You knew that the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to attempt to pull off what the Rangers did to them in the second round of last year’s playoffs. You knew they were going to try to enter Madison Square Garden being down three games to one and march forward winning the final three games of this series. But all those hopes were erased deep into the first period of overtime as both teams tied at one a piece had to settle it into the extra period once again.
At 10:52 it was the Rangers cycling in the Penguins end that got them their big chance to close this first round series against the Penguins as Dominic Moore found a way to hold the puck and left it for Carl Hagelin who skated from behind the net, took a big spin and wristed it short side on Marc-Andre Fleury and beat him short side to give the New York Rangers another 2-1 win and taking the series four games to one.
After snapping home that puck you saw Madison Square Garden go absolutely nuts as the Garden Faithful all jumped out of their seats in unison and the party began as you saw the hand shake line begin and now awaiting their second round opponent that will be either the New York Islanders or the Washington Capitals who lead this series by three games to two.
But once again it was the Rangers who got on the board first and converted their first Power Play chance of the evening in the first period. Derek Stepan scored his second goal of the playoffs at 4:23 as he saw the rebound from the rip at the point by Dan Boyle as he kicked the puck towards his stick and stuffed it home.
As it looked like the Rangers had a strangle hold in this game, the truth is that the Penguins were starting to come around and play a lot better. While their Power Play wasn’t converting, the momentum from their last one in the second period put the Penguins into a great position to level the game at one as Nick Spaling found a way to bat the puck into the net either intentionally or unintentionally past Lundqvist and after a lengthy review the NHL deemed that the goal was good and at 17:23 the game was tied throughout regulation.
But once again the Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves eliminated after Hagelin converted the series winner into the first overtime session.
While the questions will come back towards the Penguins as Sidney Crosby didn’t do enough after his game 2 performance and Evgeni Malkin who was recovering from an injury did absolutely nothing in this series, the truth is that the only thing keeping this team alive was their goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. When one out of your three top stars is your goaltender and he gets no reward for keeping your team alive four of the five games, there are serious questions that need to be asked about the chemistry of this team.
There’s only so much you can do riding on the history of this team from Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey, Tom Barrasso & the last Stanley Cup this team won can only go so far that with new coach Mike Johnston at the helm being involved in his first NHL Playoffs. But on the other side of the rink the Rangers have one of the best goaltenders in the league, along with four balanced lines and solid defensive pairings the Rangers showed why they were able to win the President’s Trophy this season.
But while it’s a great series ender and celebration in New York, there is a bit of concern for Mats Zuccarello who accidentally took a puck off the back of his head from teammate Ryan McDonagh when the Rangers were in the Penguins end in the first period. Hopefully he will return once the Capitals/Islanders series is over, but once again the Rangers for the second consecutive year eliminates a Penguins team that showed character and heart, but just couldn’t find that extra effort to get past the Rangers.
Author: Daniel Feuerstein