As a Ranger fan, I truly thought last night was going to be a celebration. With the Rangers and Devils tied at 2 games a piece, last night’s Game 5 was crucial, especially for the blue shirts. However, New Jersey jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, silencing the Madison Square Garden crowd that had come to party. Sitting at home, the sick feeling in my stomach was growing by the minute as I watched the first period unfold. After Henrik let a weak third goal in off the stick of Travis Zajac, I was ready to tap out and flip it over to the Yanks.
However, I decided to ride the game out in the final minutes of the first. All of a sudden, bang, breakaway goal for Brandon Prust. Rangers have a little life going into the second. When Ryan Callahan had a puck go off his foot for a second Ranger goal thirty seconds into the second period, we started to believe. I felt confident going into the third and 17 seconds in, Brodeur made a big mistake giving a puck to Marian Gaborik and he somehow put it in to tie the game at 3. The Rangers, who have struggled to score all postseason, pulled off the impossible, scoring 3 unanswered goals to square the game up. At this point the Garden was rocking and we all thought that we were in store for a brilliant comeback and a 3-2 series lead.
As we know now, with just under 5 minutes remaining, Ryan Carter gave Jersey a 4-3 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The Rangers battle was for nothing but a spirited loss. The Garden went silent, except for the few Devils fans who snuck in. The Devils celebrated on the Rangers home ice, and now find themselves 1 game away from a date with the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Once again, the Rangers have their backs against the walls. The Rangers survived two elimination games in the first round against Ottawa, won an elimination Game 7 against Washington in the second round, and now will have to beat Jersey in two straight games to make it to the Finals. The Rangers have shown heart all season, but they have yet to battle through the fatigue they are now facing. New York has played in 19 high intensity games, and even though they looked as if they found a little life last game, I wonder how much they could possibly have in the tank.
With all that said, I do not want to lose faith and I expect the Rangers to play desperate. Henrik Lundqvist played one of his worst games in Game 5, which won’t possibly happen again tomorrow in New Jersey. The Rangers have battled through all season long, and think Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and the other team leaders will a force a Game 7 on Sunday night. However, I’ve been confident in almost every game this series, and if there is one thing I’ve figured out in the NHL playoffs, who the hell really knows? Enjoy the game and to the winner go the spoils!
I wrote an article a couple of days ago, after Game 1 of the Rangers & Devils series that was entitled Long Live The King. The easiest thing for me to do right now would be to copy and paste that article, because after watching today’s 3-0 Ranger victory, I felt as if I was watching a replay of the first game. Both games featured unbelievable goaltending by both teams in the first two period. Both games also were scoreless going into the third period. Dan Girardi scored the first goal in both of these games, and the Rangers also added an empty net goal in each contest to give themselves a 3 goal lead. Another parallel in Games 1 & 3 was the fact that the Rangers really got outplayed in the majority of the game. The main common theme that each game shared was the Henrik Lundqvist was just a little bit better than Marty Brodeur.
In each series so far, the Rangers won Game 1, lost Game 2 and won Game 3. Against Washington and Ottawa, the Rangers dropped Game 4 so the next game is a big step for the Rangers to break this pattern. One of the reasons I believe that the Rangers have a great shot of taking the next one is that when they play in New Jersey, they bring a lot of their blue shirt fans with them. At the end of the game this afternoon, there was an arena filling chant for Henrik, and as Ryan Callahan scored the game-sealing empty net goal, a number of fans shot up with their hands in the sky celebrating the Captain’s achievement. Ranger fans did not travel to Ottawa or Washington in this capacity, and I truly believe this will lift the Rangers in the next contest. The Devils organization even gave their fans advice to keep the Ranger fans out of the building, proving that they are majorly concerned with how little home ice advantage they will be receiving
As I previously stated, the Devils carried the flow of the majority of the game. They out shot the Rangers 36-22, went on 6 power plays to the Rangers 2 and held an advantage on faceoffs as well. However, we all know that the only stat that counts at the end of the day is goals, and Lundqvist was incredible. The Devils put plenty of guys in front of the net to give Hank trouble, though it appeared that he had X-Ray vision and picked up all shots regardless of being screened. In the second period, he stopped odd man rush after odd man rush, even using his pads to stop the Devils on two separate breakaways. Basically, he put on a clinic of how to play the goalie position and everybody in the Rangers organization should be grateful for the man in between the pipes.
As the game went on, the physicality picked up. The fact that this rivalry has yet to breed a fight in the series is very surprising. I think it usually takes 3 or 4 games for teams to really start hating each other and I think that the next game might turn into the blood bath that many of us expected. After Game 1, Martin Brodeur encouraged his teammates to hit the Rangers in the face with pucks when New York attempted to block their shots. I think the venom that such a comment can add to the series will finally boil over in the next game, and I personally would love to see these teams get a little rougher with each other. Personally, I think the Devils are ripe for the taking right now, and I fully expect the Rangers to take their heart in Monday night in Newark.
It has been a roller coaster year for New York sports teams and this past weekend just added to the ride. Baseball season is underway and it seems as if the Mets and Yankees are switching places in the early going. The NBA regular season is coming to the end and the Knicks are not making it easy on their fans. The NHL regular season is over and with the best goalie in the league and the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers have their highest expectations going into the playoffs since ’93-’94. This past Sunday capped off what was an amazing and unpredictable weekend in New York.
Opening weekend in MLB is always fun for me…mainly because my Mets are statistically still relevant. Coming into this season, the Yankees were the favorite to win the AL East while the Mets were the favorite to finish last in the NL East, so no one could have predicted how this opening weekend went. The Yankees started this young season by getting swept by their division rival Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Both Sabathia and Kuroda got rocked in their first starts of the season and Hughes, although only giving up 2 earned runs, couldn’t even complete 5 innings. The Yanks were able to put up some runs in the first two games but with the ever-reliable Mariano Rivera blowing the opening day save for the first time in his career and picking up the loss there definitely were some Yankee fans worrying a little.
On the other side of the City, the sad and in debt Mets did something they have never done before; swept an opening series against a division rival. Johan Santana was the opening day starter and pitched an impressive game with 5 shutout innings followed by a flawless bullpen performance to finish the shutout. Frank Fransisco became the Mets first ever closer to have a save in the first 3 games of a season. I personally sat in the Champions Club Level right next to Fred Wilpon’s sky box seats and saw him smile, possibly for the first time ever, at the end of Sundays win against the Atlanta Braves. Lets put this opening weekend in perspective though. There are still 159 games left in this season and I am sure the Yankees will be just fine and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mo goes 40-1 in save opportunities. The Mets looked great in the opening weekend but I am a realistic Mets fan so I won’t get ahead of myself.
The Knicks are in the midst of a very intense and exhilarating playoff race. Currently, if the playoffs started today, the Knicks would be facing the Miami Heat in the first round in the 2-7 match-up. As a Knicks fan, I would HATE to see that, but as a basketball fan, I would LOVE to see that. Since Mike Woodson has taken the reigns as New York’s interim head coach, the Knicks have the #1 ranked defense in the NBA and an 11-3 record. Their most impressive win during Woodson’s short run came Sunday against the team with the best record in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls. If you watched this game or saw the highlights on ESPN you would know that this was one of the most exciting games of the entire NBA season and the type of game that the Knicks have lost far too often over the past decade. Carmelo had his highest scoring performance as a Knick (43), and hit a game tying 3-pointer to bring the game into overtime and then drained the game winning 3 in the end of OT. With another big game against Chicago on Tuesday and then a pivotal game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday we should have a clear understanding of where the Knicks playoff future lies by Thursday.
The other New York team that plays in the Garden has been making noise all season but hasn’t got the recognition they deserve because of the sport they play. The Rangers have been unbelievable all season long and Henrik Lundqvist is the front-runner to win the Vezina Trophy as well as probably receiving some votes for the Hart Trophy. The problem with the Rangers regular season success is that in the NHL there are a lot of playoff upsets. They have run into an unfavorable match-up for their first round by being paired with the 8th seeded Ottawa Senators. The Senators played the Rangers in 4 regular seasons games this season and won 3 of them. I still feel that the Rangers will step it up in the playoffs and hopefully bring back the cup to NY.
In other New York sports news, my new favorite Jet, Tim Tebow, had over 15,000 people attend his Easter Event in Texas on Sunday but since I do not care about his political or religious views what-so-ever that is all I will say about that.
It is great to be a New York sports fan right now and I am looking forward to the upcoming weeks. Let us know how you think the Mets and Yankees polar opposite starts will pan out. Also, where do you think the Knicks and Rangers will finish their Post Season play?