Cause for concern?

Talk about an emotional roller coaster. One day, you're a series winner against a top rival. The next you're frustrated by a 3 - 0 blown lead, some terrible officiating, awful defensive gaffs, some bad luck, and a fruitless power play.

Anyone know where you can get some cheap Percocet?

As all of the players said yesterday, following the 2 - 0 loss, the series is far from over. And that's true, they have to wait until at least Thursday to see how much longer they in fact have.

Liken it to last year when the Rangers went down a couple to Buffalo, but played well at home and tied the series going into Game 5. Can this team do the same? Certainly. They have some added guns, a more confident goalie, and some better defense.

But don't kid yourselves, the Penguins are not the Sabres. The Rangers have looked awfully slow and their veterans are struggling to keep up with the quick Pittsburgh young guns. This needs to be addressed.

How do you address it? Petr Prucha stays in. I like him on that second line and moving Shanahan to the fourth.

But regardless, if this team doesn't capitalize on their opportunities, this series is lost. Two power plays in the final 6 minutes and nothing to show for it? Pathetic.

Where are the leaders then?

More shots to the net. More traffic. Less cross-ice passing. The Rangers have really become sloppy on the breakout and Pittsburgh has taken advantage of it.

It's going to take quite a comeback, but the Penguins haven't lost in the playoffs yet and if the Rangers do beat them it will be interesting to see how they respond.

More in a bit...

Anxious?

While the Rangers continue to wait upon their Semi-Finals opponent, there is a major debate rumbling. Are the Rangers better served with all of this time off or not?

There are two schools of thought to this:
1. The time off is good because after such a physical series, players can heal and rest.
2. The time off is bad because they lose their rhythm and momentum after a nice first round victory.

I think both have elements of truth. In fact, I'd venture to say that time off is a bad thing in the playoffs. You have a tendency to think too much, to over analyze, to think of your opponent too much. However, anytime you play the New Jersey Devils in the first round, you're bound to be beaten and bruised.

So in this case, I am leaning toward this layoff as a good thing. I'd venture to say that the Rangers are the most physical team remaining in the Eastern Conference, with Philadelphia a close second. With that in mind, they're going to need to keep up their physical play if they hope to slow down the speedy and offensive Penguins and Canadians.

In case you haven't heard, Henrik Lundqvist was again a Vezina finalist. Interestingly enough, I didn't see this one coming. He was stellar in the first part of the season, struggled in the middle, but had a decent last 20 or so games. I still don't think he's a lock, but it's a nice honor nonetheless.

More in a bit...

Ask and ye shall receive...on Avery


Many of you, particularly my buddy Keith Connors and the fine group over at Faux Rumors, have asked my opinion of the new "Avery Rule." (You like me , you really , really like me...)

I was hoping to avoid this, but seeing as everyone made such a stink about it, here it goes. First off, we need to understand something. Sean Avery did nothing wrong to Marty Brodeur.

Nothing.

The fact that the referees warned the Rangers bench that if he did it again, he would call a penalty, shows clear bias and is unacceptable. If ANYONE does anything within the rules of the game, no referee has the right to make up a call like that.

Next, understand that this is not the first time it has happened. While everyone claimed never to have seen it, they weren't looking hard enough. Two years ago, while the Edmonton Oilers were battling the Carolina Hurricanes, Ryan Smyth made it a point to wave his arms and stick in front of Cam Ward's face.

The difference? He wasn't eye to eye with him. Everyone applauded Smyth's efforts in front and found him to be a trooper on the top of that crease. Avery? Just an idiot.

The fact that the two instances are separated by a mere position again shows just how much everyone hates Avery.

Now, let me say that it's not something I condone. I think it looked stupid and looked bush league. However, so does Brodeur diving every chance he gets. If one is wrong, both are wrong.

I don't mind that the league cracked down on the penalty, but I agree with Faux that the fact it was done like an emergency congressional hearing was stupid. Can the league really be legitimate or taken seriously if every time something happens, there is a knee-jerk reaction to it? Let's be honest, if any player other than Sean Avery did this, it wouldn't have been addressed until the off-season.

Yesterday, over at The Hockey News, I wrote about the poor officiating thus far and how if it continues, it will become as tiresome to watch as the NBA or MLB. This plays directly into it. The players and sport should dictate the games and outcomes, not officials and corporate suits.

What happened to ingenuity? What happened to hard work being rewarded? Marc Staal makes a beautiful play to get in front of Brodeur and while outside the crease is given a phantom call. This biased needs to stop.

Yes, Brodeur is an outstanding goalie who has earned a lot in this league, but if you ask me which is worse: Avery being stupid and childish or Brodeur flopping around and embellishing calls, I'll take creative any day.

Again, I am not supporting what Avery did and I don't think it belongs in the game, but until the NHL realizes what true problems exist in the sport, punishing Avery is not going to solve anything. Diving, scrums after the whistle, embellishments, hits from behind, inconsistent officiating, and too much damn equipment is what the league should be focusing on.

Saw that one coming

Time for a reality check Rangers' fans. If anyone thought the Rangers were going to sweep the Devils they were sadly mistaken. Heck, if before the series someone said, the Rangers would be leading 2 - 1 going into game 4, we all would have taken it.

So let's not let a lucky bounce deter an otherwise successful series.

And, be honest, did the Rangers deserve to win that game? No. Sure the officiating was questionable at best and fairly one sided, but when push came to shove in OT, the Rangers folded and came out flat. The Devils hit three posts and were flying while the Rangers looked scared and confused.

That's OK.

Let the team learn now how to act because the playoffs are all about learning to win and lose. No road to the Stanley Cup is paved with 16 straight wins, it's inconceivable! The Rangers were nervous at home going into OT and the Devils had nothing to lose. If they lost that game, series over, they needed it to stay alive.

Take some positives out of this game. There was some extraordinary resilience shown by the Rangers, comeback after comeback. Overall, it was a good game. In fact, it was probably the best game the Rangers played of the series. On top of all of it, Brodeur still looked shaky while Lundqvist was exquisite.

As far as the Sean Avery thing goes, I'm torn. Did it look Bush-league? Yes. But it was within the rules as long as they don't consider that taunting, it's allowed. Guaranteed though, that rule will be made in the off-season.

Luck of the Irish


I love that title.

To be honest, last night was a good effort offensively for the Rangers, but they got lucky.

Marty Brodeur succumbed to easy goals by both Brendan Shanahan and Ryan Callahan and a lucky bounce left gaping in the crease for Sean Avery. (Pretty sure Avery is Irish also)

On top of this, remember all of those posts? Well as Mighty Duck Charlie Conway said, "But a quarter inch the other way, Coach, you would have missed completely." Nonetheless, the Rangers got lucky.

For more on this, hop over to The Hockey News.

If you take luck out of the equation, the Rangers had some solid offensive efforts. Brandon Dubinsky looked unphased by the playoff atmosphere and Captain Jagr continued his strong play. Marty Straka had a couple nice opportunities as well, but just looks tired to me.

One person who was left in a bit of a shadow last night was Chris Drury. He had a solid defensive and special teams game (just like he likes), but you could tell that Tom Renney used the top two lines more often 5 on 5 and you can't have a playoff performer like Drury sitting on the bench.

Perhaps this is just the nature of the playoffs, Gomez was hot so ride the hot hand I suppose. Regardless, the Rangers need to find a way to keep Drury on the ice more often.

The defense was lacking a bit, particularly on the breakout. I thought they had a rough start, a decent middle, and an average finish overall. Backman played well as did Rozsival for the most part. Mara took one of his usual bad penalties, but other than that didn't really play poorly.

The Rangers are at it again tomorrow night and if you're in the Long Island area, come stop by Rookies Sports Bar and Restaurant in downtown Huntington. A great crowd last night and should be more fun tomorrow.

Later tonight at 8 p.m. EST, I'll be on The Sports Docket, blog radio to discuss the Rangers and the remainder of this matchup. Feel free to stop by and chat or ask a few questions.

A Plan of (Ak) Attack

So what to do with all of these writing outlets and the most exciting time of the year upon us? I have toyed endlessly with possibilities to give fans the most coverage possible across all my avenues.

While I am often hard pressed to find multiple stories to write for each site, I think I have devised a plan that will keep readers intrigued and informed.

First, consider Pucks on Broadway the hub, the information source, home ice advantage if you will. With so many great writers at The Hockey News, NYR Nation and Outside the Garden, this is the only place to really keep exclusively my own, so any updates will come through here. Here's the agenda:

For playoff stats, in game analysis, and quick updates come here to Pucks on Broadway. It's the quickest way for me to get to you.

Pre-game and post-game notes and analysis will appear over at The Hockey News.

I will continue my A Week Ahead over at NYR Nation while helping any additional stories they may need.

Trends of the players and throughout the games will be found at Outside the Garden.

This should cover all aspects of the playoffs and hopefully it will be a long spring.

How to take Sunday's loss

One of the most important aspects of playoff success if psyche. One can argue that the Rangers hold the edge in that department after dominating the Devils all season. Another can argue that the final game of the season will put New Jersey in the driver's seat for momentum.

Both are valid arguments, so let's examine them.

The Rangers hold the advantage:

  • 7 wins in a season is unheard of, particularly against such a hated rival. One shootout loss won't diminish that.
  • Henrik Lundqvist has been stellar against the Devils and holds the edge against an aging and overused Martin Brodeur.
  • Jaromir Jagr is on a tear and the Devils don't have the depth to compete with him and the other scorers.
  • Home ice will not be a factor as the Prudential Center will be a mixed crowd.
  • The Rangers are 3 - 1 all time in playoff series against the Devils.
The Devils hold the advantage:
  • The last time the two teams met, the Devils swept the Rangers. No reason to think they can't do it again.
  • Despite losing 7 times, 3 of the games were in extra time or shootouts so it's a lot closer than the record leads on.
  • The last game gave the Devils the ability to know they could beat the Rangers are started the momentum rolling.
  • With a new arena, the Devils will be energized for it's first playoffs ever.
  • Marty Brodeur showed he can be a top goaltender again this season and can continue that into the playoffs.
Those are really both sides to the argument. I think Game 1 will really have the biggest impact on the series. I'll have a more detailed analysis over at The Hockey News later as well as a Jagr piece over at Outside the Garden...

5 on 3. 2 minutes. 1 shorthanded goal. 0 Ranger goals. Bad penalty by Mara. Despicable.

Sustainability

An impressive and spirited effort last night on Long Island, particularly from the 300s section of Nassau Coliseum. (I may have been the only one not to get into a fight.) As i dictate these thoughts to my scribe on his iPhone, we are enroute to tonights game. We learned in science that the key to success and existence as a species is through sustainability, the ability to continually recreate processes that work.

For the Rangers, that is exactly what these final two games are about: can they maintain this high level of play?

From the powerplay through an overall better defensive effort, the Rangers have shown a revival of the team concept and finally have begun playing a full 60 minutes. Led by Captain Jagr, whom most have doubted all season, the Rangers appear to be firing on all cylinders and this will be essential for any post season success.

A few quick keys to tonight's game:
- Jagr power: can the big guy dominate as he did last night? I say yes.
- Early to rise: the Rangers can't give a young Islanders squad time to get comfortable at MSG. Put the game away early and gain some home-ice momentum going into the playoffs.
-Peanut butta Prucha time: I broke out the Prucha jersey tonight, if he plays, I expect a big game. Is there any Ranger more deserving?

Reason to Believe

What does last night's victory say to Rangers' fans?

Does it say that they fell asleep Sunday and lack the discipline to play game in and game out? Does it say that the Rangers are capable of winning big games? Does it say that their success is based on home-ice advantage?

There certainly are a lot of questions and interpretations after last night, and most very valid, but it does show that the Rangers have the ability to compete.

You have to love the battle mentality the Rangers can show and that comes from the leadership of Jagr (who had an outstanding game), Drury, Gomez and Shanahan. What you have to hate is that the battle mentality isn't consistent and may only come when their backs are against the wall. Does that show well for a playoff team given the pressure, or the inability to work every night? You decide.

Some strong play last night by a couple players in particular, despite a fairly even effort overall. I thought Paul Mara was better (who I rarely give credit to) as was Christian Backman. Michal Rozsival made a couple nice plays late in the game, but overall had a very poor game in his own zone.

I am still disappointed by the lack of the defense getting the puck on net, but a much better game in their own zone collectively.

By the way, did I hear a "We Want Marek" chant last night?

I still agree that he belongs in the lineup, but I don't see it happening. I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote his own ticket a long time ago.

A nice effort overall by the forwards, particularly some strong physical play out of Jagr; very impressive. Petr Prucha did a lot in his limited role and showed a lot of energy. I would recommend sitting Shanahan and Straka for a game or two and letting him get in.

This brings up the question of Jason Strudwick. Should he get in somewhere before the end of the season? My guess is one of the Islanders' games he plays on the fourth line.

Another standout last night was Ryan Callahan. He has really stirred some exceptional confidence up and brought a tremendous amount of energy.

I think that win guaranteed a playoff spot, obviously not officially. It will be very interesting to see what the Rangers do now in the final three games. My guess is that Tom Renney sees the parity and will choose to rest some players over worrying about position, unless a legitimate home ice advantage is possible.

Check out The Hockey News later for a piece on Chris Drury.