a time for Blueshirt fans to reflect back and celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in – wait for it – 1940. Talk about a championship having to last a lifetime.

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April is the time when 16 fan bases start pouring over trends and stats in an attempt to plot out their road to a Stanley Cup victory – including growing the omnipresent playoff beard. The remaining 14 fan bases look ahead to the NHL Draft and wait for their fellow fans teams fall out of the playoffs.

For the New York Rangers and their fans it is time for them to file away the 2011-2012 regular season – from the opening games in Europe, the road trip from hell to the start the season, through the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference championships and beyond the losses to Pittsburgh and Washington to close out the 82-game playoff warmup.

The only thing that matters from the regular season is that the Rangers earned the right to home ice advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs and beyond should the Vancouver Canucks miss the Stanley Cup Finals.

Some people tend to play down home ice advantage, but I am not one of them. If I have to play a seventh and deciding game then I want it played at Madison Square Garden. Looking ahead at the Rangers road to the Stanley Cup Finals, they are going to need that advantage at some point in the playoffs.

The same people who say home ice advantage is overrated are probably the same people who were looking ahead to a first round playoff matchup with the Capitals, Panthers or Sabres. Imagine their surprise when the Ottawa Senators ended up as the eighth seed.

Given all of the possible matchups, the hockey gods did the Rangers no favors by making the Senators the first step on the road to the Stanley Cup. Set aside the fact that the Senators won three of the four games (one in a shootout where the Rangers blew a three goal third period lead) this season. The strange truth is Ottawa might be the one team in the NHL that would relish playing a seventh game at the Garden.

Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun posted some very interesting numbers in games between the Rangers and Senators. Since joining the NHL, Ottawa is 23-13-0-1 at MSG and that includes an 11-2 record since the Lockout and 14 out of the last 17.

Conversely, the Senators are just 15-18-3 at home against the Rangers during the same time period.

Brennan also points out that Ottawa was a better road team (21-14-6) than a home team this year (20-17-4). In terms of the 16 playoff teams, Ottawa is the worst home team while placing 6 in road points.

As if history wasn’t enough to cause the Rangers some concern, a couple of omens loom against the Rangers. While Sports Illustrated picked the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup, their April 16, 2012 cover features Henrik Lundqvist with the caption “Who Will Stop the Penguins? (This Guy Might)”.

Lundqvist, who is on the cover of the East Coast version of the magazine (Masters’ champion Bubba Watson is on the cover of the West Coast version, is the first Ranger to grace a Sports Illustrated cover in almost 13 years. Wayne Gretzky graced the cover of the April 26, 1999 edition in honor of his retirement.

As if battling the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx wasn’t bad enough, but Larry Brooks of the NY Post picks the Rangers to be celebrating with a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in June.

The Rangers main goal against Ottawa is to find a way to neutralize their top offensive weapons. Linemates Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek struck for four goals and an assists in the season series and Erik Karlsson, the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy, added five assists. The 6-foot and 180 Karlsson finished 11th in scoring this season with 19 goals and 59 assists – leading all defensemen in goals, assists and points.

In order to neutralize Ottawa’s Big Three, the Rangers must find a way to neutralize the Senators speed and finesse game. The best way to accomplish this task is to ratchet up their forechecking and taking every chance they have to put a body on Karlsson – especially in his defensive zone.
You can pull out all of the usual clichés, but the bottom line is that the Black-and-Blueshirts are going to have play lunch pail hockey in this series.

On the offensive end, the Blueshirts leaned on a Big Three of their own in the series against Ottawa. Brad Richards paced the way with two goals and two assists, Marian Gaborik scored three goals and Ryan Callahan chipped in a pair of goals as well. Derek Stepan matched Gaborik’s three points with a goal and two assists.

However, the Rangers have been at their best when they are getting secondary scoring. Brian Boyle elevated his play down the stretch of the regular season and the team will need veterans Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko to do the same, while rookie Carl Hagelin channels his collegiate playoff experience while at the University of Michigan.

Coach John Tortorella underscored the Rangers need for secondary scoring while speaking to Andrew Gross of The Record following Tuesdays practice.

“That’s our team, we are a sum of your parts team. I think one of the biggest aspects of our success is playing as a team, ” Torts told Gross for his Ranger Rants blog.

Defensively, the Rangers will rely heavily on their top blue line pair of Ryan McDonagh and Daniel Girardi. However, they are going to need Marc Staal to return to his All-Star form in order for the Rangers to have two solid defensive pairs to slow down the Senators.

As so often is the case, special teams will play a huge part in this series – especially with the Rangers needing to increase their physical play. If form holds true, the Rangers penalty killing units will more than hold their own. Their power play unit, well, that is a different story.

Much was made last season about the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup with an anemic power play that stumbled along at 11.4% – good for 14th among all of the playoff teams. By the way, the Rangers ranked 15th last year.

However, the Bruins power play woes were an aberration when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup in the post-Lockout years. Power play percentages are really a meaningless statistic. The more important number is your ranking within the league. For example, when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007, their power play percentage was 15.2. However, they were ranked 7th in the league. Since the lockout, and before the Bruins, the lowest ranked power play to win the Cup was Detroit in 2008 when they ranked 9th (18.9%).

While the Rangers 23rd ranked power play wheezed along at 15.7% during the regular season, the Blueshirts managed to end the year on a hot streak scoring eight PPGs in 27 chances (29.6%) during their last six games.

The Rangers power play is at its best when both players and puck are in motion. The problems arise when the power play gets stagnant and players are standing still. It is at that point that the Rangers spend more time facing the boards trying to recover the puck than they are facing the net and looking for shots.

In the end, the Rangers are going to go as far as the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist takes them. The one thing in his favor, and in favor of the Rangers, is that the team’s blue collar work ethic is ready-made for the battle that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. They are not an offensive team that has to make adjustments to tight-checking playoff hockey.

The Ottawa Senators are not going to be an easy out. Unlike the NBA, upsets are the norm in the NHL come playoff time thanks to the effect a hot goaltender can have. While Craig Anderson has the ability to steal a series, I see the Rangers prevailing in a hard fought seven game series as home ice advantage proves to be the difference in a seventh and deciding game.

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