Glen Miller was able to cover the recap last night. Glen has been a great help, and it’s only fair that we point out his current project: Fan Junkies. Fan Junkies is a social networking site like Facebook but for sports fans. Teams have their own group pages that can be sponsored by individual team blogs. Make sure to follow Glen on Twitter here.
It was interesting reading the opinions of Ranger fans on Twitter, Facebook and other forums regarding how the team should approach the final two regular season games. Of course the Rangers wrapped up the division and the conference with their 5 – 3 win over Philadelphia Tuesday and the only thing up for grabs is the President’s Trophy and the home ice it guarantees throughout the playoffs. It would seem the Rangers had little to play for other than pride in their contest with the Penguins Thursday.
Some Blue Shirt backers thought Torts should have rested some of his key players like: Callahan, Gaborik, Girardi, etc. No Ranger fan wants to see what happened last year to Ryan Callahan repeat itself this season with another key player. Last year about this time, the Rangers were desperate for wins and points; this year not so much. Why risk it by playing all of your regulars given the style of play this squad consistently engages in and the possibility for devastating injury that style brings with it?
The opposite line of thought was Torts should keep the pedal to the metal to maintain momentum. This isn’t a team talented enough to “turn it on” when necessary and taking a couple of games off could propel this team into a slump long enough to earn an early playoff exit. Better to keep going full bore. Torts is probably the last coach you would expect to ease up anyway even with the Rangers postseason position basically set. These fans likely don’t consider any game against a hated rival “meaningless,” and would expect their best effort.
Well, the tone may have been set before the game even started with the insertion of backup goaltender Martin Biron in place of Hank. Hank hurt his arm stopping a shot in the Flyer game and was quoted as saying then he almost pulled himself out of that contest because of the difficulties he had just holding onto the stick. It’s no surprise Biron got the start tonight but given his level of play the last couple of months it’s also not too surprising the Rangers as a whole struggled.
Now, let’s get to the highlights.
Just 1:11 in the Penguins took their first lead after a Kris Letang shot from the point was deflected in by Chris Kunitz. Letang’s original shot was going wide until it struck what appeared to be the skate of Kunitz for the Penguin winger’s 25th of the season.
Brandon Dubinsky would draw the Rangers even at 4:23 with his 10th tally of the year. Ruslan Fedotenko took the puck to the net and got a backhander on goal which Fleury kicked out with the pad. The rebound went right to a waiting Dubinsky and the Rangers forward roofed the puck by Fleury.
The Penguins would regain the lead a little more than four minutes later on Tyler Kennedy’s rebound snipe. Biron stopped the initial shot by Jordan Staal but kicked the rebound out to Kennedy. From a sharp angle Kennedy wristed a shot that beat Biron short-side and high.
The Rangers would mount some pressure late in the period but couldn’t draw even. New York held a slim shot advantage, 9 – 8, over the Penguins through one.
This period was dominated by Pittsburgh. They outshot the Rangers 17 – 8 and potted the frame’s only goal at 5:11 when Richard Park banked the puck in off a flailing Biron. It was not a good effort by Biron stopping that puck and reinforces why Hank is so revered by Ranger fans.
Callahan and Letang began a battle that would last the rest of the game as both took minor penalties; cross-checking for Letang and roughing for Callahan. It wouldn’t be the only time these two met up on the ice.
Evgeni Malkin closed in on the 50-goal threshold finishing off a nice play by Kunitz. Crosby attempted a bank pass to Kunitz which went a little long and led the Penguins winger behind the net. Kunitz quickly gathered in the puck and fed a pass to an onrushing Malkin in the slot for an easy goal. It was his 49th of the year. The Rangers were lax on D coming back and Brian Boyle expressed frustration at himself for letting Malkin go unobstructed to prime real estate for the marker.
A second cross-check by Letang on Callahan would give the Rangers another PP at the 14:08 mark of period three. This was followed by a scary knee-on-knee incident 1:13 later where Brooks Orpik extended his leg and contacted the knee of Derek Stepan. Orpik was correctly assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct penalty affording the Rangers a two-man PP for 0:47 and a man-advantage for the duration of regulation.
Artem Anisiomov would draw the Rangers within two with 2:24 remaining as he was credited with tipping in a Brian Boyle backhand and by Fleury for his 16th of the season.
The Rangers still had life but a save by Fleury on a Dan Girardi slapper was the last gasp. Boyle would win the ensuing faceoff but the puck slid to an open area. Letang would gather in the loose puck and launch it from just inside his blueline and into the empty net, thus sealing the win for the Penguins.
The game may have not meant a whole lot in the standings but any time you play a rival the stature of the Penguins and a team you may face at some point in the playoffs you want to play better than the Rangers did. Pittsburgh looked like the only team playing with a purpose for much of the first and second periods. The Rangers are coached to forget the result of one game whether good or bad and prepare themselves for the next test. In the grand scheme of things I expect them to be fine.
Marc Staal had another good game. He seems to be more involved in the action. Tonight he nearly capitalized a couple of times on well-timed rushes and made some of the stellar defensive plays Ranger fans grew accustomed to through last season. Hopefully he is rounding into form as the playoffs near.
Brain Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky both had solid games again. Each is getting involved physically and they are starting to produce offensively. The Rangers would no longer be a one trick, or line, pony come playoff time if those two start producing some goals.
Biron is what Biron is; a good backup goalie. He appeared better than that early on practically matching Hank performance for performance for the first 2/3 of the year or so. His play has regressed tremendously the last two months as he has posted a S% well below 0.900 during that span. Still, when looking at the whole body of work Biron has posted a GAA below his career average with a S% somewhat lower. He played well enough early to allow Hank to get some much needed rest. Now the hope is Hank is ready to carry the team through a long playoff battle. But if Lundqvist gets hurt the Rangers are in trouble.
The PP struggled again despite the late goal. The Rangers had multiple opportunities to stay close by converting on the man-advantage but failed. The Blue Shirts were 0 – 4 with just three shots on goal prior to finally potting one on the five-minute major.
There were a couple of close calls on the injury front. We already covered the knee-on-knee Stepan absorbed. He returned to the bench but it’s unknown if there will be any lingering issues with the knee. Boyle also looked shaken after a fluke play in the second period. He was chasing the puck behind the offensive goal being shadowed by a Pens D. The defenseman’s stick got caught in the net just right and lodged itself in Boyle’s mid-section as he continued skating behind the net. Boyle went down to the ice in obvious discomfort but would return to action none the worse for wear.
As for the knee-on-knee, Marty Biron and Torts were none-too-happy about the play. Here are a couple of quotes from those two about the play and the Penguins as a whole.
“It crossed my mind to go all the way down [towards Orpik] it was pretty gutless and dirty. That guy is known for sticking his knee out and his elbow out. I looked over at the bench and Brian Boyle looked like he was ready to jump over. It’s what he has done his entire career. He will continue to do this unless someone can stop him with a suspension. Hopefully these are the hits that won’t be in the game much longer because they are dangerous,” said Biron.
Torts was even more candid with his feelings.
“It’s a cheap dirty hit. I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there? I wonder what would happen? I am anxious to see what happens with the league with this. There is just no respect amongst the players.
It’s one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this kind of stuff all the time and then look what happens. It’s ridiculous…they will whine about something else over….. there about their two ******* stars,” he was quoted as saying in the post-game interview.
Needless to say there is little love lost between these two teams and a potential playoff matchup would be a hotly contested, physical battle between the two. Clearly Torts articulated what most non-Penguins fans feel about Crosby and Malikin, the “two whining stars” in question. The triumvirate of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York clearly can’t stand one another and much hostility exists between the teams. I’m glad Pittsburgh and Philadelphia see each other in round one and likely won’t see the Rangers unless both make it to the Conference Finals.