Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rangers Third Period Rally Sparked By Cooke Elbow, Extend Winning Streak To Four

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
There is something about the third period in Pittsburgh that really works for the New York Rangers this season.  After playing one mediocre and one awful period the team had a furious final 11 minutes in which they turned a 2-1 deficit into a huge 5-2 victory.  The turning point of the game was clearly Matt Cooke’s vicious elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh(video) at 4:36 of the third.  Cooke was assessed a five minute major and given a game misconduct for the hit.  I expect he will get a lengthy suspension of 7-10 games as well if the league really wants to send a message about getting these hits out of the game.
Following the elbow by Cooke the Penguins would actually gain the initial momentum when Chris Kunitz scored a shorthanded goal beating Henrik Lundqvist on a perfect shot far side, top corner.  The Rangers who were struggling to get anything going got more help from Pittsburgh when Matt Niskanen was called for a double minor as he high-sticked Ryan Callahan across the nose and drew blood.
Late in the 5-on-3 advantage the Rangers tied the game as a Bryan McCabe drive led to a rebound which Marian Gaborik put home at 9:28 of the period.  It was the first thing Gaborik did all day and easily his most important goal this season.  Ryan Callahan struck just 11 seconds later from a bad angle to give the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish. 
Derek Stepan would add a rebound goal to seal the game with 1:15 left and then Brandon Dubinsky capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 40 seconds to go to make it 5-2.
This was a huge win for the Rangers and their third character building triumph in Pittsburgh this season.  The team is now on a season high four game win streak, three points back of sixth place Montreal and six points clear of Carolina in the playoff race. 
The Rangers had a slow start in the first period, but they would tally the first goal just over midway through the when Artem Anisimov converted a beautiful feed from Ryan Callahan at 11:20.  Dubinsky with excellent work behind the net eventually worked the puck to Callahan and his saucer pass found Anisimov in front of the net for the finish.
The lead would not last long as Jordan Staal tied the game up at 14:59 on a breakaway goal.  Dan Girardi with a horrible read on the play as he got caught stepping on Alex Kovalev in the neutral zone assuming the pass, which left him trapped too far inside and Staal with tons of room.
You had to expect that the Penguins were going to take every chance to crash the crease considering the questions about Henrik Lundqvist’s neck and Max Talbot certainly made that happen late in the first.  Talbot clearly ran Lundqvist and Ryan Callahan took exception and tossed Talbot to the ice.  Only Callahan was assessed a penalty which rightfully incensed coach John Tortorella.
The second period was an embarrassing effort by the Rangers and if not for the stellar work of Henrik Lundqvist the game would have been over.
  • Henrik Lundqvist’s performance today cannot be understated regardless of the neck issues he was having before the game.  He single-handedly kept this team in the game and gave them a chance for that rally.
  • With each game the love for Michael Sauer grows stronger as he will do whatever it takes to help this team and his willingness to defend his goalie is something the rest of this team needs to learn from.
  • Ryan Callahan needs to be cut more often because each time he sees his own blood he seems to score a goal, so we have to work that into future gameplans.

Video: Cooke Strikes Again With Elbow To McDonagh's Head; NHL Must Punish Severely To Send Message

If the NHL is truly serious about eliminating head shots and dirty play from the game then they will throw the book at Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins for his intentional elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh early in today’s third period.  Cooke was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct on the play and likely cost his team the game, but the league must step in and do so in a forceful manner.

Here's the video:

Just a month ago Cooke was suspended four games for his hit from behind on Fedor Tyutin and combining the actions today with his repeat offender status the suspension here should be more severe than that.  Cooke deserves to get 7-10 games for his actions, but will the NHL actually put their money where their mouth is in terms of this kind of play?

Lineup News: Lundqvist Starts, Staal Out With "Body Injury"

As the New York Rangers get set to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins this afternoon all eyes were on whether star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would be in net following his collision with Benoit Pouliot late in Friday’s third period against Montreal.  The good news is that Lundqvist has apparently recovered sufficiently from his stiff neck to play today. 

The bad and surprising news according to Jesse Spector is that Marc Staal will be out of the lineup with a “body injury.”  There were no details on the severity of the injury, timetable for return or obviously the location of the injury.  The reason for the secrecy according to coach John Tortorella is because with the playoffs approaching he does not want opponents to target whatever injured area when he returns to the lineup.

With Staal out Steve Eminger moves up to play with Dan Girardi while Matt Gilroy gets back into the lineup.  The fact that Tortorella did not split of McDonagh and Sauer with this injury is a testimony to how well those two rookies have played both individually and collectively.

Video: Niklas Kronwall Sweeps Hobbled Eaves to Bench During Wings PK

The Detroit Red Wings are perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup for a reason.  In addition to the pure talent they put on the ice the level of hockey sense they play the game with makes a difference.  Saturday defenseman Niklas Kronwall put that on display when teammate Patrick Eaves was down on the ice after having blocked a Shea Weber blast with his left leg.  With Detroit down two men Kronwall knew how vital it was to get Eaves to the bench for a new skater and so he began using his stick to sweep Eaves to the bench.