NEW YORK, NY – The Stanley Cup Playoffs got under way Wednesday night, as the Rangers went to work in Pittsburgh without some key pieces. Ryan McDonagh is still out of the lineup after taking a puck off of his hand last week. This leaves the Rangers’ short on the blue line in a series where they’ll need to be stout defensively. But nobody in Uniondale or Brooklyn cares about that, as Tall Matt’s Islanders stole a win from the Panthers, 5-4.
Lets’ get the trash out of the way first…
The Fishsticks’ tanking the last game of the regular season looks like it is starting to pay off, as they beat Jaromir Jagr and the Panthers by the odd goal in nine – in Florida. And they did it with a 30 year-old Thomas Gress making his first NHL playoff start, while getting out-shot by TWENTY SHOTS, 46-26. The win was secured by Gress’ brilliant full-stretch, leg save on Jagr in the final 31 seconds.
Tall Matt and Rex O’Rourke survived heart attacks when Captain John Tavares took a hard shot off the foot and limped to the dressing room before returning. Without jinxing them, I bet his foot is broken and he’s out for the duration.
In the important series…
Brady Skjei was called up to fill in for injured Ranger El Capitan McDonagh – and he played pretty well. But the defense was exposed in other areas as Dan Girardi couldn’t keep up with the Penguins speed and Keith Yandle made a costly, yet all-too-common turnover. With the Blueshirts having just scored to come within a goal of the Pens and still on the power play, Yandle attempted a behind-the-back, no-look, cross-ice pass at the blue line that was intercepted. It ended up in the Rangers net on the other end of the ice. That killed the game.
New York will need to be better in certain areas. The good news is they can’t play much worse than they did Wednesday night. The bad news is that they may be without Henrik Lundqvist… Marc Staal caught Hank in the eye with his stick late in the first period. It was the only meaningful contribution from either Staal in the game. Antti Raanta played well enough in Hank’s absence but he was left high and dry by his defensemen on several occasions.
Penalties were also costly in Game 1, as the Pens eventually found the net on the power play. One of the keys to the series will be keeping five skaters on the ice for the Blueshirts. We will see how they respond in Game 2.
Good Signs: The top two lines played pretty well. It was good to see them playing a physical game. They finished their checks throughout and the hits and blocked shots will add up for the Penguins. It may not affect them this series but it will be tougher for them as the playoffs progress.
I’m not writing off the Rangers’ chances just yet, though. I saw enough signs of encouragement from the team Wednesday night to think they’ll make this a series. A lot hinges on whether Lundqvist can play or not… I think he’ll be back in for Game 2. They also need the 3rd line to be better. Eric Staal and Kevin Hayes look lost. Some production from that line is needed to make it through this first round. And as mentioned, they’ll need to stay out of the sin bin.
Everything is still in play. Watch this space.
Please feel free to fire wristers below and come back tomorrow for the MTM Dart Team Goalie, Junoir Blaber.