I’m not a pessimist, in fact I am usually quite the (complete) opposite but here’s a grim statement for all you Rangers fans out there: barring a remarkable turnaround in performance, momentum and decision making the Rangers will be enjoying the offseason in about ten days time.
Here’s another pretty bold statement for you: this season Henrik Lundqvist has saved Alain Vigneault his job. At first glance Lundqvist’s numbers are not their usual Vezina standard until you dig a bit deeper and see what incredible numbers he’s actually put up against the quality of shots he’s facing. Lundqvist has never had it harder and yet has never been more important to the Rangers success.
Per John Shannon, there appears to be no damage to Henrik Lundqvist’s eye after getting hit in the eye by Marc Staal’s errant stick. This is obviously good news, as permanent eye damage was a major concern for all parties, and the recall of Magnus Hellberg threw more fuel to the fire.
Swelling appears to be a major issue, so Lundqvist is probably a game time decision for tomorrow. This is one of those situations where NBC’s odd scheduling to get the Rangers on NBC for two games works in the Rangers’ advantage.
The Rangers dropped the first game of their opening round matchup with the Penguins on Wednesday night, 5-2. Patrick Hornqvist lead the way for the Penguins, with a hat trick, and the Rangers lost Henrik Lundqvist to a scary eye injury. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were basically traffic cones all evening and the Rangers were shut down by a third string goaltender. As you can imagine, I have some thoughts…
1. Where else to start but with Hank? Forget the fact that the Rangers realistic chances of winning this series were all but hinged on Hank playing at a Conn Smythe level. Let’s talk about the injury itself. I have had the misfortune of experiencing something fairly similar, so I feel I can lend some perspective. My experience involved the opposite end of the stick, but it still belonged to my defenseman and still slipped through the bars on the cat’s-eye. My defender backed into me and it seemed like slow motion that the butt-end of his stick just continued coming until I could feel it make contact with my eye.
Last night, Alain Vigneault got what he thought was his dream matchup. His two remaining –Ryan McDonagh is hurt– stud defensive defensemen out against one of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby. Then the unthinkable happened, the perfect matchup exploded in his face, allowing three even strength goals.
Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were beyond ineffective last night, which is sad because they actually did a decent job in the possession department. It’s also sad because last night’s game was just a microcosm of their respective seasons. In fact, their seasons were summed up in one well timed picture from Josh.
The Rangers have recalled goalie Magnus Hellberg from the Hartford Wolf Pack. This is not a good sign for Henrik Lundqvist, who was clipped in the eye –through his mask, mind you– by Marc Staal in the first period of last night’s playoff opener.
Hellberg, if he dresses, will be the backup for Antti Raanta. Suffice it to say, if they are recalling him this early, it doesn’t look good for Hank.
The Rangers got off to a great start in Pittsburgh last night, throwing everything they could at backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff. Not only were they unable to solve the third stringer, they gave up late goals in both the first and second periods. They scored a powerplay goal in the third, but immediately coughed up a shorty a minute late to nullify it. They then allowed another in the third (the third with Staal/Girardi on the ice).
Even worse than the lost game is the loss of Henrik Lundqvist. Hank took a stick to the eye from Marc Staal, an exceedingly rare case where his stick went through the cat-eye and actually got his eye. Lundqvist was writing on the ice in pain, reminiscent of when Staal was on the ice after taking the puck to the eye a few years ago. This was just as scary.
Lundqvist finished the period –giving up the first goal– but did not return. Antti Raanta played well in relief, but the fears about the Rangers defense came to fruition, as pairing Staal with Dan Girardi led to a pair of goals against and what turned out to be an insurmountable deficit.
Playoff hockey is back. The Rangers begin their quest for another run through the playoffs in Pittsburgh to take on the red-hot Penguins, who are finally getting healthy.
Marc-Andre Fleury is back. It appears Olli Maata is back as well. Evgeni Malkin is still hurt, but that was expected. His absence is notable, like Ryan McDonagh’s is for the Rangers.
The Rangers have recalled forward Marek Hrivik from the Hartford Wolf Pack. The move is surprising, since Hrivik was just returned to Hartford this weekend after the regular season wrapped up. Also, Hartford played a game this morning at 11am, which makes this even more peculiar.
Aside from the surprise, Hrivik has shown he can handle a bottom line role in the NHL, in limited samples. If he plays, it will be a big test for the kid.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, kids! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, it’s finally above freezing in the NY Metro area, and hockey is about to be on at all times. Really, what’s better?
Here on the blog, we’ve previewed each of the eight upcoming series, broken down by series and by each writer. Share yours in the comments and let us know how spot on / awful our predictions are.
– Obviously Sidney Crosby draws most of the attention whenever anyone talks about the Penguins, but I believe the most important player in this series is Kris Letang. He’s the straw that stirs the Penguins’ drink, so to speak, and has posted 48 points in 43 games since January 1 (13 goals, 35 assists) while being Pittsburgh’s best player in its own zone by a country mile. Letang is the guy that spurs the Penguins’ speed game, be it an outlet pass to Crosby or hitting Carl Hagelin in stride or with an alley-oop to gain possession in the attack zone. The Rangers have benefitted from some fortuitous timing in the past with Letang missing several key games with a slew of injuries, but he’s at the top of his game right now.
– Speaking of Hagelin, I’m absolutely terrified about the hockey karma of the guy that knocked out the Penguins last spring being on the other side of the ice this time around. You know he’s going to score a big goal in this series.