A must have game. That's what it was in every possible sense. Philly lost at home, this would have put the rangers within 2 points of 4th place, with 2 games left against philly. Even though Philly has two in hand, if the rangers won both the remaining games, they still have a good shot at 4th.
Then they just gave the game, and a crucial point away.
I can't get on valiquette TOO much here. Did he give up 4 goals? Yes. But he was VERY good in the first period, when the rangers were BADLY outskated and outplayed, yet somehow had a 1-0 lead. It was a period where I can honestly say that when the play was 5 on 5, the rangers were outplayed on 90% of shifts. The action was always in their end, and all the good chances went to a much faster, and much more aggressive Atlanta team. The difference was some great play from valiquette, and some incredibly stupid penalties from Atlanta. You can see why they aren't a playoff team. They have a ton of offensive talent, but 1) They take far too many dumb penalties, 2) They have a terrible penalty kill, 3) Their goalie, lehtonen, at times brilliant, has no heart and is injury prone, and his teammates prob don't trust him, which is an issue.
The rangers had a 1-0 lead after the first period, but really failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity. Atlanta was on the powerplay, and took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone about a minute into it. (Dumb penalty number one) About thirty seconds later they took another roughing penalty. This put the rangers in a 4 on 3 power play for about 30 seconds, which would then turn into a 5 on 3 for a minute. Right as the rangers started there 4 on 3, an atlanta defenseman threw the puck into the crowd, and took a delay of game penalty. That was 3 penalties in a span of about 90 seconds! So the rangers were going to have 30 seconds of 4 on 3, then a minute plus of 5 on 3, and then another 2 minutes of 5 on 4 once the 5 on 3 was completed.
Not only would this be a golden opportunity to net AT LEAST two goals, but it would take Atlantas best offensive players off the ice for 5 straight minutes. It would also absolutely exhaust their top penalty killers, and probably render them ineffective by the time the third period rolled around. So what do the rangers do? First shift after the third penalty is called, they give one back, by taking a TOO MANY MEN ON THE ICE penalty. MSG didn't spotlight the player that did it, but whoever it was hopped onto the ice right as Mara was coming out of the penalty box, a good 50 feet from the bench! Absolute mental lapse, incredibly costly in such a big game. Naslund served the penalty, not sure if it was him or not though.
Giving up the late goal in the second period to Kovalchuck was regrettable. It was a great move by him, but I have to think Hank would have stopped that one. Valiquette is a strong position goalie, but his lateral movement is nowhere close to Hank. I didn't think Kovalchuck got around the net that fast, to merit beating Vally that badly.
So 4-2 heading to the third, and Hank's illness can't be blamed for this third period. Again the rangers collapse in the third. It's time to start admitting the problem here. This is a team that is not conditioned to run and gun for 60 minutes, and it is a very young, incredibly error prone defense. I can't get over how many times during a game I hear Michelleti and Rosen scream out "What a play by Staal" or "Did you see that from girardi, amazing", and all the kids did were finish their checks, or clear the zone with the puck when they had no one in front of them. The two of them last night could only be described as AWFUL. A great example of what "to do" and what "not to do" when facing a guy like Kovalchuck was shown by Morris, and Staal.
Midway thru the third, nursing a one goal lead, Kovulchuck raced down the left side of the ice, one on one against morris. He tried to make a deke move on morris, and slip the puck between morris' legs. He was able to do it successfully and it resulted in.....nothing. The reason nothing happened is because morris never even looked at the puck. He knew, one on one, against one of the 5 best offensive players in the world, trying to get into a puck handling contest is probably an incredibly stupid idea. So instead he waited for kovulchuck to try and make a move, and the second he did, he threw a vicious body check into kovulchuck, never even making an attempt on the puck, and knocked an off balance kovulchuck on his rear, as the puck slid harmlessly into the rangers zone, where another ranger retrieved it and moved up ice with it. It's called "taking the body". When you take the man out of the play, he can't do anything with the puck. Approximately 5 minutes later, Kovalchuck raced down the right side of the ice, this time on staal. Staal of course backpedaled the entire way, letting Kovalchuck get in close on vally, then staal took one of his patented, off balance, lame swipes of the stick at the puck. Occasionally with his long each, he hits the puck and knocks it away from the offensive player. When he does, the chorus of "what a play from staal!" comes from the announcers. When he misses, like he did last night, his stick and body are now completely out of position, and a kovalchuck with a full head of steam easily breezes past him, and in behind vally where he sets up the tying goal right in front of the net.
The rangers had plenty of chances on the power play, and didn't capitalize near enough. Now 2 for last 20 in last 3 games. Avery had a chance to knock in the game winner on a basically open net with about a minute left in regulation, couldn't get anything on the shot. Gomez had a chance to win it in overtime but hit hedberg's stick, as Dave mentioned. And then in the shootout, the rangers had THREE separate chances to win it (and Zherdev strangely was never given a chance by Torts even after another strong offensive game?) as Callahan hit a post, but it was not to be.
The defense was awful 5 on 5 all game, thus, they deserved to lose a game they had to have. (Had the final score been 4-3, I would have been talking about the solid play of Vally, and the strong games for Drury, Zherdev and Antropov....but, it didn't end 4-3)
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