If you love the game of Hockey and you’re not watching the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers battle it out for a chance at the Eastern Conference Final and ultimately a shot at raising the Stanley Cup, then you need to turn in your fan card right now!
This series has brought the thunder and made the Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins series look like a power outage in comparison. Sure, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Braden Holtby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin bring the star power that makes NBC weak in the knees, but these two under the radar powerhouses are doing their best to upend the marquee while calling for the show to be re-cast.
The Rangers did their best to prepare the sequel to Get Shorty as Michael Grabner and Derek Stepan scored a pair of short-handed goals early in the game. In fact, they tried to re-write the narrative which had been that the Rangers were undisciplined with the penalties in Game 1.
The same could be said for Game 2, but it is much harder to argue that point when they score two goals while short-handed. Of course, that won’t stop Alain Vigneault from shouting at his players for going the route of Russian roulette and taking such a chance, as it could easily have wound up in their net on the power play.
But, on this afternoon it did not.
Regardless of today’s success, the Blueshirts have to lock down the penalties. All too often, those goals end up behind your own goalie, not the other way around. These are chances that you simply can’t take in a short series, one bad bounce on the power play can be the difference between escaping a close game with a win or ending it on the wrong side of a handshake line.
Right now, only two games have been played, but both games have been close, and while the penalties were not costly on this night (at least on the scoresheet), they certainly were in Game 1. Late in the second, Ryan Dzingel tied the game on a power play goal giving Erik Karlsson the chance to put the Sens ahead late in the third period of that one. Had that power play not occurred, Karlsson’s may have been the tying goal with five minutes or an overtime period to right the ship, and this could have even been a 1-1 series headed to New York.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, the Sens will be headed to New York with a 2-0 lead in the series.
While Game 1 was a classic goaltender duel between Craig Anderson and Henrik Lundqvist , Game 2 was a veritable shooting gallery. While each team has a slew of snipers in their offensive weaponry, they wouldn’t be writing the ending to the story tonight. Instead, it was a pair of youngsters in Brady Skjei (23) and J.G. Pageau (24) that penned much of the storyline and the nail-biting finish on the afternoon.
Pageau got his first goal a little past the halfway mark in the first to equalize Grabner’s early short-handed contribution. It was an errant pass by Dan Girardi that hopped off the boards right to the stick of Pageau who converted on the turnover.
Lundqvist should have had it as it slipped between his glove and pad when he failed to seal the post, but had Girardi just carried the puck in; the play would never have transpired at all.
Overall it was a sloppy first for the Rangers, so they were lucky to escape tied.
Skjei and Pageau would net six goals between them in four, and a smidge of hockey played, but Pageau would have the last word as he capped his night with a hat trick and a game winner at 2:54 into the second bonus round, but we’ll get to that a little later.
Too Much Respect
While the sloppy play was an issue for the Rangers, there was another trend emerging that could also be troubling for Vigneault. The Rangers are allowing Karlsson to lurk in the middle of the ice unhindered way too much. Keep in mind; we are talking about a two-time Norris Trophy winner who could pick up his third this summer.
Let’s hammer home why Karlsson needs to be considered public enemy number one. Aside from the aforementioned hardware that says “Hey, I’m really good“, Karlsson started Game 2 tied for the playoff lead in assists (6), tied for 2nd in points (7), 2nd in blocks (15), 1st in +/- at a +4, and is averaging 30 plus minutes of ice time. But hey, let’s let him roam all over the ice like a rogue shark and see how much damage he can do.
That’s not going to end well.
On top of that, we know that he is playing with two fractures in his left heel and on more than one occasion, he looked to be handcuffed by the pain. His turns are not as sharp, and his skating is certainly not as fluid, but if you let him go right up your netminders gut like a flagger on a jetway nothing good will come of it.
Even if he’s literally skating on one leg, Karlsson is a threat every time the puck is in his orbit. If he doesn’t have the puck up the middle, chances are he’s drawing a defender away or creating a play for someone else to drive the dagger. Like Pageau, with the GWG.
If the Blueshirts want to correct course on home ice, they are going to have to start treating Karlsson like the threat that he is.
Shoot the Lights Out
While Skjei and Pageau are undoubtedly the heroes on either side, during the second and third period, eight goals were scored. Chris Kreider was apparently found wandering around outside the Canadian Tire Centre with a block of ice on his hands after the first period.
After his frosty paws had been thawed out, he tallied his first goal of the playoffs (he supplied a single assist in his first seven games) much to the relief of the Rangers and their fans.
Derek Stepan added the games second shorty a few minutes later, and the Rangers were riding a 3-1 lead with all the bounces seeming to tilt in their favor. Unfortunately, the ride came to a screeching halt when Marc Methot and his exploding finger (courtesy of Sidney Crosby) brought the Sens and their fans back into the game.
— Terez Owens (@TerezOwens) March 26, 2017
Score check, 3-2 Rangers.
Then Skjei followed Methot’s goal with his first. A slick shot from the high slot with a Kreider screen in front. You can’t stop what you can’t see, and Anderson looked like someone hit his pause button.
Guy Boucher threw a Hail Mary pass and called a coaches challenge, but the call on the ice stood as there was literally no evidence that anyone who resides in the state of New York was on the wrong side of the blue line. Unless of course, you count the man standing on the other side of the glass whose beer belly took up two seats in a Rangers jersey. Just kidding, but still no more timeouts for you Mr. Boucher.
In a bizarre turn of events, two penalties were called with 23 seconds remaining in what was a very three stooges moment Derick Brassard was called for hi-stick to the face of Jimmy Vesey but then landed on the receiving end of a Rick Nash facial slash.
The Rangers went into intermission with a firm grasp on this one at 4-2. They also outshot the Sens 19-10 in the period.
The third period kicked off 4-on-4 thanks to Brassard and Nash’s matching hi-sticking infractions and Mark Stone brought it to 4-3 with a bizarre play that gave Lundqvist little chance to react as Dion Phaneuf snapped one hard into the end boards and the puck turned ricocheting like a bullet right under Lundqvist from behind landing near Stone who flipped it into the net.
Tracking that puck would have been about as easy as trying to predict the flight path of a drunk hummingbird.
It wouldn’t matter just yet, as once again Skjei ripped open the gash the Rangers had already inflicted returning their two-goal advantage. This play started in the defensive zone as Skjei broke up a 3-on-1 by getting a knee on a shot from Kyle Turris who had a wide open look at the back of the cage. Skjei hustled back after the play to receive a pass, slip the screen and send a rocket five-hole.
Not a bad shift, if I do skjei so myself. pic.twitter.com/3Dr9eeVBio
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 29, 2017
5-3 Rangers. Had it ended differently, this would have been the play of the day.
From that point on it was literally the Pageau show. He scored twice a little over two minutes apart, and the game was knotted with 1:02 on the clock.
Mika Zibanejad had a great look as time expired that would have counted, but Anderson stone cold robbed him. Free hockey was on the way.
Holding Out for a Hero
Thankfully, the Sens and Rangers were the first game on the docket today because it would take more than one extra frame to put this one to bed. As it stood, it came within an hour of the second game in Washington.
Free hockey is always exciting, and the adrenaline pumps twice as hard when you add the playoffs into the mix. Both teams have had a number of overtime games in these playoffs, and four players have recorded game winners for their team with Zibanejad, Phaneuf, Bobby Ryan, and Clarke MacArthur (who was injured earlier in the game) each having netted a bonus frame tally.
On this night there had already been a couple of heroes, and overtime would be no different. In the first free frame, the netminders were the heroes as they both stood on their heads turning away 18 shots between them. Lundqvist had already stopped 26 in three periods to Anderson’s 38.
Lundqvist stopped a shot just under his chin, Anderson made several stops while looking like he was doing boudoir shots on fast forward in the crease turning in all directions as chaos ensued around him, and skaters were selling out to block shots at every turn.
At 15:50, Brassard got busted for another hi-stick infraction (keep your stick on the ice buddy) forcing the Sens to kill off a penalty late in the OT frame. This could have easily been the catalyst for the Rangers, but the Sens penalty killers were outstanding stopping prime shots from Nash and Nick Holden, and what they couldn’t stop Anderson did.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Anderson didn’t have any gaffes in the frame. He nearly got himself undressed as he misplayed the puck not once but twice in the span of ten seconds. He got so lucky that the league might have to start testing for pixie dust.
The Rangers also had some luck on their side as Rick Nash clearly caught Mike Hoffman with a hi-stick in the mouth and got away with it. It’s a good thing that Guy Boucher doesn’t have the ability to explode heads with a stare, if he did, both Nash and Dan O’Halloran‘s would have painted the ice.
Karlsson and Dzingel each had opportunities that just missed in the closing seconds, and Girardi had four blocks (on his 33rd birthday) in the first free frame, but no one caved. The game stayed knotted at five apiece through 20 minutes of overtime.
As if scoring a hatty in his hometown during the playoffs wasn’t enough, Pageau made sure to put the final touch on his masterpiece.
At just under three minutes into the period on the third shot (Ottawa 2, New York 1). Pageau was turned loose from the defensive zone and skated it all the way through the middle firing from the top of the circle. It was a shot that will give Lundqvist nightmares as he stared down the barrel all the way and watched as it sailed right by him.
The horn had barely sounded, and there was just a shadow of white as the Rangers skipped the celebration and returned to their dressing room like ghosts.
There is still plenty of time for the Rangers to get back on course, and it certainly helps that they will be returning to Madison Square Garden for Game 3, but for a team that dominated on the road all season, it stings to be returning down 2-0.