Sometimes, the game of hockey is quite simple. In the playoffs, it usually comes down to goaltending. In Tuesday's case between a pair of All-Stars, Marc-Andre Fleury was better than Henrik Lundqvist. The Cup winner bested the gold medalist with Fleury making 26 saves and going seven-of-seven in the Pens' 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers.
Alright. Say this a few times. The Blueshirts have won 12 of 26 games at Madison Square Garden. Save us the Bettman substandard record of 12-11-3. Our team is really two games under .500 at home which simply is unacceptable. I get that this team gives it all they got every night. I also realize that for whatever reason, they're far more comfortable winning on the road where they've gone 17-10 (17-9-1), translating to Road Warriors. Ah. I do love using the name of arguably the greatest tag team in wrestling. God bless Hawk. It's fine that John Tortorella's club wins more away from MSG. But at the same time, at some point they better turn The Garden into a home ice advantage instead of home ice disadvantage. There's still 16 games left on 33rd and Seventh including tomorrow's grudge match against the revamped Devils. They better get it together soon.
So, how in a game where six combined goals was Fleury the difference? If you saw the goals our team scored compared to the softies Lundqvist let in, it was obvious. For some reason, he just wasn't sharp fumbling rebounds even in the first where our team led thanks to a Brandon Prust tap-in set up by Brian Boyle and Wojtek Wolski. Our team built a two-goal lead early in frame two when Artem Anisimov did something- batting the puck out of mid-air to notch his 11th from Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik. With Dubi back along with third goalscorer Ryan Callahan, our lineup looked decent considering it was their first games. I really liked how Dubinsky meshed with Anisimov and Gaborik. Hopefully, Tort will keep them together. Callahan played with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, who took turns with an effective Wolski.
The fourth line was anchored by Chris Drury who worked with recently demoted Kris Newbury and Sean Avery. I thought they played well forechecking effectively. Newbury may have racked up 32 penalty minutes in his time here but he played with energy and mixed it up. Sure. A few of his penalties were undisciplined and probably explains why he's been an AHLer. But he worked hard and fit in. Kudos to Ken Gernander and the rest of the Connecticut Whale staff. As for Drury who most figure could be the odd man out when or if Vinny Prospal returns, the captain acquitted himself well putting together a couple of inspired penalty killing shifts. For a guy who gets killed due to his hefty salary, Dru always gives effort. It's a shame that his body has broken down and he's likely done after this year regardless of the contract having another year remaining. I've seen tweeps ask for him to be stripped of the 'C.' But that would be detrimental to the team. I don't think outsiders realize his importance in the locker room. Intangibles can never be underestimated. It would've been nice if Dru had beaten Fleury with a great try that the Pitt netminder gloved for one of his best saves.
As for Boyle and Prust, Batman and Robin did their thing combining on a goal while playing solid all around hockey that we've come to expect. I guess Wolski will stick with them as I feel MZA is a better fit with D-Step and Cally. Aside from Callahan's tying tally with 12 ticks left in the second, the power play stunk. Michael Del Zotto was again shaky despite setting up Cally's redirect. He also failed to take Ranger killer Mike Rupp on the Pens' second goal- an awful rebound by Lundqvist on a routine Max Talbot shot. Honestly, he could've had all three, including rookie Dustin Jeffrey's unscreened one-timer for a Pens' power play goal that gave them life. In a word, deflating. No wonder the Pens soon tied it and then surged ahead on a similar play off a faceoff after Tortorella burned a timeout. Yes. Chris Kunitz tipped home Zbynek Michalek's blast but there again seemed to be enough time for our two-time All-Star to stop it.
Predictably, Lundqvist took no heat afterwards in a game we should've come out with two points in. What do these media people do during games? Yawn when Henrik allows clunkers similar to Martin St. Louis' in the All-Star Game?!?! Lundqvist has had a great season and I'm not trying to take away from it which includes seven shutouts. However, there are instances where he lets in goals that mystify. For a man praised for consistency, you expect him to make those saves. Especially in a game where Jordan Staal punched Prust following an elbow, earning a major late in the second ending his night. For how Tort felt about his team's game being good for the first game back, it sure seemed like the Pens were hungrier to the puck. They won most of the battles. In effect, they out-Rangered us without Crosby and Malkin.
Yes, our team dominated the third and overtime outshooting Pittsburgh 13-4 but Fleury wouldn't have any of it. Aside from Zuccarello trying to go five-hole which nearly worked, it was little shock that Fleury didn't allow one shot in the seven round skill comp to beat him. He wasn't losing it. When Lundqvist made the first move against unlikely hero Jeffrey who went five-hole in Round Seven, it was over. Especially when Gaborik was sent out. He simply isn't good at shootouts. So, Fleury easily padded away his feeble attempt and the Pens had the deserved extra point on a night their goalie was better.
Cookeing Up A Storm: Before I close the book on the other day, one thought on the Pens. Particularly Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. These two constantly swing their sticks, which is potentially dangerous. While I'll give the benefit of the doubt to Kennedy who at least attempts to play an honest game most of the time, there's no love lost over Cooke. A man who continually gets away with garbage and never has to pay the price. At the opening faceoff of the second, he tried to goad Prust into a penalty simply because he chickened out of a fight. A low move typifying what this guy is about. Then, there was a shift where he chased Gaborik around looking to go low on him with the puck nowhere in the vicinity. To top it off, there he was running his mouth looking to instigate stuff at the end of the period with Boyle having none of it. This guy is a flat out embarrassment to the game of hockey and makes Avery look like a Lady Byng candidate. Yeah. I know Sean's no angel but he'll never look to hit someone cheap or take it to the level Cooke does. Isn't it about time someone puts this guy through the glass? The day can't come fast enough.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Brandon Prust, NYR (8th of season, fight vs Deryk Engelland-draw)
2nd Star-Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (26 saves incl.7/7 in shootout)
1st Star-Dustin Jeffrey, Pit (PPG, shootout winner in Rd.7)