Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Round One Playoff Analysis and Round Two Predictions. . .

Now that the first round has finally concluded let's take a look at how I faired at my predictions.

Out West, I went 1 for 4, which was abysmal yet again.

Prediction: San Jose over Anaheim - 5

Reality: Anaheim over San Jose - 6

I never credit Anaheim, because, selfishly, I do not like them because their Cup win was the most boring Final I may have ever sat through and a lot of their players, Pronger for one, drives me crazy, in a bad way. I like Jiggy, even if he isn't playing and I think Jonas Hiller deserves major credit. But I never credit them on a whole and it came back to bite me. Then again, I, along with almost everyone, put way too much stock into San Jose, a perennial playoff team with no punch. I just really - for once - thought they'd gotten past their demons. Apparently a new coach, lots of regular season success, same old crunch time problems. I feel bad for them but I know they are embarrassed enough. The question was always, who would go, Marleau or Wilson? Wilson left, Marleau stayed, but he did not have a great year. Neither did Cheechoo or Thornton, really. The guys that most impressed me on this years team were guys like Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and Devon Settogucci. There has to be something else going wrong with this team. Do they gut it and get new guys in there, in hopes that will shake it up? Honestly, what else can you do at this point? You can't keep throwing the same group of players out there every year and hoping they'll finally "get it" - can you? This was "their year" and they failed in every concievable way to make it memorable.

Prediction: Columbus over Detroit - 6

Reality: Detroit over Columbus - 4

Ouch. I already said all I need to say on this series, except one thing. I knew that Detroit had been knocked out first round post-Cup before and I still hold true, that the opening round is their most vulnerable point in the entire playoffs while they are still trying to settle in. But I since read the stat that Detroit became the first Cup defender to advance past the first round since 2002. That's a pretty stunning stat, no? I mean, so really, it was, (despite all we know and the fact that I was ready to award the Cup to Detroit last July), against their odds that Detroit advance. Now, mind you, none of this justifies my picking Columbus with such robust intensity. That pick, as admittedly are some of mine, was with my heart, not my head.

Prediction: Calgary over Chicago - 7

Reality: Chicago over Calgary - 6

Look, I called this a "coin flip" series and, really, I am not disappointed at all. The Hawks are a great story and I love that they won, and would love it if they continue to do so. I think perhaps it came down to two things. One, the utter desire of the youth of Chicago to get it done when the pressure was on. To be honest, they played with youthful exuberance and I bet they felt much less pressure than the Flames did. Two, the Flames were obviously injury riddled going in; that's a fact and that hurt them.

The bigger questions certainly fall with Calgary. A team I watch a lot of - because their games start after the Rangers games are over, I see a lot of those West Coast games and Calgary ususally has the late game on HNIC - and I, again, thought that they'd finally battle through some of their own demons. XM204 Hockey (I do forget which show) pointed out the dreadful fact that in the last four years, Calgary has never made it out of the first round!? I mean I guess I should have known that, but I ask myself, why do we, as fans, and me, personally, get so excited for teams like Calgary and San Jose when they really, have proven nothing yet. That's what the guys on XM204 asked and I, as I continue to be shocked by the reality of it all, completely agree. Jarome Iginla is my pick for best captain in the NHL, currently, but is that enough if his team keeps falling to the same fate year after year?

Prediction: Vancouver over St. Louis - 5

Reality: Vancouver over St. Louis - 4

Really nothing to comment on here. If Luongo can play hot and stay hot, I would not want to play him at any point in the playoffs.

In the East, I went 3 for 4, much better. (Not that silly predictions prove anything, but I guess I do know the East better).

Prediction: Carolina over New Jersey - 6

Reality: Carolina over New Jersey - 7

So I got this one right, although with less than 2 minutes to go, my pick didn't look safe. This was literally the most back and forth series and probably the closest series of them all. And I bet the one the fewest people watched. It seems magic doesn't seem to happen in NJ anymore; rather it's the other teams continuing on. Maybe it is just time, after years of success with what I know was effort, but always seemed so effortless, that finally it gets to be someone else's turn. Good for Carolina for never counting themselves out of the series or out of a game. You want an example of a "never say die" attitude - look no further than this game 7. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you play the games and play to the final buzzer every time.

Prediction: Boston over Montreal - 5

Reality: Boston over Montreal - 4

I never like to predict sweeps, but obviously if I was going to pick one series to end in one, this was it. No surprises whatsoever. Boston is dominant and still my pick for the Eastern Crown and Montreal was a decimated, sorry group, facing many off-season questions, as I've detailed and will continue to examine in the weeks to come.

Prediction: Philadelphia over Pittsburgh - 7

Reality: Pittsburgh over Philadelphia - 6

I still like this prediction, despite it's failure to stand up. If Philly had split the games in Pittsburgh to start, and they were really close to doing so, I think it's a new series. The Flyers crushed me with that loss in game 2 on stupid penalties. That was their backbreaker. They came back for a great game three, but were always a game behind thanks to that 2nd game. I feel Philadelphia was legit because they were able to win on Mellon Arena ice. And that's something some teams cannot seem to do. (Rangers, *ahem*, Rangers). I credit them for scoring a bunch of goals. I guess, if anything, it came down to collapses at wrong moments. And credit Pittsburgh to that point. They never let up even when they were down in a given game. That wins you series and is another example of not counting yourself out.

Prediction: Washington over Rangers - 6

Reality: Washington over Rangers - 7

All I will say right here is that the better team, overall, won. And I expected them to. It was a longer series than I expected and that credits the Rangers for pushing the Capitals to the ultimate brink. They sure made game 7 exciting - that I will not argue with. But it didn't have to come to that, and what we'll remember, besides some bad decisions and some shenanigans, is that the Rangers had three chances to close this team out and they simply couldn't get it done.

Playoff thoughts:

Let's take a look at the NHL playoff world pre-lockout. Colorado, Detroit, New Jersey, and Dallas were usually top teams and Cup contenders.

Post-lockout, Dallas had a good run last year. Colorado has been human and finally fell out of playoff contention twice. New Jersey hasn't made it through a second round. And Detroit, well, they've been very good, again, especially the last two years.

But the times have changed. And you know what - I'm glad. Not because I dislike those teams; I just disliked them winning all the time. Remember, between 1995 and 2003 only four teams won the Stanley Cup - Detroit 3 times, NJ 3 times, Colorado 2 times and Dallas 1 time. And that got very, very boring.

I like that, this year, with the exception of Detroit, Anaheim, and Carolina, the other five teams in contention haven't won a Cup since 1992 at the earliest (Pittsburgh) and that there are two others that have never won it (Washington, Vancouver). I know the NHL is all about their big market teams and big name superstars, but I will forever have some great memories of watching the 2004 and 2006 Final, between little market teams in the South East and big Western Canadian teams.

I love that there is a fair chance that a team that hasn't won before or hasn't won in a long time will get to do that this year. And, with all due respect to Detroit, I genuinely hope that's the case.

And now, in spite of how bad I literally am at this - no really, guys, I'm pretty bad, I'll do my picks for Round 2, without any fuss whatsoever. I really have no idea and feel only half-way confident about knowing where one of these matchups will go.

2009 Playoffs/Round 2 Predicts:

Western Conference:

Detroit over Anaheim in 7
Vancouver over Chicago in 6

Eastern Conference:

Washington over Pittsburgh in 7
Boston over Carolina in 6

One Final Note:

While I am not a fan of Detroit, I think Pavel "Hello Again" Datsyuk seems a fascinating player and obviously one of the most underrated in the entire league. And since he has been nominated for not only the Lady Byng and the Selke as we'd expect, he is the surprise nominee for the Hart Memorial. For this reason, I will try my best to devote some time to watching him in this series to see what all the non-fuss is about. When, apparently, there should be a big fuss over this guy and all he does year in and year out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's A Shame. . .

It's a shame that one of the most entertaining and complete games the Rangers played all season ended up being the final one they'd play this year.

A shame.

When I was younger, and the Rangers seasons came to an end (usually, mind you, before any playoff games were played), I'd go through this huge roll call of thank yous to the team and the players for all the joy they brought me during the season.

Well, I don't think I have to tell you that is not going to happen.

What I will do is thank the Rangers, at the very least, and I mean very least, for showing up tonight and putting out a full effort. Too little too late, but it was enjoyable to watch tonight, regardless the result.

As sad as I am that the season is over - (because let's be honest, as fans, we are always sad to see it end, no?) -, I am somewhat relieved too. It was a roller coaster ride, where there were way too many lows and not enough highs.

Right now, honestly, in the coming down from all of this, I am just excited to get to see some of the other matchups that I've been missing in all my time watching and following this team. Boston/Carolina, Washington/Pittsburgh, Chicago/Vancouver. I will be trying to catch as many of those games as possible and posting on them from time to time, I am sure.

It might take a few days - no, it'll definitely take a few days - but I've been planning the 2008-2009 Rangers "Season in Review" even before they made the playoffs. I figure it'll come in a few enstallments, something to keep us all busy in the week ahead. So stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, if there is at all a bright side to this - the Rangers almost eliminated a team that everyone, myself included, had them highly undermatched against.

The dark side, of course, is that they almost eliminated a team that everyone, myself included, had them highly undermatched against - and came one goal short in the end.

All There Is To Say. . .

This is, quite simply, the Rangers game to steal.

And it is, just as simply, the Capitals game to lose.

I'd love to be able to think otherwise, but the plethora of talent on the Capitals team coupled with the Rangers lack of determination in crunch time over the last few games, leads me to no other conclusion but this.

That being said, however, it is a game 7. In game sevens, anything can happen. There are reasons you play the game, and tonight, that is all it comes down to: one game won to move on, one game lost to go home.

Maybe the Rangers have one more magical moment left from their glorious start to the season. Perhaps that team of speed, determination, and discipline that took the ice six months ago can take the ice in Washington again tonight.

I'll be honest: I sure hope so.

That's all there is to say. Well except for:

Let's Go Rangers!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where To Go From Here. . .?

I apologize for the lack of posting this weekend. (You can see the comment thread in the last post; I think that sums it up pretty nicely). With that said, here we go...

I picked the Capitals to win the series in six because I did not think the Rangers, minus Hank and a few exceptions, had the determination, skill, where-with-all, or any combination of those three, to get it done when it counted. I said they were a team that spent almost all season struggling to score and struggling on the powerplay and that I didn't believe that would change in the playoffs. I thought Washington was vulnerable, really, on goaltending only, and that they were loaded with too much fire power for the Rangers to contend with.

Fast forward two games into the series. The Rangers have not played spectacular by any means, but they have won - on the road - the first two games and hold a 2-0 lead coming back to New York. Ovechin and the big guns have not scored a ton of goals, in fact, they've scored none. The series had already taken a baffling turn.

I predicted/alluded/pondered how a Game 3 goalie decision from Washington would make or break their playoff season. Not because Theodore could not have come back in and rebounded, not because the Capitals could not have woken up and therefore made their own goalie a non-factor in the series, but because I believe in momentum. Boudreau made the right call, for his team, in my mind, and stuck with Varlamov. The young 20-year old shutout a non-existent Ranger offense.

Game 4 provided the long awaited and anticipated collapse of Sean Avery. And let me get this straight right off the bat. I've defended and stood by Sean Avery, believed he is a legitimate hockey player and can be an effective contibutor to this league. I've said it over, and over, and over again and I still believe it. Game 4 provided a collapse. I have not seen him, until this year, collapse into undiscplined and unacceptable play. (Remember, I was not a fan or an observer of him in LA or Detroit). This was my first foray into the potentially desctructive Sean Avery. And yet - AND YET - Sean Avery, still, to me, is anything but - destructive. Others have alluded to it, so I am saying nothing new, but I feel that Avery was put in a corner here. He came back to the league and immediately - game one - was called for a marginal penalty. It continued. It was allowed to continue. Avery was attacked without punishment, without any thought or consideration for the desire and want for a fair and even playing field. And he finally snapped. I can't agree with what he did. While I feel two of his four penalties in game 3 were of the this-is-crap variety, I know that the two he took in game four were undisciplined and unacceptable. And you cannot have that happen, no matter how many liberties have been taken on you. The fact that those liberties were allowed to be taken, over and over and over - that is a bigger disgrace than anything Sean Avery has ever done. And that disgusts me. And that is one of the growing numbers of reasons why this league, at present, cannot be taken seriously.

In game 5, John Tortorella was faced with a decision - bench Avery or trust that he will stand back and behave? He benched Avery. A decision I do not agree with and I do not think anyone did agree with - well, out of the fans of New York or the Avery supporters that is. I'm sure many were calling for his head and I know many would like nothing better than to see him out of the league forever. I cannot, cannot for the life of me, think of a way to express just how hypocritical and horrible that attitude is, so I will leave it at the fact that I do not agree with them and I do not agree with Tortorella's decision. He left an important game - but not a decisive game - in the hands of a lifeless and withdrawn group of half-players, the same group I've tried hard to wrap my head, let alone my heart, around all season. I saw enough to know I had seen too much. There was no way, no way!, they were winning that game. Think what you want. The message had been sent, and it was the wrong message. Avery's mistakes, his penalties, his errors in judgement were just that, but they did not and have not cost the Rangers a game. The Rangers won on Wednesday by playing together in spite of the rest of it. That was their "big picture." On Friday, without their spirits, spark, enthusiasm, and the guy who you can't argue wants to Be a Ranger!, the team fell, lifeless and undisciplined to the embarrassing end. The decison wasn't really to play him or not to play him. It was whether or not to trust that a team with Avery stood a better chance than a team without Avery.

And Tortorella made the wrong decision.

At that moment, or in the moments following, the series became a circus, if it was not already one. Given a suspension for an altercation with a fan, Tortorella was benched for game 6. I, being at the viewing party, did not hear commentary on this instance, and did not see it for what it was. I found everything out on Saturday. At which point, I shook my head, watched the Flyers/Penguins game, and tried to forget about everything Rangers. Not to be dramatic, but it seemed like just a bad dream I wanted to wake up from, and just one more bad moment in a season of bad moments.

Avery came back for Game 6, and Jim Schoenfeld took the bench. I questioned before the game, during the game, and am still questioning now, hours after the game, whether or not it was too little, too late.

Will Tortorella benching Avery cost the Rangers the series?

Or will the same problems that haunted the Rangers all season cost the Rangers the series?

I don't know. We won't ever know. Heck, the series isn't even over yet, so none of us, any of us, will know anything until Tuesday night.

But did it have to come to this? A game seven? I think of how shocked and in awe I was with the Rangers coming back to the Garden up 2-0. And I watched how the field evened a little, but how the Rangers til held a big enough lead to have not just one, but two, and consequently, three, chances to close out the series. And I said, I'd take it, sure. Who coming into this series would have thought the Rangers would have been up, and would even have a chance. I didn't. Again, I didn't for the reasons I mentioned in the start of this, what I am sure at this moment is a very long, blog entry. But...I started somewhere to believe they could do it. I really did. And that feeling I had was crushed on Friday night.

And those questions I have about what has caused this potential demise - well, they'll never be answered. How can you know what caused the game 5 defeat? How can you know whether or not they would have won had they had Avery in the lineup?

I hate that I'll never know the answer. But I hate even more that it is a question at all.

**Side notes: I am reading the blog entries - Ranger Rants, Blue Notes, Rangers Report and hearing all this stuff. My thoughts are as follows:

If Shaone Morrisonn did in fact bite Brandon Dubinsky, I find that loathsome. I cannot believe that this series, this series I thought the Capitals would dominate on talent and skill alone, has come to this. I can't even believe what I am hearing and reading.

Donald Brashear's non-called penalty on Blair Betts was equally loathsome. He got hit by Callahan and turned and attacked the first guy he saw. My mind screamed Simon/Hollweg. I watched Betts crumple to the ice, and I realized, again , what a big joke this league appears to be at times. At moments like this where guys that run their mouths are punished and guys that legitimately do things so potentially hurtful get nothing but a slap on the wrist and free reign to go do it again and again. I don't like that part of the game that I love.

I hate that this and Tortorella's incident with the fans in game five - that thos are the things I will think of when the series is over - no matter who does indeed win. Not Ovechkin's game one effort sans goal. Not Simeon Varlamov's rookie initiation. Not Hank's dominance to keep this team in the series. Unfortunately it wil be about bottle throwing, name calling, head shots and biting. Seriously, read that last sentence and tell me it doesn't remind you of wrestling for tv entertainment.

Lastly, Jim Schoenfeld, a guy I really do like for his spunk and his honesty, said something I think deserves repeating, whether looking at this series or at this season and a quote I will undoubtably use when the season has come to its final end for New York - either Tuesday night or, hopefully, weeks down the line. He said:

“Big offensive guys have not gotten it going,” said Schoenfeld, without naming names, but the list could include Nik Zherdev, Nik Antropov and Markus Nalsund, with three shots between them. “What happens is part of their job falls on someone else, kid s like Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal and Girardi. There’s so much we have to do defensively because the other guys aren’t doing their job offensively.”

This, from day one, has been the story of this team. It is just interesting, baffling, and amusing, that it took the guy doing the press conference only because he was replacing the head coach (the 2nd head coach) of the season to finally say what we all have been feeling all along. We will never know what this team was capable of, because we have rarely if ever seen the full sum of the parts. We have guys like Hank, Callahan and Staal, to name my favorite three, that have - from the beginning of the season - been tasked with doing more than their fair share, trying to do everything, because not everyone on this team has showed up together on any given night. And that doesn't work. It may work for a while, but it ultimately doesn't ever work.

(courtesy Blue Notes)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Random Hockey Ramblings On This Beautiful Friday Afternoon. . .

Beautiful day. Friday afternoon. Rangers playoff game in a few hours. . .

I just can't sit still!!

Greatly looking forward to the game tonight. I only hope - hope! - it's a really good one!

Not much to say right now, it's in the Rangers hands what they do tonight. But wouldn't we all like them to just Close. It. Out!

Around the League:

Sorry I've been a little lax with playoff updates. Again, I've mentioned before, it's kind of hard when there are like three games overlapping, like last night, and then a late, late one. It's hard to say I've watched and gotten a feel for many series. The two series, besides NY/Caps, I've seen the most of are Philly/Pittsburgh and Chicago/Calgary.

The Flyers had a big win in Pittsburgh last night staving off elimination. Besides the obvious the win helped cement two things: the Penguins can be beaten and the Flyers can win in Mellon arena. I am not sure if the Flyers will prove my prediction - win in 7 - but if they win tomorrow and the deciding game goes to Mellon arena, at least they know they can and have won there. That means a lot mentally.

I saw hardly anything of the Detroit/Columbus series, which disappoints me. Not as much as if Columbus was able to skate with them, but it still does. I had picked Columbus in 6, which sounds both bold and a little moronic at present, even I admit. But I think I can break it down in the simplest way.

- I thought Chris Osgood had a sub-par season. I was not alone in this line of thinking. He stepped up big time in the playoffs. Credit to him. I always liked him and he has been there before for Detroit. They apparently never doubted him. I guess some of us should have thought the same.
- I thought Columbus, despite the late season struggles, had a chance to pick off Detroit mostly because of Steve Mason and his hot hand. Now, that didn't pan out and Mason looked human. I still think he'll - deservingly - win the Calder. And I feel confident he'll pick up in a good place next year and be important for Columbus.
- I thought Columbus was mature and ready enough to knock out the defending Stanley Cup Champions. This was my biggest flaw. Columbus was young, raw, and thankful just to have been there. They were down before they could get into the series mentally. No matter my, or their, intentions, it is hard to draw from experience when your goalie, your captain, and much of your team, has never played a playoff game. Shortsided thought on my part. Or I was thinking with my heart, not my head, which I've been known to do.

Regardless how sad it was that they were knocked out in four - and how much I wanted them to win the game last night! - it's important they took that first important step. I hope they are back there next year and make strides towards improving what they could not this year. When all is said and done though, it probably came down to experience. A David versus Golliath scenario, and unfortunately Columbus never was able to strike first, or at all. That might have made a difference. As we got a taste of in game four, Columbus could score against Detroit. It'll be interesting to see how it goes next season.

Sentimental moment watching the players salute their fans and the fans cheer for their team. It took nine years for playoff hockey in Columbus. What's one more - hopefully only one more - year for their first win? Celeb Blogs...

I usually check these out during playoff time, but I didn't this time around until today and I found this on Eddie Cahill's Rangers blog:

"Also, saying goodbye to Peter Prucha was tough for me. Again, I get why he had to go, and I think it was a smart move, but it was a move that a little bit hurt the feelings. Mr. Prucha, I'm guessing you won't read this either, but thank you and good luck. It was a pleasure rooting for you."

As if I didn't already love Eddie Cahill enough, I now find I love him MORE! :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where Are They Now: Ex-Rangers At Worlds. . .

For a week or so, I kept tabs on the World Championship rosters, looking for familiar faces, and perhaps hoping one Petr Prucha would be tabbed to go. It seems the Czech team is not going with him, or his two new teammates Zbynek Michalek or Martin Hanzal, both of whom were on last year's roster.

But there are still some very, very familiar faces, and one in particular for team Czech.

Last year around this time he was helping the Rangers to beat New Jersey. He spent this season in the KHL. He holds the Rangers record for single season goals and points.

#68 Jaromir Jagr.

Joining Jagr on Team Czech are two former Ranger properties - Marek Zidlicky and Jan Marek and former Ranger Karel Rachunek. Including Zidlicky there are only five current NHL players invited.

For other countries, former Ranger draft pick Al Montoya of the Coyotes will join the US team. He will play against three Coyotes teammates in Shane Doan, Scottie Upshall, and Matthew Lombardi who will suit up for Canada.

More former Rangers:

Slovakia - Marcel Hossa, Peter Smrek, Ivan Baranka
Russia - Dmitri Kalinin
Sweden - Johan Holmqvist
Finland - Jarkko Immonen

Of note:

Jarkko Ruutu will play for Finland, so keep an eye if they battle Team Czech given his history with Jagr in International play.

Young Dane, Mikael Boedker, of the Coyotes will play for Denmark.

Hank's brother Joel will play for Team Sweden.

Young studs Luke Schenn, Drew Doughty, and Steven Stamkos also got the nod for Canada.

If anyone gets to watching, the tournament starts tomorrow and runs through May 10th in Switzerland.

**If I missed anyone, apologies. There are a lot of former Rangers floating around, not that anyone needs reminding of that fact.**

Intense and Vital Win in Game Four for the Rangers and The Final End to a Tumultuous Season in Montreal. . .


Well, that was a rather convincing win. Coming in against a desperate opponent and holding off a steady rush in the game's second game - very impressive showing by the New York Rangers. Vital win in that it puts Washington at the ultimate brink; lose one more and go home.

I don't have to tell you how much I really didn't see this happening, this team coming together, but I must readily admit, they are surprising me and I am enjoying watching it.

Tonight was one of the most intense games I've seen in a long while. Like the heart pumping games I used to watch when I was younger and the Rangers were in the playoffs steadily from 95 through 97. Games that meant something. The Devils series last year was fun, but it didn't have the same threat value that this one has. And last year's Penguins series, unfortunately, never really got to that point. Game four in that series, last year gave chills for a different reason. So, no, I really must say that this series versus Washington feels more like the series against Buffalo from two years ago, where the pressure is on, but people and the team are starting to believe.

And Chris Drury is scoring clutch goals. This time for the good guys.

I'm sure they hesitated whether or not to play him, and I shared such hesitation. He seemed unable to get off a clean shot. However, it didn't seem to matter when he scored the game winner. They all count guys, and that was as beautiful as he could have scored in my opinion.

As for Avery, he was called for less penalties than last game, which was a plus, but he was giving me heart palpitations in the 3rd. I mean I said it last night, a high stick is a high stick, there is not much to debate. And I'm not debating the rough behind the net that drew blood on the Caps player. I'm only saying that if Sean did that on purpose, swung his hand around - what was he trying to accomplish? He knows all eyes are on him. He knows even if, hypothetically speaking, he didn't mean to do that, that no one will believe him anyway. So, why? I'm admittedly a little baffled. He must know that he can't do anything even remotely suspicious at all right now, no?

That aside, credit all around to the Rangers. When the Caps poured it on, they stayed steady. A total team effort and a vital, vital win.

Can't wait for Friday...

Around the League:

Out West:

I left an intense 4-4 tie game in Chicago/Calgary when I turned off the car radio to come inside. I'll look in when I get upstairs. So much for Calgary's 4-1 lead. Damn. Playoff hockey is the greatest, no?

Les Habitants:

I will probably not get a chance to write more on Montreal til the weekend and by then there will be hundreds of thousands of accounts of what went wrong in the 100th season of the most fabled franchise in the "cradle of organized sports" to borrow Ron McLean's words. I listen to enough Montreal radio to know it will be talked about tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, probably for every day until the next season starts, and even then, it will continue.

So just a few of my immediate reactions.

I wished better for Montreal. I did. As a fan of hockey and a fan of tradition, I did. But I wished for them to be better in general, not for them to win the series with Boston, mind you. The best team won in Boston and they are no doubt a team that can beat you with any combination of threats, offensive and defensive, and they are still, to me, the ultimate powerhouse to be challenged in the East. Credit all around to Boston. They are a great story.

While I wished better for Montreal, I knew it wasn't going to happen. That became clear pretty early. Much of the season north of the border found similarities to the season in New York with our own Rangers. True, there was no off ice concerns, at least none that I knew of, but the on ice turmoils were very parallel. Fast start bread big expectations. A falloff in production. Questioning team character. Missing leadership. General lack of team cohesiveness. One or two brilliant games followed by a run of non-efforts. Superstars drifting in and out of relevancy. A crop of very young kids who came and tried hard, but didn't have anyone to really show them the way. The ultimate firing of a coach when the team stopped listening.

Now New York turned a corner and looked better post-Renney and especially leading into the playoffs. Montreal had a short resurgence and then limped into the second season. They also had a serious goaltending controversy, one that I think was ultimately their demise. I feel for Jaroslav Halak. I don't know why but I always seem to think he's older than he is, perhaps because of his quiet nature and his poise. Young though he is, at this moment, he is a better goaltender and would have been a better option to Montreal than Carey Price. Hard to hear, but true.

Unfortunately, many fans in Montreal and many in management saw Price as their entire future, and held him up with such reverence it was at times scary to listen to. I sincerely hope wherever Halak goes he finds success. And I hope, for the sake of Montreal, that the kid they kept throwing out there, who looked like a deer caught in headlights for too many games, can be salvaged and live up to all they think he can be. I am not the coach in Montreal, but I would not have hung this series on Carey Price. I would have gone with Halak. It might not have made any real difference in the end, but by doing this, it appears the Canadiens may have confused and mistreated both of their goalies at the same time.

Heart is questioned daily in Montreal. I alluded to it before and I'm sure I will again. There are a lot of questions in Montreal, about how things are done and how they need to be done going forward, who wears the jersey and what it means to them. Tomorrow begins the long period of finding those anwers. I don't know where they start, but they have to start somewhere. Their entire team may possibly be dismantled come July 1st, and perhaps that is a good thing. Things will not come easy in Montreal, but they simply have to get the right guys with the right mindset, attitude, and commitment to play there. The only thing is, that's never quite so simple a thing to do.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walking the Line at Playoff Time. . .

Be patient with me, as I'm trying to walk a fine line with this one. I have been contemplating writing something up in the wake of Monday night's game 3, but I've been busy and am still trying to weigh how I voice my opinions.

I think in Alex Ovechkin's case you almost have to look at him in two very distinct ways - as a player whose enthusiasm you enjoy watching and as a player who may not yet understand what he can and cannot get away with at a critical time of the year.

Look, I'm not going to say I was thrilled with the Rangers devastating and disgusting pre-holiday fallout in which Ovechkin led his team back from a 0-4 deficit to win the game. And goodness knows I was less than thrilled with the Ranger's leaders verbal response that night. But it was, on some level, a pleasure to see someone that is so capable of dazzling the masses do something remarkable in a game he so greatly enjoys. After the comeback, the Washington team gathered and fell into a mass pile on the ice as if they had won a playoff round.

Believe it or not, that didn't bother me. It was a great game, a great singular game in a long season. I mean the Rangers falling apart and giving one of their classic collapse moments bothered me big time. Alex and his team's enthusiasm did not.

I've been walking the line in my words on Ovechkin because I do like him very much and appreciate all he brings to the game. And as I've expressed before, especially in this new NHL, a person with the personality and character of Ovechkin is so refreshing and so important to have. It really is. He has and can continue to do great things for this game we all love.

That being said, there is a big difference in doing things like that in the regular season, after a singular game with little consequence to the big picture, and doing the same things in the middle of an intense playoff series where you are playing the same team game after game. Those are two very distinct times of year and similar actions at either time will breed very different reactions.

In that regard, I'm not sure I agree with all of his Alex's actions on Monday. Not because I am personally offended; I'm really not. But because it raises a concern over where his thoughts are and if they are where they should be. If he's my leader - and don't tell me the rest of that team, especially the young ones, are not looking to their outspoken and charismatic leader for guidance of some sort - I want him to focus on what he can do on the ice - during the game - and not how he can get attention off of it.

Again, I am not overly insulted by what he did. The mock stick salute may have seemed in poor taste, and I'm not going to disagree with anyone that thinks it is, but, to me, this is more a matter of poor timing on his part.

Silly and unnecessary things like that are going to anger some fans, as well as perhaps some members of the team, and I'm not sure that's the anger you want to incite. And if this becomes a reoccurring thing, he runs the risk of angering fans of one team at a time, and that will not do wonders for the good reputation I think he wants to build in this league. Yes, they are two different seasons, regular and playoff time, but he can't fool himself into thinking the fans will have such short memories come next year and the next time the teams meet the following season.

Now if he's succeeding in distracting the Rangers, then maybe it's a tactic at war time that he's trying to employ. But if he's not, I think he's giving people the wrong impression. Reputations are built during the playoffs in more ways than one, and I think on a personal level, I've respected the players that have been there before, and shown humility in their joy and dignity in their defeat.

I'm not saying I want him to do what I'm about to mention - goodness knows I do not! - but his biggest statement could be in him taking complete control over the game, and over the series, and leading his team to a comeback victory. That'd speak louder and generate more attention than any tricks he may try to pull. I'm hoping that's something he'll learn as he continues to grow in this league.

Alex Ovechkin is a remarkable hockey player, probably the most well-rounded and most dynamic of this very talented young crop of players the NHL is currently blessed with. I think almost everyone would agree he should focus on that, and save the extra dramatics for the regular season home games at Verizon Center or the annual NHL All-Star Game.

As much as I'm trying to walk a fine line in writing this, at this time of year, Alex Ovechkin too should be trying to do the same.

**I was going to write this in response to Kerri's recent blog post at Some Like It Blue, but it got to be kinda long...not surprisingly.**

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Around the League: One Reason You Should Never Leave a Game Early. . .

Carolina scores on Martin Brodeur with .2 seconds left on the clock to win the game, 4-3, and tie the series at 2 games a piece.


I wasn't watching the game at that moment because I was watching CBC After Hours in game during the Blues/Canucks intermission when PJ Stock broke this news. Damn...

And apparently Marty went nuts because of the "bump" before hand. Well, video clearly shows that he was - outside the crease.

What did I tell you a few days ago about goalie interference and the ever growing controversies that are born in playoffs? - both those that are legitimate and those that are self-created by a team on the wrong side of them OR by the referees.

It's going to be an interesting playoffs.

Other league notes:

I am sadly starting to realize my pick of the upstart first-time Blue Jackets knocking out the defending champion Wings is not going to come to fruition.

Two things have happened here.

Apparently the only player that remembers how to score for Columbus is RJ Umberger.

And apparently someone told Detroit that the first round of the playoffs on their way to the Final actually does count.

Next year, Columbus, next year. Still a big statement year and my bet is on Mason going home with at least one piece of hardware.

Unfortunate loss for the Flyers. I am now wishing more than ever they had won Game 2. Fleury was a beast tonight, further hammering in the fact that he is really THAT good when he wants to be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Game 3 Goalie Decisions: 2007 Versus 2009. . .

I will often think back to the Rangers opening round series in the 2007 playoffs versus Atlanta and wonder what, if anything, would have changed if the Thrashers had made a different goalie decision in Game 3 than the one they ended up making. I thought about it a few times leading up to tonight's game 3 at the Garden. Different opponent, somewhat similar circumstances.

If you don't remember, Game 1 in Atlanta was the Sean Avery instigator affair that ended in Ilya Kovalchuk chasing - literally chasing - Sean Avery around the ice and getting ejected. Kari Lehtonen played a less than crisp game in the Atlanta loss.

For Game 2 in Atlanta, Bob Hartley went with veteran Johan Hedberg and it was a very close one goal game, the deciding goal coming off an odd bank play by Avery in fact.

When down 0-2 heading into the Garden, Hartley had a choice to make. He could go back to his regular guy in Lehtonen, or he can stick with his very steady "backup" who played a close, one goal game.

He chose to go back to Lehtonen.

The Rangers won Game 3, 7-0.

They went on to win the series in four.

Jump ahead to 2009. The Rangers and Capitals played a closer game than did the Thrashers and Rangers in 2009. Avery's affects were perhaps more understated. But Jose Theodore was not sharp. He, while not the only one at fault, shouldered much of the blame for yeilding four goals on 21 shots.

Game 2 in Washington saw Bruce Boudreau go to an untested rookie goalie in Simeon Varlamov. (Granted, it was the rookie replacing the "veteran" in this case, but if you continue to follow me...). Varlamov plays very well and lets in only one goal. Another one goal margin. Another solid goalie performance.

When down 0-2 heading into the Garden, Boudreau had a choice to make. He could go back to Jose, his veteran guy whose been in the playoffs before, or he can stick with this young kid that stepped up and played a close, 1-0 game.

He chose to stick with Varlamov.

The Capitals won Game 3, 4-0.

The series - well, the series is still TBD.

Does this goalie decision prove to be THE decision off this playoff series? It is really too early to tell. But it's interesting to me. Interesting because there are so many details that I've forgotten about certain years and certain playoff series. And yet I remember the 2007 opening round like yesterday, thinking how much I really respect and like Bob Hartley, but how I think he got it wrong that day in Game 3. And how I wonder if that one key decision in goal would have made any difference in the outcome.

Other game notes...

Pierre Maguire was on the radio today - either on HTM or Team990; I honestly do not remember - and he spoke about how the Capitals were playing like a bunch of talented individuals and the Rangers were playing like a team. I usually either completely agree with Maguire or completely disagree with him; there is often no in between. Today, I agreed with him.

That struck me if only for the fact that the Rangers, most of this season, were not anything resembling a team, and if they went in the same direction, it was mostly the direction of non-cohesive disillusionment, with a few, well-detailed exceptions.

So, I asked myself, were the Rangers really playing so much more as a team?

Well they were.

Until tonight, that is.

The Capitals and their undisputed leader - Alex Ovechkin - finally seemed to get their heads around the team game. Ovechkin took 13 shots in game one alone and half that in game two, and still couldn't score.

In game three, he realized he didn't need to.

It was enough if he just set up his teammates to score. And he did, to his credit and his team's benefit.

The Capitals looked very much the team tonight. The Rangers did not. Simple as that.

The Rangers were very undisciplined, taking penalty after penalty. And, what's more, they failed to capitalize on the ones the Capitals took. How many of Avery's were deserved, I'd like to take a second look. The punch to the face warranted a rough, and high-sticks are usually high-sticks. I'd like to take another look at the goalie interference - the unofficial Sean Avery penalty - and the hooking before I judge those. Regardless, too much time in the box means that the Rangers lost whatever rhythm they held, for the game's first five minutes.

Game 3 was a very different story, indeed.

As for the goalie decision of 2009, it paid off. Varlamov was not tested a whole lot to start, but he did what he had to do and made 33 saves in earning his first career shutout.

And as for Sean Avery trying to yap at him? Apparently it phased him not at all.

Goalie Decision Game 3, 2009 - score one for Bruce Boudreau.

Looking Ahead:

Hopefully the Rangers loss will let them learn what worked for them, what didn't, and let them move forward with the next goal of winning game four. True, the Capitals will now be even more hungry, and that is a risk you take in letting a team get halfway back in a series. Of course, the best thing would be for them to have won today and really put a reeling Washington on their heals. That didn't happen.

However, one more solid effort at the Garden Wednesday, and they would have the chance to wrap up the series in Washington on Friday.

How they come out and maintain on Wednesday will show us, and them, whether they can compete in this series to win, or whether they will let Washington get in their heads.

I hope, prediction gladly placed aside, it's the former.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Around the League: Thoughts on the Flyers/Pens Series. . .

A few notes from Around the League...

I love for fans who get Versus that they are getting the opportunity to see games they otherwise would not, but damn, I'm getting tired of it. I would love just once to get to see a CBC broadcast of something! I have mostly flicked from game to game on given nights because I haven't been able to tolerate one broadcast all the way through, or because I want to see as much as possible and watching an entire game of one matchup when other games are going on seems greedy. I am not sure which.

Regardless, I found myself watching a lot of the Flyers/Pens game on Friday and the majority of their game today. I felt so badly for Marty Biron on Friday night. He played very well; again, remember, I've been the one saying for years he really can play better than most people give him credit for. The Flyers held a 2-1 lead with the minutes ticking down in the 3rd. A sketchy call against the Flyers when they didn't really hook Jordan Staal, that the announcing team seemed okay with because a bad non-call against the Flyers earlier when Hartnell threw his stick, allowed the Pens to tie the game. It went to OT. Where veteran Mike Knuble and rookie Claude Giroux had brain cramps and took two bad penalties at the same junction. 5 on 3 powerplay, Pens win. I felt for Marty Biron.

Today the game proved two things. A 2-0 lead is not safe against anyone, and certainly not against the Pens. They tied the game 2-2 in 25 seconds over the first and second periods. However, the Flyers scored a few more and held on for a 6-3 win. Two, the Flyers can play with the Penguins. Look the Penguins are loaded and Marc-Andre Fleury can make some marvelous saves, but the Flyers didn't get where they got this year and last without capable players of their own. Anyone on that Flyers team can score; remember, only one team in this league had five 25+ goal scorers and that's Philadelphia.

This series is odd for me to wrap my head around. And not what was on the ice, but why I seemingly am so invested in it. I was mad when the Flyers lost on Friday. I was cheering when they scored today and happy they pulled it out. I think it is, more than likely, more dislike for the Penguins than love for the Flyers. Perhaps I am still not over last year's defeat at their hands. The Devils will always be my most hated divison rival, but the Pens in the last two years have really risen up to take the second spot. The Islanders aren't good enough right now to warrant my attention, and I like how the Rangers match up against the Flyers, so they are not the biggest threat.

Even though I find something very psychologically wrong with my "rooting" for the Flyers, I am. I won't lie; remember the honesty policy here. I'll worry about that next round. For now, I hope it's a nice, long series, and I hope the Flyers prevail.


NJ broke a long streak of losing in playoff overtime games to Carolina, winning the first of two down in Raleigh, to take a 2-1 series lead.

Vancouver may just be proving too much to handle for the young Blues, as they go up 3-0 in the series and threaten to close it out next game.

Sharks are down 1-0 in goals in the 2nd of game 2 of this series. I've been complaining a bit that this game was not played last night, on a night when I could feasibly stay up to watch it. A Saturday night 10pm game sounds a lot better to me than a 10pm Sunday night game. Look, I realize they are not scheduling to make me happy here, ;), but it's just disappointing that I'm going to bed having seen hardly any of their series at all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stunned and Baffled . .

So, today I wasn't able to watch the game live. I had to listen to a period in the car and later, much later, come back home to watch the rest of it. I just finished a few minutes ago.



The Rangers are up two games to zero!


The Rangers won the game 1-0!?


Look, I'm a Rangers fan so I am completely and utterly thrilled this is the case. But if you told me on Wednesday morning that by Saturday evening the Rangers would be up 2-0 on the Capitals and heading back home for game three Monday night in such a good position, I would not have believed you.

Therefore, I'm stunned.
Very, very stunned.

Stunning me even more than the 2-0 series lead is the final score from today. 1-0. I heard the Callahan goal in the car, fist pumped to myself, and fully expected there to be more goals scored. And yet, apparently, there weren't.

That's kind of why I'm baffled.

That the Rangers were able to hold such an offensive team to such perimiter shots. That the Captials never seemed to look composed. That they really, even though they had 35 shots, didn't seem to put the pressure on.

What's more, I'm baffled because Wade Redden appears to be playing defense - for two games in a row now. Michal Rozsival has a pretty good playoff track record with New York, but even he looks more poised.

Guys like Callahan, with a super sharp game today and the game's only goal, don't surprise me. As the guys in broadcast said, this is been what you have been getting from Callahan since game 1. And I love Callahan for it. Marvelous player and very much deserving of getting a big game winning goal for his team.

Hank does not surprise me either. Well, that'd be a lie. He does surprise me from time to time with just how composed he is. He has an insane sense of focus. I've always admired that of him. His knowledge of the game, the way he analyzes in and out of game, what has happened, what needs to be done, and how he gets the job done. Very deserved shutout by him.

Silently - yes rather silently - Sean Avery has done good things. Antropov too. Betts and Sjostrom. Sjostrom, in fact, showed how he takes after the Callahan mold. Blocking shots, chipping away at pucks, getting injured, but coming right back. More players should be like that.

Thankfully for the Rangers, every player today seemed to have that same sense of focus, determination and sacrifice today. Chipping at loose pucks so that Washington couldn't set up. Blocking others so Hank didn't have to. Hitting a Washington player to take him off his path.

Honestly it was as if they all came together today in cohesion, the type of perfect cohesion that has eluded this team seemingly all year. They fought together, played together, and won the game together.

Even if I didn't fully expect it was possible, it was marvelous to see.

Brilliant game plan by New York. If game one was all about being opportunistic and taking momentum away from the Capitals, I'd say game two was all about the smart little hockey plays adding up and stealing confidence from the league's most dominating player.

Even if the Capitals are not playing up to their strengths or their capabilities - and I'd say they are not - the way the Rangers have stayed composed and accomplished their game plan says this team has come miles from where they were a month ago. That team would have found a way to give the confidence and momentum back to Washington.

So far, they've held themselves in check and have been very, very impressive.

Credit John Tortorella, credit Hank Lundqvist, but credit too, every other guy that has chipped in with a little play, a smart pass, a key contribution, all for the common good of the team. Hockey is a game of sacrifice, sacrificing yourself for the good of the taem. The Rangers certainly did that today.

If they were ever going to come together and play as a team - and all season long we've been waiting for it - I'm thankful we are seeing it when the pressure is greatest and the games count for something real.

Monday night at the Garden should be something to see. I truly can't wait.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Around the League: Do You Agree With Iron Mike. . .?

This is not actually going to be an opinion piece. It's just a thought starter. Whether you choose to respond or just ponder on your own, that's fine. But in the NHL it's going to be an ever burning question, it seems. And it always seems to hit its controversial peak during playoff time.

Just what is goaltender interference?

We watched a Stanley Cup get awarded after a controversial goal scored by Brett Hull in the Buffalo crease in 1999. Whether it was or was not a legitimate goal remains up for debate - although I bet we all know where Buffalo and Dallas fans respectively stand on the argument. But the end result was not. Due to the fact that it was overtime, and the next goal would either force the series to a game seven, or award the cup to the Stars, there was little time to react to much. Except madness. The goal went in, Dallas celebrated, and there was no time for anything to be corrected; whether it needed to be or not, I am not here to suggest. That's not the point.

Last night in game one after Chicago's Marty Havlat scored the game winning goal in overtime on Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, Chicago celebrated while Calgary was left to seethe over what they thought was goaltender interference from Andrew Ladd.

Keenan later referenced both the Hull goal in Buffalo and the fact that the referees either saw last night's goal differently or couldn't make a call in all the excitement of the victory. Agree or disagree on the call, the fact remains that it becomes near impossible - it would seem - to make a call in overtime of that nature. History would seem to show that.

And I asked just what is goaltender interference, because honestly, I am not sure what to think at this current point in the modern history of the sport.

Back in 1999, it was okay to be in the crease, as long as you didn't proceed the puck into it. After the Hull Stanley Cup winner, the next season saw goals disallowed if a player had the toe of his skate in the crease, even if it had nothing to do with the play at hand. Then it regressed into it being okay to have a toe in the crease, as long as it didn't interfere with the play.

In the years that followed, especially those post-lockout, those rules have pretty much been tossed away. It became, in my watching of this game, more of a judgement call on the parts of the referees as to whether or not the person in the crease actually interfered with the goaltenders ability to get to the puck, and if he did, whether or not it was his own fault that he collided with the goalie or that of an outside force. And that judgement call can vary from person to person.

That's a dangerous game, NHL referees trying to discern the affects of physics.

In the November Rangers/Capitals game earlier this year there was a goal of such controversy. It appeared evident on video review that Lundqvist could not make the save because he was being tied up on the other side of the crease by a Caps player. To me, that is interference. At the time I called it a perfect example of a clip that should be sent to the league and shown to all referees of what was, indeed, goalie interference. If a goalie cannot get across to make a stop because a player is preventing him from doing so AND that player entered the crease of his own free will, that is textbook interference in its most basic form.

Now very recently, like a week ago recently, we saw Markus Naslund get called for goaltender interference as he played the puck towards the front of the net attempting to score and collided with the goalie as he was doing the same. It was merely an example of two players going at a puck and in no way should have been viewed as anything more than a hockey play. Yet it was called.

I'm sure fans of every team can come up with their own examples of ways it has worked for and against their own team. Positive.

Hell, I'll seen more calls of goalie interference where no goal has resulted than I have when a goal does result this year. It is those that seem silly to harbor such attention over, and yet it does happen. But it is the ones where a goal is scored - and scored in overtime in the playoffs - that it can get tricky.

I could share my opinion on the Ladd/Kipper incident. My immediate reaction was, oh, Kipper didn't really get over on that shot from Havlat. I didn't realize why until the replay. And Ladd appeared to be competing for position with the D in front although how or who first made contact is harder to see.

Look, I think it's a hard call. I think some - I stress some - of these calls are hard. Maybe sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. BUT...

I just hope that when crunch time comes in the playoffs - in overtime - the right calls are given opportunity to be made. Whether a team is celebrating or not, whether the call is the popular one or not. For the sake of both teams and for the integrity of the game, which sometimes, walks a very fine line.

Just something to think about as we get set for some game 2s to take place this evening. Enjoy the action...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rangers Capitalize Game One. . .

Game One is in the books and the Rangers came up with an important and tone-setting victory, 4-3, over the Capitals at Verizon Center.

It was as entertaining a playoff game as I could have hoped to see. Thundering checks, equipment flying everywhere, and goals - seven of them combined.

The Rangers goals came at key times, two on the powerplay, and the first one not long after the Capitals had scored to tie the game at one. The last, and deciding goal, by Dubinsky, took advantage of a tired Capitals team, worn out from their own powerplay in which they failed to score.

Momentum is funny. The Rangers capitalized when they needed to and stole momentum three times in the game. Once when they tied it at one. Next when they scored the two powerplay goals in the goal-filled second period. And lastly when they scored the final one to take the lead. You can even argue momentum was gained with each great save by Lundqvist, 32 on the night, and with each successful penalty kill the Rangers had.

Any way you slice it, the Rangers needed a big game to prove to themselves that they can win this.

Now, we all know they CAN win this. That doesn't mean they WILL. But they know they are CAPABLE of it. A 4-3 win against the Capitals on a night that Ovechkin had 13 shots, will help breed confidence to that fact.

The Rangers slowed Ovechkin. Again, you can't really stop him. He's going to hit, he's going to shoot, and he, on most nights, is going to score. And he certainly was a difference maker on their team tonight with his energy and drive.

But thanks to the Rangers difference makers - Hank, Callahan, Antropov, Gomez, Dubinsky, etc - it wasn't his difference that mattered in the end.

Of course, to be fair, the other difference maker in the game was Jose Theodore, letting in a few soft goals, and 4 on 21 shots on the night. He proved what many suspected, if the Rangers take the shots, the pucks will go in.

Make no mistake though, the Rangers were not perfect. It was a nice game, a game that almost stunned me a little in the fire and desire the Rangers showed to come back and play hard. But they were very undisciplined. And even though the Capitals didn't blow the Rangers out of the water tonight, giving them tons of powerplay time is never a good idea. Naslund and Girardi both took multiple penalties and that simply cannot happen going forward. Even if you kill them off, the penalty killers are worn out for their next shift and beyond.

But for tonight, let's focus on the positives of a very, very important win for New York. Goal scoring from four different players, a strong penalty kill, plenty of hitting (team combined 35 to the Caps 27), and key plays from key players at key moments.

It won't be easier on Saturday. In fact, if the Caps and Ovechkin are as angry and fired up as I'd expect them to be, the Rangers will have an even harder time of containing them. That's why this game was so important. It gave them a one nothing lead in the series - yes - but it put confidence on the Rangers side as much as it put the Capitals on their heels.

I wasn't sure which Rangers team would show up, but I'll take a few more games from them like the one I saw tonight - gladly.

**Author's Note: Each Rangers goal was pretty in it's own way. Dubinsky's was a sweet move, Gomez's was opportunistic, Naslund's was a nice shot and Antropov's, especially, made me smile. I know everytime a Ranger scores a goal like that - off an inside bar - and "knows" it's in, I remember the classic Tikkanen overtime goal versus Florida, and it's always good feeling.**

Around the League:

New Jersey beat Carolina 4-1 and Pittsburgh beat Philadelphia 4-1 in their openers. I didn't watch more than few minutes of either game, so I really have nothing to say in comment, except of course, one game does not a series make. And of course that goes for every team, every series, every time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 First Round Playoff Predictions Without All the Fuss. . .

Okay, so after finding out the final matchups were set, I took out a post-it (my favorite writing tool) and wrote my predictions down. What you are getting here are my first thoughts, and I haven't changed anything based on what I may have heard or read in the last couple days, although truth be told, I've had little time for much and haven't read any "experts" picks. This is me trying to not overthink anything. Thus, no fanfare, no fuss, well, except for a little fanfare and fuss on the Rangers/Captals Matchup, of course.

Western Conference:

San Jose over Anaheim - 5
I still think this is San Jose's year to prove themselves.

Columbus over Detroit - 6
I think Columbus has as much a chance as any to knock of Detroit, especially if Steve Mason can stay hot.

Calgary over Chicago - 7
I think this is somewhat of a coin toss series, but I am going with Calgary based on their having been there before.

Vancouver over St. Louis - 5
I think St. Louis may lack the experience to do battle with a rejuvenated Canucks team and a goalie like Luongo.

Eastern Conference:

Carolina over New Jersey - 6
I think Carolina is playing as good as they have since they won the Cup and if Cam Ward can out-duel Brodeur, they have a good shot.

Boston over Montreal - 5
I think Montreal might steal a game in there, but Boston has too much going for them this year.

Philadelphia over Pittsburgh - 7
I think it'll be a close series, but I believe the longer the series goes the better the chances that Philadelphia can overcome their cross-state rivals.

Washington over Rangers - 6
I think Ovechkin and Co. will be too much for this year's Rangers to handle.

Okay, so I'll give you more than a sentence on this matchup. (But aren't you all very impressed that I kept the above predictions to just ONE sentence each? To tell you the truth, I kinda am myself!)


My heart wants me to pick the Rangers to win. It really does. And if, by chance, the Rangers do win, I'll be as happy as anyone. BUT....

This team has lacked a few things from the beginning of the season.They do not score very much, although it's been better under Tortorella. Their powerplay has been horrendous from day one. They lack a group cohesiveness and a strong sense of leadership. All three things are vital to a team's playoff chances. Great teams, perhaps, can overcome their shortcomings. I'm not sure the Rangers are a great enough team to do so. If I am being honest with myself, which I am trying to be.

The Rangers win this series if they can shutdown Washington's superpower offense, plain and simple. We all know how good Ovechkin and Co are. That is not a surprise. It is not up for debate. They are just that good.

The Rangers would need a true game changer to make a difference in this series. As discussed here at NHTP about a week ago, they have a potential one in Henrik Lundqvist. If he can shut the other team down, then, yes, the Rangers can win.

But, while I'm not questioning Lundqvist's talent or determination, I am just not sure he can do this on his own.

Now he'll have Marc Staal, who automatically becomes the Rangers second most important player in this series for his previous one on one battles with the Great Ovechkin. Marc Staal, although one of the youngest on the team, may just be the most composed person on the entire Rangers roster. I do have great faith that he will do all in his power to try to slow Ovechkin. Because, again folks, you slow the league's great players, you can't stop them.

However, it is really more than just Ovechkin. I'm not sure what Staal is expected to do if he slows Ovechkin and everyone else on the Capitals runs circles around the rest of the Rangers team.

Staal and Lundqvist aside, I turn my attention to this team's leadership. And I do not want to make this an attack on the big money makers on this team. I won't. That's a regular season and an off=season debate. BUT...

While I believe Tortorella is not the type of coach to let his team roll over and play dead, he cannot play along side them. Whatever happens on ice is truly, at this point, left up to the 20 players on the game day roster. And I'm not sure they - collectively - have it in them.

Yes, Drury and Gomez have been there before. And Gomez was a good force for New York last year against New Jersey. But what if that isn't enough? There is no one player on this team that can single handedly win these games for the Rangers. (Remember, Hank can only stop the puck. He cannot help this team score). Unless someone, or preferably a few somebodies, step up and play beyond what they have in the regular season, I do not know how they can do it. Motivation is great, but they need to have something to back it up.

A team that wasn't perfect last year in New York, still had a guy like Jaromir Jagr, who in game four said, screw this, we are NOT going to lose this game today. And he came through, like legendary players do.

Washington has Ovechkin, a guy who we've seen do the same thing against our very team. The old, "climb on, guys, I'm leading us there" type mantra he lives by.

Who, really, do the Rangers have?

Callahan? Antropov? Avery? Zherdev?

Do any of these players really strike fear in the heart of Washington that they will score enough to compete with Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Green, etc?

Now Avery is a wild card. If he can effectively take Washington off their game, he can make a difference. But I just don't see it working like it did in the past. Avery versus Kovalchuk. Avery versus Brodeur. Avery versus Ovechkin? I just don't see how Ovechkin gets riled up by Avery like Ilya and Marty did. And even if one of their goal scorers does bite on Avery's advances, there are a half dozen more in his place.

Now that doesn't mean that Sean can't be effective and help the cause - because he most certainly can. I'm just not sure it's enough. I'm not sure any of it is enough.

The one major thing to the Rangers advantage is that Jose Theodore is not the best goalie in the playoffs. He might, in fact, be the worst. Does that make a difference in a series? - you bet it does. But it would mean more to me if the Rangers were a high-powered scoring team. Based on the fact that at many times they don't even shoot the puck, I am somewhat afraid it won't make much of a difference who the Caps have in net.

Wayne Gretzky said something about not having a chance to score any goals if you don't take the shots, or something. You know where I'm going with this. And you also know he's right.

But be sure, if the Rangers were to win, they'd have to get scoring from unlikely sources (or anyone!), and score on the powerplay. Washington is not going to give them a free path to their goalie. They are going to have to work hard for their chances. And take advantage of the ones that they get.

For the reasons above, and perhaps a few more, I just believe - in my head - that the Rangers just do not have enough to beat the Washington Capitals, who got a taste of the second season last year and want it even more this year.

If it means anything though, folks, I do hope I am wrong. I really, really hope I am wrong.

**Author's note. I think all these Eastern series are fantastic matchups and we, as fans, really lucked out. The West's I'm a little less sure about but I think there's a chance for a few doozies as well. But regardless of my predictions - and rib all you want because it's all in fun - enjoy the playoffs. One of the best times of the year!**

My Regular Season Western Conference Predictions Analysis - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. . .

And now, the analysis of my regular season predictions for the Western Conference. Fair warning, I did, as expected, pretty brutally. . .

My Predictions:
1) Detroit
2) San Jose
3) Calgary
4) Dallas
5) Anaheim
6) Colorado
7) Phoenix
8) Chicago

In Reality:

San Jose
St. Louis

Pat Me On the Back...

Wild: "I like the Wild. But. . .Marian Gaborik, the Ranger killer, has not proven he can stay healthy. . .makes me think this team will not be as good as years past....A lot was up and down in Minnesota last year and they did make a rather quick exit. Not sure I'd bank on the Wild in what will be a tough race in the West this year." (I had them on a narrow miss and it was, indeed, a pretty narrow miss).

Calgary: "I don't think you can go wrong with an offense centered around I-can-do-everything-posterboy Jarome Iginla. But he can't do it himself. ...Guys like Mike Cammalleri, Craig Conroy and Daymond Langkow will really have to step up. I don't see why Calgary isn't my front-runner though, on experience and the last few years alone."

Sharks: "Add one Dan Boyle, who is looking to resurrect and be the top offensive D-man he proved he could be in Tampa, and you have a team. A plethora of young talent like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Ryan Clowe, Milan Michalek, and Joe Pavelski, are primed for good years. This team seems poised. Not to mention anything of my favorite for Vezina this year, the man who was robbed last year, Evgeni Nabokov. Not many are better. The guy was a machine last year. Expect no different in this. I expect San Jose and Dallas to fight to the end for the division title, although I'm not sure either will knock Detroit from the top step." (If you ignore the fact that I said they were battling the Stars, and throw in Devon Settogucci in there, I had it almost right. And San Jose did knock Detroit from the top spot, so they were even better than I thought.)

Kings: "But you know what - I think they'll be better than last year, points wise at least. Playoffs, unfortunately, not a good chance at all. (71 points in 07-08, 79 points in 08-09).

Red Wings: "Really hard to imagine them not sailing right through to the playoffs, although, let it be said, Chicago played them tough last year and will be better this year and Nashville was always a tough game as well. They probably will not have as many points in what should be a more difficult division. But, really, who cares. Bottom line: Red Wings will be playoff bound." (True, they didn't top the West, they came a few points short. But they had 112 points this year, to their 115 last year).

Chicago: "Here's hoping, and it might just be a reality, the only other non-successful original six team besides the New York Rangers, will see a fast rise to glory this year.... Also, add a hopefully (seriously now!) healthy Marty Havlat, and perhaps this is the year. Again, the West is tough, perhaps tougher than last year, but if I had to pick, I'd say Chicago gets it done." (Well what shocks me more than Chicago making the playoffs as I predicted, is that Marty Havlat made it the entire regular season without major injury. I am stunned. He deserves props for this. Chicago is in a good place. I had them lower than they ended up being, but again, remember I got my head tripped up in all that Colorado and Dallas nonsense).

Predators: ". . .but I’m not sure the team that has just seemed to sneak in the last few years, will do it again this year. They will have to be better and have to generate more points in a tougher central division. And I’m not sure they do it....I am just going on a hunch that they don’t make it. If they do, I’m happy. But I’m just not sure it’s not someone else’s turn."


Oilers: "Figure, if Dwayne Roloson can keep the group in it, if he stays, and Sheldon Souray can be the power play quarterback the Oil signed last year, maybe they do have a shot. In my mind there are four or five probable-to-definite picks for the West, and the other three spots are up for grabs. I wouldn't count the Oilers out of it, but that's really going to be anyone's guess." (Another close miss; and I'm taking credit for Roloson here, because he was a big reason this team made it as close as they were).

Ducks: "I have to assume the Ducks will be at least as good as they were last year, if not better...I still think they lack something. But this team is one of my bets to make the playoffs. And probably to be angry enough to go further than last year's quick exit. (I picked them to make the playoffs, yes, but I must admit I thought they'd be more of a shoo-in than they were, stumbling for much of the season and keeping the eighth seed on a late season rise. As for going forther in the playoffs, that it TBD, even if I don't see it happening.)

I'm Such a Moron:

Colorado: "I guess I figure it would have to be either the Wild or the Avalanche making the playoffs this year. Don't think they'd both miss it. And I just might have to go on the side of Colorado. Joe Sakic will need to stay healthy." (I can't even type it because it pains me to say, but I actually thought Peter Budaj would get the job done in nets. Yikes! As for Colorado in general, if Sakic going down didn't hurt this team in every way imaginable, losing Stastny too made it that much worse. I'm not saying they would have made the playoffs, but the Avs shouldn't have been the last place team either and I don't see how they are if those two guys are healthy.)

Canucks: "Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton, and perhaps even Minnesota will average more goals. I sadly don't see how this team makes the playoffs. Mats Sundin, the wanted savior, might not have been able to provide enough on his own to save this team." (Well, call me a moron here. I am not sure if Vancouver was going to be this good, or if Mat Sundin really DID spark some magic in the Pacific Northwest, but this team, a team with a core that has been together a while now, looked much better in the 2nd half than I would have thought. Sundin did help. And you can't bet against a team that has Roberto Luongo. At least I probably shouldn't have. Although who woulda thunk it about Alex Burrows...?)

Stars: "I am excited to see how the Stars do this year and more confident than last year that they will do well. I think Dallas will flourish this year. Marty Turco slayed some demons with his solid performance in nets during the playoffs. Brendan Morrow was a honest-to-goodness beast when it counted. Haven't seen that from him in quite some time. Brad Richards started to find his stride and will get to test his first full year for the black, green, and gold. And my favorite and yours, Sean Avery, who is already ruffling feathers all throughout the Western Conference, gets to pal up with (or against) agitator Steve Ott. Nice." (WELL, obviously nothing turned out the way for Dallas that I thought it would. The team was a wreck to start. Turco forgot what he did in the previous pring. Avery was a non-factor, although most would go on to blame him - unjustifiably - for the team's slow start on ice. Morrow ended up out for the season. Sergei Zubov played as many games for the Stars as Ilya Zubov played for the Senators (10). And Richards broke his wrist, came back, and hurt it again. This was just not the Stars year in any regard whatsoever. And it was NOT all about Sean Avery!)

Coyotes: "I really like their chances at being one of those bottom three surprise teams to squeeze into the playoffs. They almost did it last year and I was rooting for them, trust me. I think having Ilya Bryzgalov for a full year in nets might make the difference. ... Honestly, I think things are looking brighter in Phoenix and perhaps, bright enough to bring the maroon and white into the promised second season. Out of the could-be-there, these might be my favorites." (I lauded Shane Doan, Ed Jovonovski, and Peter Mueller in my paragraph on the desert dogs. Doan had a great year, but Jovo struggled badly to start and the young guys in their sophomore years like Mueller, struggled too. Bryzlgalov would have had to been much better to have helped their cause. All that said, the team did have a better start and at the All-Star break sat in the 5th seed. A late season collapse with no goal scoring, and an untimely injury to defenseman Kurt Sauer, told the tale in the end. No playoffs in Phoenix. I think you can tell that I really wanted them there when I wrote the above in October. Just imagine how much I wanted them there after my favorite player was traded to them in March!!)

Columbus: "Every year for the last few, I've picked Columbus to make the playoffs. And no matter how much I want them to (and I do) and feel they do have a chance (I do), I am not sure if it's possible for all three of the last spots in the West to be filled with teams that failed to make the dance last year. Possible - of course. Probable - probably not. ....and Steve Mason if necessary and healthy, are enough to get it done. I do hope so. Honestly for myself, and for guys like Rick Nash and Manny Malhotra, I hope they do it. I’m just not sure if this is the year to see Phoenix, Chicago, AND Columbus all knock out practical perennial playoff teams like Colorado, and Minnesota." (Well, again, if I was ever happy to be wrong, it is with this team. I had been picking Columbus, like Florida in the East, for the last three years, and finally - FINALLY - they did it. Only I didn't pick 'em. Ribb me all you want. I'm just glad they got it done!)

Blues: "Thus, I know nothing really except I can’t imagine St. Louis will be much better, and I can’t imagine this team is in line for a playoff berth in an over talented and super saturated West." (Good for the Blues for proving me wrong. With the injuries this team has had, it is a big testament to the young guys there and their few lasting veterans that they were able to come through the West. Great job)

Final Thoughts:

So, in my mind, I thought Dallas, Detroit, San Jose, Calgary, and Anaheim were the shoo-ins. I thought Colorado would be the we've-been-there-before and here-we-are-again breed. And I thought Phoenix and Chicago would jump in. Obviously Dallas was an extreme overstep, as my feelings about Montreal were in the East. People can be wrong. I most definitely can be wrong. I'm very glad that Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis were able to make it in to get some fresh blood out there. I really am. Now, next year, if it's Phoenix replacing one of the old steady and true guys, I am all for it. And how about Nashville having a good enough year to be chasing a 3 seed instead of falling short of an 8. Just some things I'd like to see. But, no, none of this fixes my horrendous picks, although, when all was said and done, I still picked 5 out of 8 correctly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Regular Season Eastern Conference Predictions Analysis - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. . .

Back in early October, I sat down to make regular season predictions on what teams would make the playoffs. Now, here at Natural Hat Trick Productions, we take a moment to step back and reflect on the best and worst of those for the Eastern Conference:

My predictions:
1) Montreal Canadiens
2) Washington Capitals
3) Philadelphia Flyers
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
5) Boston Bruins
6) New York Rangers
7) New Jersey Devils
8) Florida Panthers

In Reality:
1) Boston Bruins
2) Washington Capitals
3) New Jersey Devils
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
5) Philadelphia Flyers
6) Carolina Hurricanes
7) New York Rangers
8) Montreal Canadiens

First of all I got 7 out of 8 teams correct, which I think deserves a brief moment of applause. Clap, cla...okay, fine, this was the easier conference to predict, I think. I had Florida taking Ottawa's spot from last year. Instead, Carolina got hot and took it instead. But Florida was the next team in waiting and, Panthers fans, if it means anything, I was pulling hard for you guys. Not, mind you, at the expense of New York, but because it would have been a great thing to see.

The Caps and Pittsburgh were the only two teams I picked correctly in terms of order. I obviously, as did so many of us around the NHL, drink the koolaid of the masses and think Montreal was going to be the #1 seed for the second year in a row. Instead, they, like the Rangers, only secured a playoff spot with two games to go.

Now, let's take a moment to smile/laugh/nod/cringe at some of my thoughts on the East going into this season. There are some doozies.

Pat Me On The Back:

Flyers: "Philly performed better than expected and I expect no different this year...If this team doesn't compete for or win the division, I will be shocked." (Devils won the division, but both Pitt and Philly were only 7 points behind. Flyers improved from 95 points last year to 99 this year).

Devils - "I think they will gain some points on last year even if only because I just do not see them taking as few points as they did from the Rangers and Islanders last year. Isles will be worse and NJ did not like being the Rangers punching bag, and that’s enough incentive right there to win more games." (2007-08 - 99pts/46 wins; 2008-09 - 106pts/51 wins).

Isles: "There might not be too much to cheer about in Isleland this season. NYI - here are you tickets to the Jonathan Tavares sweepstakes. Don't lose 'em! Many will enter, one will win." (Isles - last place in league and best chance to land top pick in this year's draft)

Penguins: "And no. Miroslav Satan may not be the answer." (Enough said).

Rangers: "Honestly this is my hardest team to predict because if I had to guess, I’d say they have both the potential to be the best team in the East and the potential to fall flat on their faces. So, to be fair, I’ll go somewhere in between. The Rangers will be a playoff team, but they will not crack the top four." (seed #7)

Capitals: "I think the Capitals are going to be better than last year and definitely win the division. They might even challenge for one of the top two spots in the East, especially since I think they'll garner a lot of points playing against the likes of Tampa and Atlanta." (From 94 points last year to 108 this year, they have the #2 seed and are tops in the South East).

Thrashers: "Hard to pick a team I feel worse for than Atlanta...There will be no hockey playoffs in Georgia this year."

Maple Leafs: "When Ryan Hollweg and Jeff Finger are two of your only acquisitions in the off-season, well, it’s going to be a long year."

Bruins: "I seriously think, whether it’s Fernandez stepping in, Tim Thomas standing pat, or Tuukka Rask stepping up, this team can make it in nets. And Marc Savard as well as Marco Sturm are poised for high point totals this season as they did last year. I feel good about Boston’s chances. I think it’ll be a good year and people will be surprised." (Ignore the fact that Sturm was out with injury and played only 19 games this year, and the rest was spot on. The Bruins had two solid goalies (and even Rask shotout the Rangers.) Savard was awesome. And the Bruins surprised a lot of people. Just not me.)

Sabres: "I hope it’s a better year for Buffalo, but I think they’ll fall just short again." (Again, just short).

I'm Such a Moron:

Rangers: "Do I think this team will score more goals than last year? Last year there weren’t many goals to speak of and a power play to embarrass even the best of us all, but, it’s hard to say that they will score less with guys like Markus Naslund and Nik Zherdev, and hopefully a re-energized Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. So I’d have to assume that unless everyone has an awful year, they will score more." (And this from the person who thought their powerplay couldn't possibly be any worse either. *I want to bury head in sand*. Sure I just went through a nice little rant on why Naslund and Zherdev were assets to the team, but Gomez and Drury? And no one, not one player! - cracked 60 points on this team.)

Hurricanes: "The team doesn’t look that different but it seems miles away from the Cup win in 2006. I just don’t know. I can’t argue with Rod Brind’Amour’s leadership or Peter Laviolette’s style or even what I assume to be a great year for Eric Staal, who has just shored up a long, new contract to remain in NC. But… I just don’t think they have enough in them to knock someone out of the East." (Obviously RBA was a non-factor in terms of statistics, but he's still their leader, Laviolette was shown the door ealier this year, and they did make the playoffs. Of course, having Cole come back to the team DID kinda make everyone feel like it was 2006 all over again. So while I was right about Staal, but they did prove me wrong big time.)

Lightning: "In short, I think Tampa will not struggle to score goals... And despite my earlier uncertainty, their goalie situation seems to be in very good hands...Do I think they’ll be better than many think – yes." (At least I didn't think they'd actually make the playoffs. Unfortunatley for all involved, Tampa did very little to entertain. Melrose was not even there long enough to entertain!)

Canadiens: "In a year where there will be many ceremonies, including a banner raising for one Patrick Roy, the team will need to be sharp to keep the fans and the city happy. And, honestly, with minimal additions – Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Georges Laraques– and minimal departures – Mark Streit and Michael Ryder – I don’t see why they won’t. Montreal will easily, in my opinion, win the Northeast, and contend again for a top two spot in the conference." (I suppose I meant minimal in terms of not many in terms of departures, but my gosh, did the departure of Mark Streit hurt the Habs - and me, because he's on the WRONG New York team!! Their powerplay, once a lethal force, was pedestrian this year until Schneider came here late in the season. And, not so shockingly, the Islanders was pretty good. Wonder why? Tanguay and Lang were great pickups for the Habs, but when Lang went down with injury it hurt them big time. Laraques hardly ever saw the ice. They didn't see good or consistent effort from nearly enough players this year and that is why they not only didn't even challenge Boston for the top spot in the division, they barely even made the playoffs. I was sooooooo very wrong about this team. True, I was not alone, but I couldn't have been more wrong.)

Ottawa: "I for one think Heatley will have a career year....You just can't rely on one team and one defensive pairing. Not in this league. I see them perhaps coming just short this year." (Ottawa, despite hanging on still as of two weeks ago, really didn't come "just short" so I have to put this in the moron pile even though I didn't pick them. And as for Heatley, his 39G/33A/72P/-11 were really horrible considering the fanatastic years he has had).


Panthers: "Maybe they’ll be better, by addition through subtraction. But I feel it. If it can happen to the Tampa Rays, why not to the Florida Panthers. Playoffs in Florida? Maybe!" (This doesn't fall in either grouping. I said they'd maybe make the playoffs. Again, I still feel badly they couldn't get it done. I will hope again for them next year and every year until they do return to the second season.)

Overall, I know I did a much better job with the East than the West (maybe not surprisingly). I think in spite of all the ups and downs of a season, injuries and surprise players, picking 7 out of 8 teams that make the playoffs is a good record. I'll take it. And, too, with the three point games, not too much movement was made. If you went back a month, Florida held the last playoff spot. Carolina only ousted Florida in the last few weeks. Otherwise, my picks would have been perfect.

Also worth noting, I do get credit for the following statement:

"I think the Atlantic division will be the toughest and will have the most
representatives going to the playoffs of any in the East."

With NJ, Philly, Pitt, and New York, the Atlantic has four teams going to the playoffs. Southeast (Wash, Canes) and NorthEast (Bruins, Habs) each have two.

I realize this is not the most unique of thoughts and this has been the way, for three years now, but I have to grab credit where I can. ;)

Tomorrow, I'll try to do the West prediction analysis and before Wednesday, I'll run through some brief some playoff predictions too. Some fantastic matchups to look forward to, that's for sure!

Some Final Thoughts From Today. . .

Apologies for the lack of updates in these last few exciting days of the regular season. Honestly it's been a little tough to get time to write. I debated, and honestly the decision is mostly due to time constraints on my side, on whether to do a full Rangers regular season review now or to wrap up the entire season when it does in fact end, and my choice is the latter. I will, for today, just focus on a few key stats and some comments that have been on my mind, but it will not be one big cohesive wrap up, at least not yet.

So if it all ends up being one mish-mosh of entries after the Rangers eventually fall from the playoffs (sooner or later), then so be it. If you are reading this blog, you've probably become used to some disorganization and rambling anyway. ;) So the season in review will be an entire season in review, probably done in more than one part and probably, knowing the pattern here at NHTP, more of a review of generalities than statistics.

But in the meantime, just a few final thoughts. I think it's important the Rangers ended their season on a good note. We sadly saw coming out of the lockout how a great team - and my favorite Rangers team in a long time - stumbled into the playoffs failing to get the minimal point necessary to win the division and fell straight out of the competition in four games. So don't underestimate the importance of going into the playoffs on a good note. And the way the Rangers played today, coming back three times to tie Philadelphia before taking the lead, scoring on both the PP and the PK, and standing up to the rough stuff, was very positive in many regards.

Some other interesting stats. It was pointed out to me that the Rangers had more wins at Madison Square Garden this season (26-11-4) than any years since 1993-1994 (28-8-6). Even though there were some pretty bad years in there, I was still surprised to read that.

And big kudos to Hank on his career high 38 wins, another stat that surprised me. Mostly because the team, at long, long stretches of this season, played so badly. And because, Hank himself was so often hung out to dry. This season was not really his best numbers wise (last year his GAA and Save% were better and he had 10 shutouts, to start). But I believe the end game, the wins, is testament to him standing up through the different systems the Rangers had this year, the team on a whole, and yes, like them or not, all those boring 2-1 wins, and all those shootout wins as well. Either way, kudos to Hank. Very impressive. He may never be the best goalie in the league, but he is certainly one of the best and the one I'd most like on my team, hands down.

Now just a look at one more regular season final stat.

Antropov - 28
Naslund - 24
Zherdev - 23
Drury - 22
Callahan - 22

Now, ignore Antropov's numbers, because in all honestly they did not all come in New York. Look at those leaders. As much as everyone got on Markus Naslud and Nikolai Zherdev at many times this season, really, stop and ask yourself where this team would be without those goals. Could they have played better all around every game, could they have stepped up their effort and not taken games off? Yes, and yes. But look at the whole team and think of how many players didn't take games off and didn't step up their efforts at all moments. There are few - perhaps three - the same three I've been alluding to all season. So ignoring those three guys (for the moment)ask yourself whether either guy was really a bad move. I think there are other guys - and oh how part of me wishes I could jump in right now and talk about them for the next hour - that deserve more criticism than these two. Also, and very important to note, it was guys like Zherdev and Naslund, both natural goal scorers, that got a lot of those important goals in late minutes of the game, to either tie the game or win the game. Want to know who helped pad those win totals for the Rangers this year besides Hank? On the offensive side, look no further than these two.

I am not defending anyone's lack of effort on this Rangers team. In fact, because of it I am perhaps a little more than surprised that I am here right now NOT typing the season in review entry and that the Rangers are, indeed, going to the playoffs. BUT - but - that doesn't mean that I can't look at the players on this team a little differently than others may have. Zherdev and Naslund were NOT the problems on this years team. Not even close!

**Sorry, I didn't mean to go there now. But if you liked the above rant, that is what you'll definitely get more of when the season finally does come to an end and there is time to reflect back on the season, on a whole.**

Let's get back on track here. Overall, regardless of all the details and drama, the Rangers did make the playoffs. They and the New Jersey Devils are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference to have made the playoffs in all four years post-lockout. That deserves big kudos right there.

And now that a brand new season - the second season - begins, I am looking forward to seeing what the team can do. It won't be easy, but I think the Washington/Rangers series will be very, very entertaining. I hope for a ton of goal scoring, and games to remember for a long time. And to see AO in the playoffs live, that should be truly amazing.

Go Rangers!