Folks, it’s July. And not just July, but the MIDDLE of the July, which is the worst time of year for a hockey fan. The fun part of free agency is over with, the #hockeyinsiders are on vacation, and the players are enjoying some free time before getting serious again ahead of the new season. The clock ticks ever so slowly towards October 5th.
In order to pass the time, I thought it would be fun to take a weekly stroll down memory lane, at least until we have some more substantial and current Rangers-related issues to discuss.
A little background: I have been fortunate enough to attend lots of games as a season ticket holder at MSG since 2001. My father – whose fandom extends back to the mid-1960’s (at “the Old Garden”) – is a lifelong fan and Blue Seater, introduced my brother and I to the Blueshirts at an early age. As you’d expect, there have been incredible highs (I witnessed the Marty St. Louis OT winner vs. Montreal in person), horrible lows (Game 6 vs. Ottawa this year!) and everything in between.
So every Thursday, I’ll share with you some memories of a game I witnessed live from the Blue Seats. I’ll include videos (if they exist) and any other relevant pieces I can dig up from that particular game. Sound good? Great. Let’s go.
October 25, 2008 – Rangers vs. Penguins | “The Nikolai Zherdev Game”
Remember Nikolai Zherdev? Zherdev was the “enigmatic Russian” archetype fully realized. After leading the Rangers in scoring in 2008-2009, Zherdev found himself out of the NHL the following season (he did play 56 games for Philadelphia in 2010-2011). His skill was undeniable, but the rest of his game just never sat well with his coaches, particularly John Tortorella, who took over in February of this particular season.
Zherdev did have his share of great moments, maybe none bigger than his last-second game-tying goal against the division rival Penguins in an early-season game at the Garden. Let’s go to the video tape…
My seats are located directly behind the goal the Rangers attack in the third period, so I had a prime view of Zherdev as he barreled down the ice. A couple of things stand out to me as I watch this clip nearly 9 years later:
- After Sidney Crosby misses the empty net (ha!), who retrieves the loose puck and (sort of) initiates the rush? None other than Dan Girardi.
- While it’s easy to chalk this up as a soft goal (allowed by – you guessed it – Marc-Andre Fleury), the grainy video doesn’t do justice to the fact that Zherdev’s shot was an absolute laser that few goaltenders would’ve stopped. Zherdev’s range of skill was fully on display in just those few seconds he had the puck.
- Some things don’t change: Henrik Lundqvist made some great saves in OT, enabling the Rangers to get to the shootout and ultimately prevail.
Even though this was a very early regular season game, you couldn’t tell by the crowd reaction, which was more early May than late October. Remember, this was still relatively early in the post-lockout renaissance of the Rangers, though this was also the year that much of the 2005-2006 goodwill began to fade.
Crosby, Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Kris LeTang all played in this one. Some other names you might recognize that suited up for the Pens: Ruslan Fedotenko, Miroslav Satan and Max Talbot (yuck). One name I didn’t recognize: Mike Zigomanis. Who?
For the Rangers, old friends Wade Redden, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury played, the latter two picking up assists on Markus Naslund’s third period goal to cut the Pens lead to 2-1. Fredrik Sjostrom scored the shootout winner.
Who was Henrik Lundqvist’s backup goalie in this game?
How’d it all turn out?
This version of the Rangers finished in 7th place with 95 points and bowed out to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs; a series famous for John Tortorella getting suspended for Game 6 after hurling a water bottle at a Capitals fan. Fun times.
The Penguins fired Michel Therrien after 57 games. Dan Bylsma took over and led the team to its first Stanley Cup Championship since 1992.
That’s all for this week. Share your memories in the comments below."#TBT: Rangers vs. Penguins - October 25, 2008",