April 26, 2012
Rangers pushed to the brink
By KEN WIEBE, QMI AGENCY
That sound you heard was the city of New York — at least those who root for the New York Rangers — breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Pushed to the brink by the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators, the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist hung on for a 2-1 victory in Game 7 of their opening-round NHL playoff series and advance to face the Washington Capitals in the second round.
The plucky Senators basically threw the kitchen sink at the Rangers, but were only able to get one puck past the Vezina Trophy finalist Lundqvist — whose heroic 26-save effort was saluted by a "Hen-rik, Hen-rik" chant from the Madison Square Garden crowd.
While you can’t argue with Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara as finalists for the Norris Trophy (as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association), another guy who deserved his share of votes is Rangers blueliner Dan Girardi.
While he doesn’t put up eye-popping offensive numbers, Girardi logs heavy minutes, is a strong puck mover, a shot-blocking machine and isn’t afraid to take the body.
Girardi is well-respected by his peers and all he did in Game 7 was play nearly 26 minutes and score the first Stanley Cup playoff goal of his career — which turned out to be the series clincher.
MISSING IN ACTION
In order for the Rangers to go on a lengthy playoff run, they’re going to need more from sniper Marian Gaborik.
Gaborik, who led the Rangers with 41 goals during the regular season, was limited to one goal and three points in seven games against the Senators. He simply wasn’t generating enough chances for a guy playing first-line minutes and seeing ample time on the power play, producing a grand total of 13 shots.
A Ranger whose presence was sorely missed was centre Brian Boyle, who missed the final two games of the series after taking a hard and high hit from Senators winger Chris Neil that went unpenalized.
If Boyle can return from a suspected concussion, the Rangers' chances of moving to Round 3 will increase exponentially.
While it’s laughable that goalie interference wasn’t called when Rangers forward Brandon Prust ran into Craig Anderson behind the net roughly five minutes into the first period Thursday, the Senators netminder took a huge risk by laying on the ice waiting for a whistle.
As he waited patiently for the whistle to be blown, the puck went back to the point and, luckily for the Senators, the shot sailed wide.
HENRIQUE COMES THROUGH
New Jersey Devils centre Adam Henrique looked like he was running on empty late in the regular season and for much of his first Stanley Cup playoff experience.
With the series on the line, however, Henrique (a Calder Trophy finalist) was able to draw on some of his past experiences in big games with the Windsor Spitfires to score a pair against the Florida Panthers, including the series clincher in double-overtime.
Henrique was part of the powerhouse Spitfires’ teams that captured consecutive Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010 and played in plenty of high-pressure games.
The only guy happier than Henrique might have been Devils blueliner Marek Zidlicky, who took the delay-of-game minor for shooting the puck over the glass that allowed the Panthers to score a power-play goal and force overtime.
The Panthers gave a valiant effort and were nearly the second Southeast Division team to advance to the second round this spring.
Instead, the Washington Capitals will be the only ones from the Southeast among the Elite Eight.
MALFUNCTION AT THE JUNCTION
Roughly two minutes into Thursday's contest, veteran Panthers centre John Madden had to be taken off the ice with blood dripping from his nose and cheek after a collision with teammate Tomas Kopecky.
Madden had the puck in the neutral zone and was skating up ice when Kopecky’s helmet caught him square in the face.
Madden, who was playing in his seventh Game 7, was back in action before the first period was complete, sporting stitches on his cheek and gauze to stop the bleeding in his nostril.
The NHL trade deadline always attracts plenty of interest, but it’s not always the high-profile deals that pay the biggest dividends.
Just ask the Phoenix Coyotes, who only had to give up a second round draft pick in 2012, a fifth rounder in 2013 and minor league goalie Curtis McElhinney to acquire centre Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Seemingly rejuvenated after a frustrating season with the team that would end up 30th overall, Vermette had a strong opening-round series for the Coyotes, picking up four goals and five points to lead the team in scoring.
The Coyotes’ second-round opponent, the Nashville Predators, made a trio of acquisitions of their own to load up for a playoff run.
Towering defenceman Hal Gill missed the opening round due to injury but is making progress and could be an important player as these playoffs move on.
Gill won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and is an effective penalty killer who takes the body.
Paul Gaustad had a goal and an assist in the first round, but is doing a great job the face-off circle and will be called upon to check the likes of Vermette.
Andrei Kostitsyn added depth to the forward position and has a goal and two points for the Predators in the playoffs so far.