Do You Have The Confidence of Matt Murray?

He’s probably got some puck luck and skill too..not to mention a talented team in front of him.

Watching Game 3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series, I realized that I look at hockey so much differently than even a few weeks ago.  I feel like I can “read” the game better than ever before – almost like I understand where the guys on the ice are going to go.
Hearing Pierre McGuire talk about how rookie Penguins goaltender Matt Murray goes to hang out at the Pens’ bench during television time-outs and jokes with the rest of the team just reinforces one of the major lessons that I’ve learned on my own: confidence. It’s the hardest lesson that I’ve had to learn, even more so than keeping my back straight so I don’t keep falling on my face.

If I don’t keep a good posture I have this terrible habit of bending forward and crashing forward onto the ice.  Once I fall, I do my best to get up as fast as I can and correct it.  Although after a couple of weeks of skating with my head up and back straighter, I can feel that I’m getting it.  I understand it.  I’m confident in my skating. Well to a point.  I’m not confident in stopping.  I’m not confident that I can get there fast and I’m certainly not confident that I can go backward.  I might be able to go backward for a couple of strides, but I am not going to be the last D man on the break.  Otherwise you can be sure I’ll be on my ass sliding the whole way down the ice.

With 19:00 minutes to go in the third period of Game 3 young goalie Murray has a shutout of the Caps going (I know I’m going to be the one to curse him by saying this – i’m not superstious or anything but I know some players are).   To be fair, you can see his confidence has been growing since the New York Rangers series, when he strolled into Madison Square Garden and shutout the Blueshirts and King Henrik Lundqvist.

It’s amazing to me what confidence can do, I remember when I first stepped back on the ice for the public skate with my daughter.  It had been almost 20 years since I had been in a pair of ice skates and I sure as hell was not confident as I nervously got onto the ice at the Rev. All those little kids who were out there were much more confident prancing around doing all kinds of moves and showing their moms and dads their best tricks.

Meanwhile I’m taking a short stride and feeling like there’s two sticks of butter on my feet and I’m skating on a pan covered in non-stick cooking spray.  I was able to skate from one side of the ice to the other and skate down to the far end of the rink where no one was – that felt like a huge victory for me!  Looking back at it, it makes me laugh.  I do that as soon as I make a lap now.  Can you imagine?  But back then, I had no confidence in my skating and my legs just shook.

Under 13 minutes to go in Murray’s shutout bid and the kid is seeing the puck really well. Uh oh.  I just did it.  So much for that shutout.  Then again, the Penguins gave Ovechkin all the room in the world to shoot.  Come on, even I know you can’t do that!  

I think confidence is the reason that I have spent money on new skates and sticks when I’ve still got so far to go.  I think part of me feels like if I have good skates then I can’t blame them for me not being able to skate well.  It makes me work harder or push myself harder at skating because I know it’s not because the blades can’t handle it.  Or if I stick handle or shoot at net, I want a great stick because it’s going to push me to work on making my passes better and my accuracy better.  

Even the little details I have to tell myself to do, like when I receive a pass to cradle it like an egg, thanks Steve, or that movement of the stick to top shelf a shot.  If I’m confident I have the gear to do it in then I have to be confident in me, which means I have to go get on the ice and just do it.

That’s easier said than done of course.  If confidence came in a bottle I’d buy all the cases I could find. I still remember the first time I went to skills class and how nervous I was because I didn’t know anyone.  I thought I’d hold up the drills when I fell and went slow.  But everyone was cool and I gained so much every time I went out.  I’ve come so far but have so far to go.  Murray told his mom he’d be an NHL starting goalie when he was an 11 year old, so I can be a better player one day as long as I have confidence.




Looking Forward To The NHL’s Awards

I know it’s early and we are still 12 days away from the end of the regular season but it’s just about the time to look at who should win the NHL’s regular season awards.  There are a few we may not truly be able to know until the end but that’s part of the fun!  We will start with one of the ones I think is pretty much wrapped up.

*stats as of 3/29/16

Vezina Trophy

Braden Holtby      (2.17 Goals Against Average, .923 Save %, 46 wins)
Henrik Lundqvist (2.41 GAA, .922 SV %, 33 wins)
Ben Bishop             (2.02 GAA, .928 SV%, 33 wins)
Honorable mention: Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider

For me, no one has been more impressive between the pipes than Holtby because he has backstopped a team that has ratcheted up the pressure on the rest of the NHL to the tune of an NHL leading 54 wins and a guaranteed President’s Trophy.  Holtby has won 46 of those 54 games and proven to be a workhorse for the Capitals on their run to what they hope is a Cup winning season.  While they are a well built team, I think they are built from the goalie position on.  Last year’s playoff performance by Holtby was his coming out party and I think he is showing what he is made of.  He played in 13 games last year posting a 1.71 GAA and .944 SV%, winning 6 of the 13 games before the Caps bowed out to the New York Rangers in the 7th game.

As for the Rangers, Lundqvist has held them in the playoff race on his back alone. Once again they’ve built a team designed to win around Hank.  The Rangers leading scorer Derek Brassard has 57 points (27 goals -30 assists) and isn’t even in the 20 in points or the top 20 in goals (26).  If the Rangers expect to beat the Capitals in the Eastern Conference they’ll have to rely on defense and Lundqvist.
Quietly Ben Bishop has powered the Tampa Bay Lightning to 93 points and a tie with Florida atop the Atlantic division.  While we’ve heard about Florida’s resurgence, the Lightning have quietly come on thanks in large part to Bishop’s play in net.  As long as he continues to play strong he’ll have a chance to take that top spot in the Atlantic.

The Corey-Cory tandem both have played well and it was hard to keep them off the board but the top three candidates couldn’t be overlooked.  Crawford has kept the Hawks in many games but the offense in front of him has overshadowed his work many times.  I don’t believe he’s the top tier goal like the other three.  Schneider is a top tier goaltender but he’s been hurt by New Jersey’s lack of depth.  Once the Devils get the pieces in place, they have a great goalkeeper in place to get them where they want to be.

Calder Trophy

Artemi Panarin
Jack Eichel
Shayne Gostisbehere
Honorable mention: Max Domi

Some may question the fact that Panarin is 24 and played for 6 years in the Russian KHL before coming over to the NHL.  By the NHL standards however, Panarin is a rookie and stands to win the Calder hands down with 64 points, which is good for 17th in the league, the best by a rookie.  

Eichel is at 50 and Gostisbehere, the Flyers’ D-man, has 42 points for a team that is gunning for the playoffs as best they can.  Eichel has looked good for the Sabres, a good runner-up prize for the team that missed out on “can’t miss” prospect Connor McDavid that Edmonton took with the first overall pick.

Meanwhile Max Domi has shown flashes of brilliance in his time in a Coyotes sweater, even scoring on his father, Tie’s old team Toronto this year as he has amassed 48 points.

Norris Trophy

Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson….

no seriously…..

Erik Karlsson
Drew Doughty
Brent Burns
Honorable mention: P.K. Subban

Erik Karlsson has been a revelation once again in Ottawa.  A defenseman leading the league in assists?  Yup that’s him.  The gold standard of offensive defenseman.  But he’s always on the ice for his team, 30 minutes plus 30 or more times this year.  Karlsson has 62 assists and it is the most by a defenseman since Nicklas Lidstrom in the 2007-2008 season when he had 60.  He won the Norris that year.

Doughty has played well on the blueline for the Kings.  He’s been one of the reasons that the Kings have performed so well and are contenders for the Cup.  Burns has been a point producer as well.  But both can’t really come close to what is Karlsson’s best and arguably magical season even though the Sens won’t make the playoffs it is an individual award and he has played the best season for a D-man.

P.K. has had some missed games due to injuries although he has brought his offensive game to the Canadiens this year.  When he’s come to the rink he’s been explosive.  He’s been physical and solid.  The team has struggled because of lack of depth and that has affected his numbers but I still see that Norris trophy D-man on the ice.  Not as good as the other three but he’s up there.

Hart Trophy

Patrick Kane
Sidney Crosby
Johnny Gaudreau
Honorable mention: Erik Karlsson, Henrik Lundqvist

Patrick Kane is the guy that checks all the boxes here, leader in points, second in goals, second in assists and plays on one of the NHL’s best teams.  But I’m struggling with this decision.  This is the one that I have a hard time with.  Do I think the Blackhawks would win without him?  No.  But do I think the Penguins win without Crosby?  No way.

In fact the Penguins have been a way different team in 2016 then in 2015.  On January 2, 2016 before facing the New York Islanders, the Penguins sat on 40 points – good for 10th in the Eastern Conference and 5th in the Metropolitan Division.  Now they are at 92 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan and 5th in the Conference, a hell of a swing in three months.

As for Gaudreau, the Flames would have struggled without his 28 goals and 45 assists. Johnny Hockey put the Calgary team on his back this year and even though they won’t make the playoffs, there is no doubt in my mind, this young lad is going to make this team a contender as long they continue to put complementary pieces around him.

As for my honorable mentions, I believe Karlsson will win the Norris and that speaks for itself, as well as Lundqvist’s play in net for the Rangers.

Selke Trophy

Patrice Bergeron

I can’t really throw anyone else in the mix because as long as he’s playing this is pretty much Bergeron’s trophy to lose.  Bergeron does everything you want a forward to do.  He wins faceoffs, kills penalties, back checks and is one of the best all around forwards.  His play is so good he makes everyone around him look good.

But if you are inclined, I’ll give you two names that could be included in the runner up spot:

Anze Kopitar
Sidney Crosby

You happy?  It still should be renamed the Bergeron trophy.  For as long as he’s playing, it will be his.

Adams Trophy

Mike Sullivan
Mike Babcock
Barry Trotz

This one should be a lot easier than it was.  But Mike Sullivan was gifted a talented team, the same that former Penguins coach Mike Johnston couldn’t get to produce.  On December 12, 2015 the Penguins introduced Mike Sullivan as coach and begin to see results.  As I stated above they are now knocking on the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference and this is thanks to Mike Sullivan who produced in Wilkes-Barre Scranton with the “Baby Pens.”  Many of his players there were brought up and have continued to produce in his system.  It’s worked well for him and I think it’s shown what a good coach can do with hard work and players that believe in a system.  You don’t always have to have the Kanes and the Karlssons to win.

Speaking of not having talent, Mike Babcock has done wonders with a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has stripped down the organization’s foundation to the core.  Babcock has worked well with the younger players brought up from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the Leafs have seen a resurgence not only on the ice but with the fan base as well.  It has given a once proud team reason to look to the future again.

Barry Trotz was given the keys to a Ferrari this year.  He was expected to drive the Ferrari as fast and as far as he could.  He has done that.  But he has also exceeded expectations.  Trotz has been able to guide the team through the ups and downs of the regular season without too much drama and changed the culture of the organization in two seasons.  He should have been nominated for this award last season.  Unfortunately I don’t see him winning it this year either.

Who do you think will win?




So You Think You Have The Confidence of Carey Price?

It’s ironic that Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price made me reflect on hockey.  An injury to the franchise player on November 25, 2016 was initially thought to be just a “week or two” thing.  Price hasn’t seen a game since that day and isn’t sure he will before the end of the season or the playoffs, if the Canadiens make it – things aren’t looking good for him or the team.

Skate backwards twenty-plus-years to when I played roller hockey in the sunny Southern states with a group of loyal compatriots and thought that I was pretty good at what I was doing.  I could go side-to-side, change direction in a flash, skate backwards, I could go pretty fast and I damn sure wasn’t afraid to stop on a dime.  There was also the roller hockey side – I could dish, I could put the puck where I had to (ok, the roller hockey ball). I was also “that kid” out there with the ice hockey gloves, yeah I know, but I went to Pennsylvania for a wedding and made my dad go to a hockey store. Hell I even played goalie pretty damn well – my one memory is stopping a penalty shot by using my forehead to block the ball.

We weren’t organized and didn’t put money into much, just sticks and the ball when we could.  We didn’t care about wearing masks and this was before Bryan Berard  and Marc Staal had eye injuries (sorry guys!).  We didn’t know any better either, we just did it for the typical “love of the game.”

We didn’t have any ice either – the NHL was just realizing that Northern “snowbirds” were screaming for hockey in Florida so they were installing two franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami.  A kid we went to school with, thought he was going pro (we might have been a little jealous), toted around a hockey stick and ice skates because he went to a rink that was an hour and a half away to play ice hockey. None of us could afford to either drive that far away or buy all that ice hockey equipment, nor would our parents take us.  Okay we were a lot jealous.

We did have a local hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League, the Hampton Roads Admirals, that our pro ice hockey kid learned from.  That’s where I learned my love of ice hockey, that and our local cable channel Home Team Sports that showed almost every Washington Capitals game.  Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin taught me a lot about the game because they were the only ones I had to learn from.

Locally the Admirals were coached by John Brophy, the same John Brophy who melted down on the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80’s.  Good times.  He did his fair share of melting down in the ECHL.  It was quite comical.

But we played probably ten games max of roller hockey at a tennis court on the edge of town.  A nice barely used tennis court, well-lit and out of the way but the Southern sun made it ridiculous to use during the day, so we played at night.

Until one summer night when some guys came out of nowhere with trouble on their mind.  I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much to me – 5-foot-10, 150 pounds max with skates on.  It was probably 9 or 9:30 at night and we had the lights on skating and I notice them, that’s always been something that I was good at was noticing my surroundings, and I noticed these guys coming up that obviously did not have skates.  One goes up to the breaker box for the lights and I’m planning my exit the whole time.  No one else had any clue what was about to go on.  Lights go out and I’m gone like the Russian Rocket.  I don’t know if I’ve ever skated or ran faster in my life.  Ten minutes later it was over and we hauled ass out of there never to return.

We still wanted to play and we tried to play at the tennis courts at the high school in town but the one night we tried someone called the cops on us – citing the trespassing sign.  I got tossed in the back of a cop car with skates still on my feet along with my fellow hockey players.  Imagine that, instead of bringing drugs or weapons to school we were playing hockey on the tennis courts!  Priorities.

After that, the most roller hockey I played was in my driveway with a goal I built from two-by -fours and a net I bought at a sporting goods store.  I skated so many times in the same circle that I wore the wheels down on an angle and I worked on a slap shot that broke the window of my parent’s garage door at least twice.  But I had nowhere else to go “for the love of the game.”

Finnish flash twenty-plus-years to Carey Price, “I want to be out there playing the game I love.”  Price continued, “that’s been the goal this entire time, to be able to come back with 100 per cent confidence, I didn’t want to come back at 90 per cent and still have that mentally kind of shadow overcast. We wanted to come back and make sure that I can compete at 100 per cent and lay it all out there because if you still have that mental block, you can’t play at your best.”

I followed hockey for those 20 plus years, even though I was introduced to hockey by the Admirals and Capitals (and early 80’s with Macgyver’s Calgary Flames hat) I was always a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  Being a Buffalo Bills fan I guess it’s something about the area – or maybe it’s something about lovable losers, I can say it I’m a fan.  I wrote Doug Gilmour when he was at the Leafs and was sent back an autographed picture.  I still have it to this day.  I always admired the goalies, don’t ask me why but Jocelyn Thibault has always been my favorite player (I’m ducking – I know I know but Felix Potvin was never far behind).  These days Henrik Lundqvist gets the nod, and I support Jayson Megna since I’ve seen him skate at Wilkes-Barre Scranton.  Which brings me full circle.

So after seeing hockey live, I decided maybe it was time to get back on ice skates and roller blades and see what I could do.  Looking up ice rinks it turned out that the one near Wilkes-Barre Scranton was the closest one.  My daughter wanted to skate too, at 10 years old she decided it was time for her to learn to play hockey.  Ice hockey.  So now, we’re both learning.  We both have to learn to skate – I have to “re-learn” and she has to start the process.  For me, it’s getting back and believing in myself, that I can do it.  For her, it’s believing that her skates won’t fail her, that she can stay balanced. Carey Price talked about it, the confidence – you have to have it.

There’s something about that rink, along with the smell of the ice – you know?  You look at it and first maybe you are thinking “ok it’s not so bad, all these guys and girls are doing it.”  But then you step on it and you fall.  Then you fall again.  When you are a kid it’s not a big deal you have all these years ahead to learn.  But as an adult you are thinking “I should know how to do this,” especially if when you are younger you knew how to roller blade like a champ.  But this is so different.  The ice will eat you up.  There’s nothing like getting on that ice.  It’s so intimidating.  Especially if you see other people out there skating with sticks and pucks and they make it look so damn easy.

Guys or girls your age or younger.  I skated from one side to the other and considered it an achievement until I saw a young lady skate backwards faster than I skated forward.  How the hell do you do that?  And don’t get me started on bending my knees.  How do I stay so bent?  And puck handling?  Try to shoot the puck and fall on your face.  It’s ridiculous.  I just feel like a failure.  Then I watch someone else zing them in.  Then I try to pick myself up the ice and slip again.  It’s a natural thing isn’t it?

Or go watch the NHL and they make it look so easy and get paid half as much as baseball players.  Hell, that’s not right.  I’ll never complain about a hockey player being terrible.  I’m terrible.  Don’t pay me.  Pay me to stay off the ice.  I’m awful.  They say you just have to keep going back and training and training.  I get how people with so much talent wash out now.  I understand.  If you lose confidence it’s going to eat you up.  It’s tough.  I gotta get back on the skates – I think?

Hockey Blues…And Not St. Louis 

The War Room with Mick Kern of Tomas Vanish (Vanek) fame , love that joke, was talking the other day about what you missed most about the NHL. Most of the the things I either was too young to know about or I had never experienced but it got me thinking.  
What I missed was those full on ice fights with goalies involved, listening to the games on my old record player with an antenna I created myself to listen to some random game and knowing all the players of every game.  
I know I’ve written about Chris Simon before and watching the Washington Capitals but when you have Home Team Sports and all they play is Caps games you start to learn about all the players . One of the most memorable fights was in 1998 when the Bruins and Caps fought a complete on ice brawl which included the goalies for both teams: Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe. The ice was littered with sticks and gloves and equipment. It was an absolutely amazing sight to be seen.

I understand that the NHL wants to bring in the fans who want to see scoring and fancy passes and goals. The thing about fighting though is that there has to be a place for it in hockey. You can’t allow someone to take liberties with your stars. I guess now though they’ve done a lot to do away with the cheap shots with penalties and the NHL got tired of the joke about going to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out. I just miss the enforcer. I miss the days when teams hated each other so much they’d have full out 6 vs 6 brawls and you were so compelled to watch. Not that I want to see Crosby fighting Nash or Lundqvist fighting anyone but hey if you gotta do it you gotta do it.

It’s like those old Colorado and Detroit series that I used to watch in the playoffs. There was so much hate and so much violence and you knew these guys would leave teeth and limbs on the ice to get to the next round. It just seems like we’ve toned it down a bit so that we could introduce a different kind of crowd. It’s a different kind of game too. I have adapted and I still love hockey I just miss those guys.

With the introduction of the Internet, satellite radio and cable TV you can pretty much watch or listen to any game you want. So back in the day when I crafted my own antenna and scanned the AM stations at night to find the Toronto station to listen to the Leafs it was like finding hockey nirvana. The sounds of Potvin and Gilmour my two favorite Leafs of all time and dreams of playing alongside in the packed house of the now defunct Maple Leaf Gardens. I can’t tell you how cool it was for me to lay there and imagine the miles and miles the signal traveled for me to pick it up. A Leafs fan in southern Virginia. Years later I’d see the inside of the MLG right before the closing of the beloved building on a trip to the great North when my father pulled on one of the outside doors on a whim and ushered me in. It’s buildings like that and the Forum we will never get back. We have to cherish them when we can.

Of all the things I miss the most is being able to play. I’ve gotten old, street hockey isn’t a viable option and certainly neither is ice hockey. I wish I was closer to a rink maybe I’d try, maybe it’d be easier who knows. But in summer you sit around and think about the past season, what I miss: hockey. Is it back yet? Drop the puck already!

Another Dynamic Duo?

Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News wrote that Henrik Lundqvist needs a sidekick like Batman needed Robin in order to win a Cup.  Bondy reasons that Chicago has Toewes and Kane and the Penguins have Malkin and Crosby.  Toewes and Kane’s Blackhawks are set to face off against three young stars from Tampa Bay known as the Triplets.

Sure the Rangers won the President’s trophy en route to the top seed in the playoffs but they lost in a Game Seven at home where they were supposed to be unbeatable.  At some point luck is going to run out.  They’ve gotten the right breaks at times this playoff season, but they’ve also had injuries that have hurt them, unlike Chicago and Tampa who are now in the Stanley Cup Finals.

If we go back to last year, look at the Rangers and Kings.  Two teams that almost mirrored each other in the Finals at the time.  Two goaltenders that were hot at the time that lead their team to the championship of each respected division.  Lucky bounces at the right time, the ability to score on the power play and the teams were healthy through the playoffs.  The last part can’t be understated enough.  Look at the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, the loss of Mats Zuccarello was tough for the offense to overcome in the Washington series but somehow they were able to overcome there.  However when Ryan McDonagh broke his foot in Game 4 of the ECF, he was pretty much less than 50 percent for the rest of the series.  It’s tough when the captain of the blueline can’t do what he’s supposed to do, especially when you are funneling everything into Lundqvist and getting no offense.  I know every team struggles with injuries but if the Blackhawks had Duncan Keith break his foot and lost Kane, I doubt they’d be in the Final.  I realize hockey is about next man in line, but it’s hard to replace your top D man and one of your top wingers.

There is something to be said however for having a team that can score and that’s something that the Rangers need help with.  There’s plenty of youth on this team, so I don’t think there’s a need to go with a younger set of players.  Maybe a shake up at the top by sending Nash out and replacing St. Louis and possibly Dan Boyle?  There certainly are some options available in the trade market to be explored in the offseason as well, and I think that’s more than likely going to be address by Glenn Sather.

Speaking of Sather, Bondy had a lot to say about Sather when he criticized the trade making abilities of the Ranger’s GM.  However, had the Rangers made it back to the Cup again I’m not certain Bondy would have spoken so harshly of Sather.  I’m not going to say that the St. Louis trade looks wonderful in hindsight but it was a deal that was made in the short-term not for the future.  Sather knew that Callahan wasn’t going to resign and was trying to get something for nothing while trying to push the Rangers through the playoffs for the next couple of seasons.  As for the various trades: Yandle and company, they were done to add pieces to an already strong core.  I don’t believe Sather’s job is safe just because he’s a friend to the owner, he did put together a President’s trophy winning team.  Plus let’s be fair, only one team can win the Cup, and it’s a very difficult market.  Sather has won Cups before, yes this is a different time, with free agency and salary caps but everyone has to play by that rule too.  If we all followed that mantra, GMs would be fired every single year when they didn’t win the Cup.

I am a Ranger fan, but I haven’t been convinced that altogether this team is as good as Chicago or Anaheim.  Those two teams have depth upon depth.  While Lundqvist is a better goalie than Crawford or Anderson, the forward depth and defensive parts that those two teams roll out I believe can’t be matched.  In a seven game series I believe it would be the Kings series all over again, with Lundqvist having to play every game on his head trying to keep the Rangers in the game while hoping that the power play could score.  As a Ranger fan I don’t want to see that.  I don’t believe that’s Vigneault’s fault as much as it is the need to cut some of the dead weight.  It’s time to shake up things.  Is the window closing?  I’m not sure the window was open.  The West is dominating things.  If it’s not the West, it’s Boston or Pittsburgh.  It’s hard to accept but maybe there are only so many dynamic duos to go around.

Rollin’ Sevens

About the time the puck dropped on Game Six of the Rangers-Tampa series that everyone interested and involved had heard the stats: 14-3. The Rangers were 14-3 in their last 17 elimination games. It’s an amazing stat when you think about it, talk a team that’s incredibly tough to close out, this is it.

But these are the Rangers, the team that one game looks like it could steamroll you out of the building and in the next has no idea where the net is. Turnovers have been a killer and the power play can’t score but somehow and someway this team has found a way to keep it going.

When the game started so did the Rangers and after the first period they had control with a 2-1 lead. The funny thing is that I thought that maybe it was going to be one of those low scoring games where the Rangers lean on Henrik and he has to carry them. But in the second period they seemed to be on their back foot letting Tampa come at them. They handled the pressure as best as they could allowing no goals in the second but it was painful to watch. It had that feeling that if Tampa scored one it was just going to break open.

Thankfully they didn’t and what happened in the third was something no one could have predicted, 5 Ranger goals! Brassard ended up with three goals and 2 assists, Nash had a goal and 3 assists, J.T. Miller had a goal and 3 assists. That line had 13 points combined, and it was a huge story of Game Six. They didn’t sit back and let Tampa come at them, they took the game to them.

But Hank also played a role, stopping key shots. He stopped 36 of 39 shots and made them when the team needed them. The Rangers needed a good game out of Lundqvist and they got it. This team doesn’t go anywhere without Lundqvist , he’s won 6 straight Game 7s. But these are just stats and it has to be played on Friday.

So now the 15-3 in the last 18 elimination game Rangers go home to MSG to a Game Seven. They have to take the game to Tampa by hard hits and attacking play. They have to make sure they don’t give Tampa any space and I can bet that Hank will give them solid goaltending. I’m sure Game Seven will be a nail biter but I’m sure the Rangers will be ready. They rolled seven in Game Six to get to Game Seven let’s see how they get to the Finals.

Lightning Never Strikes Twice?

Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final gave me hope that the Rangers would have learned from the Game Two blistering that they suffered in New York. Now in Tampa Bay they have to compete not only with the Lightning but with the crowd and I wonder if at times they let the crowd and the moment get to them.

It does need to be said that the Rangers did manage to come back and tie the game when they were down and out. But overtime sucked the life right out of it all.

With that in mind I present these thoughts of what I’d do to battle back:

1. Get Marty St. Louis away from the power play and maybe the ice until he can show me where the net is. I’m not sure he has that covered yet. Yes he’s a hall of fame player and a great guy but at some point the skill set runs out and we may be seeing it.
2. Tell Chris Kreider to stop running around with his hair on fire. Did he have to run over Dan Girardi? Calm down son, I know that you took a hit moments before but focus your aggression. I mean, come on, you should know that by now.
3. Can someone please stop letting the Lightning come full steam through the middle of the zone? I know I’m old and all but the defense or even a couple of forwards can backcheck these guys right on their butts. The winning goal, zoom right through the middle. Keep giving up ground and you’ll lose the fight.
4. Speaking of losing the fight, the Rangers got away with being clumsy and sloppy in the last two rounds because of their speed but Tampa’s quickness is making them pay. The Rangers are going to have to commit to leaving someone back at all times to combat that or else it will be a third straight six goal night.
5. If you don’t want a six goal night, there are these guys, and back in my day they used to bring the, out to change the momentum. You never see them anymore and I don’t know why, but when you don’t want someone to push you around, AHEM New York are you listening.? Call on one of your guys to push and shove and make it ugly. Obviously Tampa wants to push the tempo even faster so make them play even slower, but bring in a big boy or two, why not? Coaching is all about changing things up when you have to, old time hockey, Eddie Shore!
6. Please tell Rick Nash to park himself in front of Bishop. Again back in my day they got the biggest guy to stand in front of the goalie on the power play or during the game and screen him. Do they still screen goalies anymore? Damn I feel old. Take a big shot from the point and have Nash waive his arms or something in front of Bishop, have him sing a song or read him a book whatever it takes to distract but Nash is such a big body, he’s one of the few big bodies the Rangers have. Again they are going up against a basketball team and Nash is one of the few who can compete.
7. Someone please please give Lundqvist a little help on the back end. Some of these goals, an easy pass across the crease or a break away because of a crappy turnover, a guy alone because no one picked him up on D. The breakdown of the defense is a killer. I thought this defense was supposed to be the best? And where the hell is the captain? He should be screaming at guys! Hell I’m screaming at them here.
8. It’s time for Coach to shake it up. Enough is enough. Tampa right now is the better team. I believe if they win the next game they’ll take the series. I think New York was on the brink of stealing this game until Lundqvist had a breakdown himself and let in that goal. It seems like everyone is out of sorts. I think it’s time to give them a day away from the rink. When they come back there will be line changes. There will be a mentality change. No more pushed around. No more Stamkos bulldozing Hayes. Right away it ends. That is the way we change it. You can’t play it their way anymore.

Lightning did strike twice for six goals in two games no that is unacceptable plain and simple. It has to be changed and quickly. Sticking to the plain will only get New York run out of the building in Game Four. I think it’s time to make some drastic changes, bring a little Reggie Dunlop, a little Eric Lindros, a little Mark Messier and a little Mike Keenan to the team. Smart, tough-nosed, brutal and at times fight if you have to but no more intimidation. Give it right back. They ran over the Rangers in the Garden it’s time to bloody their noses on their turf.

Blowout On Broadway

I thought maybe after seeing the Rangers come back from a 3-1 deficit to hand the Caps a loss in Game 7 of their series that they would be rest for the Finals. Maybe they were ready for Game 1 of the Finals but not Game 2. I wasn’t ready for a 6-2 defeat and neither were they, my cable provider wasn’t either, they cut out the game mid-way through the third so I did not have the privilege of seeing the sixth goal get scored, I’m sure it was dandy.

Tampa is quite an interesting study. Their team is built on height. It all starts in the back with 6’7″ Ben Bishop in goal, defenseman Andrej Sustr (6’7″), Victor Hedman (6’6″), Braydon Coyle (6’5″) and there’s forward Brian Boyle 6’7″. There are quite a few defenseman over six feet as well, it’s like Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman decided to find all the tall guys and put them on the ice. It’s an interesting strategy if that’s really what it’s all about.

I will say that if you play Tampa Bay with the Rangers on NHL 15 on Xbox One, they seem to be the Blueshirts’ kryptonite. It’s amazing how such an offense and defensive powered team can be shut down by Tampa but can run over just about every other team in the game. I’m not saying this is scientific by any means, it just seems coincidental considering I played Tampa a few times earlier in the day and found them difficult to beat.

There’s an interesting Henrik Lundqvist stat that needs to be addressed as well: in his playoff career he is 5-12 in Game 2 of he Ranger’s playoff series. Let’s break that down further:
Game 1 11-8
Game 2 5-12
Game 3 9-9
Game 4 10-8
Game 5 6-9
Game 6 5-5
Game 7 6-1

It looks like the King comes out of the box strong and then takes the foot off the gas. The third game could go either way, the fourth he mostly bounces back and wins, Game 5 is probably not so good followed by him losing out the series. You are going to have to get to him early. If Tampa is to win this series they can’t take it to seven games and John Cooper is going to have to know that. Side note on John Cooper, he coached the Norfolk Admirals to an American Hockey League championship and won the Calder Cup during the 2011-2012 season.

Obviously the Rangers were dominated in every aspect of the game on Monday night. They had no answer for how to shut down Tyler Johnson, no answer for how to beat Ben Bishop on the power play, no answer for how to kill penalties and the score showed it. I questioned the Rangers after their series with the Penguins and after the comeback series victory against the Caps I thought maybe they had figured it out but they are going to have to rediscover themselves. If they can’t get goals from guys like Nash or St Louis or more power play goals it’s going to be a really long series and a long summer waiting for the next season. I hate to say this but I think the Lightning have left the Rangers bloody. I’m hoping they can fight their way back from it but it’s going to take a huge effort to get past such large opponents.

*Results May Vary

*Results May Vary

I wonder after Game 7 between the Rangers and the Caps, when Ovechkin guaranteed that Washington would “come back and win the series,” if he was trying to motivate his team or he really felt like they were going to win.  Game 7 was set to be his prophetic stage to show the world that “Hey look I’m right!”  Game 7 was set to be his leadership moment, the time when he finally breaks out and steps up to the plate and leads his team out of the second round of the playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned to appreciate Ovi and respect his talents this year.  Seeing him in the Islander series I thought he finally found his way and came around to being a better team player.  It felt like he was finally living up to the “C” that is stitched into his jersey.  When he first came into the league, I struggled to see his leadership qualities because it always seemed like he was a “me first” player whether that was unfair justification or not I’m not sure.

Unfortunately for Ovi and the Caps it wasn’t meant to be, however for the Rangers and Ranger fans, Lundqvist continues to own Game 7s in the Garden and he continues to play well between the pipes.  That’s not to say that Ovi didn’t play well, plus Braden Holtby played a whale of a game and Barry Trotz coached a hell of a game, but the Rangers weathered everything that the Caps threw at them and took every punch until they caught the Caps sleeping in overtime.

I have a hard time with some sports breaking down plays.  Normally in football I can watch it and see where someone is running and understand where the coverage went and I can break it down pretty quickly as it is going on even as it is live.  You kinda see it unfold.  You kinda get it.  Maybe it’s just me from watching it so quickly as a kid.  Maybe it’s from growing up watching it.  I ate, slept and pretty much did everything football as a kid, so it’s in my blood.  But when it comes to hockey and I watch it, I don’t see the plays.  I heard the announcers last night talk about the Rangers having plays off the face-off and kinda scratched my head, and in full disclosure here, I missed quite a few of them.  But that’s what makes them pros and me a dumb writer on a blog.

Watching the faceoff to the scoring of Derek Stepan’s goal in the OT of Game 7, I slowed it down and broke it down in my head trying to put it together to figure out how difficult it must be to script these things.  But you know it’s probably just like football when you never really know if the play is gonna work until you try it.  Seeing Jasper Fast pass the puck back to Yandle who throws it to Girardi with a quick shot on Holtby and the rebounds comes out to Stepan and in watching the replay it seems like he’s so wide open but yet he has so much time on his own to find the open net.  I can’t imagine being in that situation, a wide open net like that with so much time, the nerves going in Game 7.  It feels like I’d probably shoot it at Holtby.  But Stepan didn’t and the Rangers made the Caps pay.

That’s what this game is about, making the other team pay when they make a mistake.  The Caps didn’t cover Stepan on the rebound and he made them pay.  The Rangers made some mistakes, they let Ovi skate with the puck across the zone in the first period to beat Lundqvist on his glove side, they committed some bad penalties and turned the puck over too many times, but Washington couldn’t make them pay enough times.  The good teams will time in and time out make you pay.  Washington couldn’t finish out the series because they just couldn’t make the Rangers pay enough times.  The last three games the Rangers kept hammering away at Holtby and they kept making the Caps at crucial times.  This Rangers team still has that core that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and you can see that in the way that they play.

The one thing I think that Ovi is going to learn from all this is that guarantees are great, but it takes the whole team to buy in.  Sports is such a hit and miss thing.  You can have a great team and that team can be felled at any time.  The puck can bounce the wrong way or someone can do something dumb and the whole thing can fall apart.  It’s great to be confident, but it’s another thing to be over confident and when you become over confident you can run your mouth and inspire the other team.  Maybe if he gets into this situation next year he can keep his guarantees to himself.


Side effects may include: Over confidence, inflated ego, self-importance, lack of focus.

Use as directed.

*Results may vary.

King Me

I hesitate to write this, much like the normal superstitions I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s not a bad thing to keep silent after Games 5 & 6.  But then again maybe the Rangers didn’t need luck, maybe it was that scary man in the mask between the pipes.

On a weekend when the first Atlantic tropical stormmade landfall, the Canadiens silenced the Thunder two straight games to crawl back to a 3-2 deficit, the Rangers stormed their way back into the series and tied it on Sunday night in Washington with a 4-3 win.  

On Friday night, King Henrik allowed only one goal in the Blueshirts 2-1 overtime win that they desperately had to have at the Garden.  Lundqvist stopped 28 of 29 shots, cementing himself between the pipes for the home squad.  It seems at times the Rangers give everything they can to block shots and dive in front of passes or break up whatever they can, they are giving up anything and everything for the cause.  I believe that’s what playoff hockey is all about right?  

Much has been made of the two goaltenders in the series, especially Holtby because he wasn’t expected to play as well as he has.  It’s forced the Rangers to maybe try too hard at times, play too cute passes or take the difficult shot.  But they’ve calmed down and gone back to their game, tried to reduce turnovers, put pucks on net and made Holtby work.

Ovechkin now says “we’re going to come back and win the series.”  It’s a bold, big mouthed prediction for a guy who seemed to have let his game talk for the most part in the series.  At times he did disappear and make it difficult for me to justify my feeling about him being a team player.  I don’t know that momentum exists, many times I think it’s just a made up word for a certain mindset.  I think for the most part any sporting event has an ebb and flow it’s about who takes advantage of the other teams’ mistakes.  

At this point the Rangers are doing just enough, and holding the Caps back from making their own advantages.  Some say “work hard and you shall be rewarded.”  Quite simply if you don’t give your all, go home and play golf.  The playoffs are gonna be tough, that’s the point but for the Rangers they have a King who trumps every card, he’s 13-3 since 2012 in the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 7 elimination games.  Yeah Henrik’s got the Rangers going, another round another Game 7…Lets Go Rangers!