Thursday, March 1, 2007

Groundhog Day

That's how it feels after watching the Rangers turn a secure two-goal lead after two periods into a 4-3 shootout defeat to the Penguins. The Pens showed us nothing the first two periods. But much like how they controlled play against the Devils the last three times (all losses) they played them, the Blueshirts couldn't finish off another opponent. And predictably it was at home where they've sucked moff balls all season.

And so a two-goal lead built on Jaromir Jagr's third in three games and a Michael Nylander tally was gone quickly due to back-to-back shorthanded goals by the Pens' Jordan Staal and Colby Armstrong. The first one was just another ridiculous highlight reel display by the 18 year-old phenom. Staal undressed Matt Cullen and then beat Henrik Lundqvist high to the stick side for his NHL leading sixth shorthanded tally. Armstrong's was a product of a dumb play by Lundqvist. Misplaying a puck right to the attacking Pen, the Swedish netminder didn't recover and wasn't set on Armstrong's sharp angle try which knotted the contest.

Fortunately, the Rangers would retake the lead thanks to some smart North American play on the same power play. Blair Betts found Sean Avery's rebound and put it home past Marc-Andre Fleury. But as usual, they couldn't hold it, allowing a tacky goalie interference call on Betts to cost them when Sergei Gonchar blasted one home to force OT.

It would go to a shootout and it was a classic Ranger letdown. After much was made of Jagr sitting out last week's loss to the Devils in a similar situation, No.68 participated. With it scoreless thru a round, the much maligned Czech made a strong move but Fleury got just enough to keep it out. The end would come when Sidney Crosby squeezed one thru Lundqvist's five-hole to lift the Pens to an undeserved victory. But what else is new in Ranger land? They've pulled this tired act all year, allowing opponents to steal two points when they were the better team. That speaks to how fragile this bunch has been and it's ample proof why the organization should've traded Nylander and seen what they could've gotten for Jagr. They're not making the playoffs. If they were, this would've been an easy two points. That's how unimpressive the Pens were at even strength.

Back to the goalie interference on Betts for a second. It was a bush league call. Fleury was way out of the crease when Betts collided with the netminder while vying for a puck. It's one thing for the goalie to be at the end of the crease like the Devils' Martin Brodeur and get a call because a lot of stuff goes on. But this was a poor judgment by the officials. Just to prove it wasn't a good call, there was no whistle until a few seconds after it happened.

Still though, the Rangers have nobody to blame but themselves. They didn't get the stellar effort from Lundqvist they needed in that final stanza and on Crosby's iffy shootout winner. Is he getting tired? The team has no backup at the moment. So the Swede is carrying the load.

The point gives the team 67 with 18 games remaining until they hit the golf course. Sure. They're only five behind Montreal with games at hand and two left against them. But would you seriously bet any money on this inconsistent team making it? Thought so.

Fishsticks Stunned in Smyth's debut: Meanwhile on the Island, the Fishsticks blew a two-goal lead in Ryan Smyth's anticipated debut, falling to John Davidson's Blues 3-2 in overtime. Smyth did his part notching an assist on Mike Sillinger's PPG and playing the gritty style No.94 has been known for with Edmonton. But the Blues rallied to tie it in startling fashion by somehow managing two 38 seconds apart with less than 2:35 left before getting the winner from Dartmouth product Lee Stempniak in OT. So instead of getting a sure two, the Isles managed one to get to 73 points, remaining seventh in the East.

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