Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rangers embarrass themselves

For much of last night, I had a prior engagement. Anytime you honor a fallen friend on an anniversary, it's more important than cheering your team. Even if it's Game Four of the Conference Finals. The Rangers had a golden opportunity to seize control of the series against their archrival. Instead, they saw their collective shadow by mailing it in.

My brother and I caught the first few minutes on the radio in time to hear Kenny Albert call Devil immortal Bryce Salvador's third goal. A guy who had none all season now is suddenly the Devils' most consistent player. At that point, we could tell that our team had no life. They weren't going to win. The 4-1 loss was all too predictable. So, for a third consecutive series, it's 2-2 going back to MSG for a pivotal Game Five. If only by now they realized that these Devils aren't the Sens or Caps. A repeat of yesterday could spell doom.

Following our tribute on the two-year anniversary of Lindzay's death, we joined friends at Applebee's in time for the fateful third period. I guess that was all you needed to see considering what transpired. From the terrible lack of discipline that led to Zach Parise's power play goal to the goon tactics they tried, it was embarrassing. Whether I agree with the call on Mike Rupp for what seemed like a good hit doesn't matter. His shove or punch of Martin Brodeur depending on what side you're on was unacceptable. Even worse was Stu Bickel roughing up adversary Ryan Carter.

The game was already lost thanks to Derek Stepan's high stick and Henrik Lundqvist, who was unable to control a rebound from Parise while Ryan Callahan stood and watched. Hardly the kind of leadership we've come to expect from our captain, who also didn't register a hit. Rupp's antics following a strong shift in which he got one of the few good chances on Brodeur, erased any hopes of a comeback. Even if they can't score most nights, the one thing about these Blueshirts is their resiliency. Was it any surprise that following two mystifying Carl Hagelin minors, Ruslan Fedotenko snapped Brodeur's shutout when his routine wrister alluded the future Hall Of Famer?

Despite being severely outplayed for the third time in four games, John Tortorella's club didn't quit. The coach pulled his goalie with over two minutes left. And before Parise's bunt somehow hit the open net for his second, Dan Girardi nearly made it interesting. It probably would've been too late anyway to save face for such a dismal effort. How to explain? If it's true that the Devils did the same thing to the Rangers 18 years ago facing the daunting prospect of trailing 3-1, then it's also true that it doesn't mean a whole lot this time. That team was different, boasting firepower in its arsenal to come back from 3-2 and an 0-2 Game Six deficit. Does anyone think our popgun offense can do the same if they don't win tomorrow?

We've seen enough to conclude that it's the top seeded Blueshirts who are very lucky to be tied headed back to Manhattan for Game Five. And they were pretty fortunate against Washington in that one thanks to Brad Richards, whose line has been invisible. Has anyone seen Marian Gaborik? Enough excuses for Hagelin too even if he's not a natural finisher. No goals in the postseason should find him on a different line with more impressive newcomer Chris Kreider replacing the Swede. Speaking of Kreider, he's the only forward who's done anything, scoring three of the club's nine goals. It's his size, speed and strength that the Devils can't handle.

Perhaps the Blueshirts get another player with similar elements back in Brandon Dubinsky for tomorrow. Dubinsky practiced again for the third day in four and felt better but left it up to Tortorella, who got outcoached last night. Even if his latest screaming match with an incensed DeBoer has gotten most of the ink, someone has to explain to me why Artem Anisimov remains glued to the bench. Arty shouldn't be buried behind Rupp or John Mitchell. He has size and the strength to help the forecheck. You know. The one that's been the identity of this team over the idiocy we got Monday. It's getting pucks deep and recovering them. Then cycling like they did during the second half of Game Three. The same formula that worked in Game One and had similar results during the second period of Game Two.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out who the better team has been. The Devils have outplayed the Rangers five on five due to superior speed, size and grit. They've had the puck more often as the Rangers' eight giveaways suggested. We'll cut Mike Del Zotto some slak. It's very difficult when you lose a grandparent. Granted. His blatant turnovers led directly to Parise setting up Travis Zajac for the game-winner. Another giveaway nearly led to a third goal before Tortorella sat him down. To his credit, Del Zotto came back and competed by going hard to the net on Fedotenko's goal and mixing it up with Alexei Ponikarovsky with 12 seconds left. That kind of edge has been missing.

Is it good that the Rangers were physically engaged in garbage time? Sure. You don't want to give off the message that you're done. However, the silly penalties and total undiscipline is un-Ranger like. It also won't work against the Devils. Why else did Brodeur joke with Parise in the postgame? The coaches also took the high road, which is expected. It's not about them but about the players on the ice. Right now, advantage Devils.

The Rangers have some soul searching to do. Either find their game by 8 PM tomorrow or it could be a bitter end to a very good season. It's up to them.

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