Last night marked the beginning of the game sevens in the second round (Conference Semi-Finals). The Rangers faced off against the Penguins in what was sure to be a hard fought finish to a great series. New York had fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to force this game seven. Heading into this game the Rangers had never beaten the Penguins in a playoff series, going 0-4 in their previous attempts. Martin St. Louis’ mother had passed away this week, the same week as Mother’s Day (my condolences to him and his family). Needless to say, it had been a tough week for St. Louis and his comrades, but instead of being plagued by defeat – they did their best to do as professionals do and rally.
Through the playoffs, the Rangers bottom six forwards had scored 15 of their 26 goals. You need production from your bottom six in the playoffs to succeed, but the Rangers would need more from their prominent franchise players too. New York tallied first on a goal from Brian Boyle (another bottom six player). With comebacks being as prevalent as they’ve been in this year’s playoffs the first goal may not seem like much. But in actuality, the team to score first had won every game in this series. On top of that detail, Henrik Lundqvist had won his previous four game seven’s, tying him with the longest game seven winning streak by a goalie in NHL history. He would get his fifth in a row last night.
After Pittsburgh tied the game early in the second with a goal by Jussi Jokinen the pace picked up. The Penguins wouldn’t get out of the period tied at one. The aforementioned franchise players for New York stepped up and Brad Richards tallied the Rangers’ second goal of the game, ultimately being the game winning goal. I should note too that Richards has never lost a game seven that he’s participated in. Pretty phenomenal feat to say the least.
Adversely, Marc-Andre Fleury was looking to answer his critics in this series. In the first four games he had played stellar. He had two shut outs and allowed only four goals. In the last three games of the series, he allowed a combined nine goals – even letting in a couple softies. Although he can’t be blamed solely, I don’t think he answered those critics. Pittsburgh still has a question mark in goal, one that could cost Dan Bylsma his job.
There was a fair amount of speculation throughout the playoffs that Sidney Crosby was playing injured. I think it’s naïve to believe that there’s a player on the ice at this point in the year (100+ games played) who isn’t injured. Crosby in this seven game series notched only one goal, two assists, and had a -2 rating. To add to his shortcomings, Crosby hadn’t scored a goal in the third period or overtime in 21 consecutive playoff contests – unlike his western rival Jonathan Toews, Crosby as of late has disappeared with the game on the line. Simply not good enough. Evgeni Malkin was also a non-factor.
After the game was 2-1 in favor of New York, a stat came about that stated the Rangers line-up had a combined record of 64-6 in game seven’s. It was at that point I realized that this one was over. The Rangers, much to my surprise, had knocked out Sid the Kid and the rest of the Penguins. King Henrik now stands alone with 5 consecutive game seven victories – an NHL record.
Congratulations to the New York Rangers, eliminating the Penguins for the first time in NYR franchise history in dramatic fashion. The Rangers have moved on to the Eastern Conference final. Game seven between the original six Montreal Canadians and Boston Bruins goes tonight. The Rangers will know who their opponent is immediately after that game. This is what playoff hockey is all about, because it’s the Cup.