Don't know why, but I had forgotten leading into yesterday's game, that the last time the rangers and sabres met, Gomez took out the sabres goalie, Miller, and in doing so basically ended the sabres season. This dramatically changed the way I thought the game was going to be played. Originally I was looking for a sabres team to come out with a lot of energy in period one, fired up in a must win game on the road, but then to fall apart in periods 2 and 3 because of tired legs from the night before in philly. With the gomez situation, not only would they be fired up, but they'd do what almost every team in the NHL does far too much....try and prove what men they are.
I knew they'd be looking for revenge on Gomez, and they were right from the opening shift. Every sabre had a clear objective, finish your checks on gomez. Hit him often, hit him hard, and try and take him out legally. (Lindy Ruff is a good coach, but he's also a hot head. I don't think he would ever ask his players to take a cheap shot on another team, but he absolutely would tell them to try and break the guy's face legally) The rangers for the good part of the first period were victims of late hit after late hit, which MSG did a very nice job of highlighting. I was pissed not only because I don't want to see Gomez taken out when he's just starting to get his game back, but also because the gomez hit was.....not malicious at all. Yes, gomez took Miller out, but if you know gomez at all, or his game, he was not intending to hurt him at all. Miller strayed far too far AWAY FROM HIS NET, gomez rushed in to try and steal the puck, and get in miller's way before he could get back to the pipes and they made contact. Both players got hurt, but Miller's loss has been devestating to the sabres. (Although, they weren't exactly tearing it up before he got hurt. They hadn't really been playing well since early december)
About midway thru the game, the sabres started crashing the net on Hank hard, and at one point I believe it was connolly that just ran Hank over, making NO ATTEMPT to stop. For whatever reason, the refs kept their whistles in their pockets. I hated the way the sabres played that game, especially when the rangers took control with the 3 goal lead. It was kind of like the Avalanche game at the garden a few weeks ago. The sabres knew they were out of it, and the focus just became starting fights, and trying to take out Rangers players. That's one thing I do want to see the NHL crack down on. When a team is down 3 or 4 goals in the 3rd period, and it's clear that they are looking to start a fight with the opposing team to take out some anger, or try and injure a player, throw them out of the game. No 5 minutes for fight, give them a game misconduct and throw them out.
All in all, a strong game for the rangers. They gave up 40 shots, but that's buffalo's M.O. They get as many, or more, bullsh*t goals than any team in the league (like their first one), because they just throw pucks at the net, and hope it bounces off someone and goes in. I actually thought the rangers did a fine job on defense for the most part. They have had games where they gave up 20 shots, but 3-4 of them were breakaways, and 5 of them were from 10 feet out, right in front of Hank, where the other team had 8-9 legit "should be a goal" type chances. Last night the rangers only gave up "dubinsky shots". Those are shots where for the most part they are from 20+ feet out, and from an awful angle where no goalie in the NHL would have a save percentage below .910.
- 32-3-2 when scoring 3 or more goals now
- Hank wins again. They described him well during the game, he wasn't GREAT, he didn't have to be, but he was just solid. He stopped everything that a goalie should have. Now 7-1 2.37 GAA last 8 games. (but with a .920 save percentage) (previous 4 games, all losses, rangers only scored 6 goals)
- I will give Marc Staal some credit (it's not like I don't like him, I just recognize what he is. A solid, young defenseman, prone to crippling coverage mistakes, and very offensively limited; in comparison to Rosen and michelleti who deem him "the next brian leetch"). He had a strong game. He picked up an assist, but his game was much better than that. Defensively he made all the plays he needed to, including a couple of great efforts on the penalty kill to get the puck out of his zone. (MSG highlighted one of them, probably staal's best stickhandling of the season)
- Michael Rozsival should leave the NHL and become a professional thief. The guy could make a killing. He is so deceptive and near impossible to trace. I had no idea he was even in uniform last night.
- Callahan followed up his strong finish to the game in Montreal with another big time hustle game. Slowly putting together a very fine season for the rangers. With his two goals (the first off a BRILLIANT pass from Dooby to set up a break away, where Callahan badly deeked lalime; the second on the empty netter to clinch the game) Callahan now has 19 on the season. I absolutely would have taken 20 goals from callahan this year at seasons beginning if you offered it, and the way he's playing, looks like he'll end up right around 22-23 goals. For a complimentary forward originally thought to be on the third line, that's great production. Not to mention the guy hits everything he sees. (Kind of like holleweg used to but with stick handling and scoring ability...and he doesn't take a crucial penalty in the playoffs to all but end our comeback hopes)
- Drury scores on a nice deflection, and keeps me in line with "I would put money on Drury scoring in 3 of the next 4 games"; after the winner in the shootout in Montreal. Need a big finish from him.
- Naslund, Antropov, Zherdev: All of them strong games. Each of them was either driving to the net, or finding open ice and the open man. Antropov has been fantastic since he arrived.
3rd straight win for the rangers, going for 4 against Ottawa tonight.
Around the league:
- Crushing loss for the panthers (good for us). They blow a late lead in regulation to Colombus, making the rangers playoff dreams for a 4th straight year almost locked up.
- The canadians....I will say it again....they are an awful team right now. Getting blown out of their own building by the Maple Leafs? But of course...sabres and panthers aren't exactly getting it done either. Whichever of them pulls out that 8 seed is going to give the 1 seed (Bruins or Caps?) ZERO fight in the first round.
- Capitals were a no show in Carolina, so....bummer. On the night, the competition when 1-3-0, so rangers gained on all except Carolina, who they have games in hand on.
- And for you NCAA tourney guys out there, so far on ESPN's bracket challenge I was able to pick 28 of 32 games correctly in the first round, and with my second round so far I find myself in the 98th percentile of picks. Meaning Out of every 50 or so people, I'm on top....so with the 5 million people that picked I am a, less impressive.... 95,467th place