Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rangers down and almost out

Not that I'm taking the blame for the Rangers' inevitable second round exit, but it's not like I didn't ask for it. Obviously, my desire to face the Penguins in the quarterfinals wasn't from watching them steamroll the Senators. Ottawa was in such a state of collapse, I figured just about any team would have swept them. After all, their own coach accused the Pens of tanking the final game of the season so they could face the Sens. And he's probably right.

But the Penguins are a steam engine without breaks. They have beaten the Rangers to just about every loose puck, every player back checks hard, and their 1-2-2 trap seems unbreakable. I still think Sidney Crosby's a turd, but boy are the Pens fun to watch.

New York hasn't actually played all that badly, the third period of game one notwithstanding. They've had their chances. Jaromir Jagr is playing like a man possessed. But Marc-Andre Fleury has clearly out dueled Henrik Lundqvist, who's doing little to live up to his 6-year, $41 million contract. That's good news for Fleury, an RFA at the end of the season and surely seeking a substantial raise.

The difference has been intensity, and the Pens have it it spades. The Flyers will surely try to pound Crosby, Malkin & Co. into submission in the next round, but I don't think there's a team remaining that can match their energy for a full 60 minutes or longer. It will take some lucky bounces to put the Pens on their heels, something the Rangers haven't had much of.

Things clearly aren't looking up for the Blueshirts. Only two teams in NHL history have overcome a 3-0 series deficit - the Maple Leafs in 1942 and the Islanders in 1975. They also have to deal with the possible loss of key penalty killer Blair Betts (fractured cheek) and the real loss of megapest Sean Avery (lacerated spleen - not cardiac arrest as first reported by the loosely fact checking NY Daily News).

Ranger fans better run down to the bodega and get a candle to light. We'll need the power of St. Michael behind our boys.

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