The New York Rangers became the second Eastern Conference team (and third overall) to be ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins handled them in five games.
For the Rangers, could anyone be that surprised? Perhaps the final score (6-3 after losing 5-0 the game before) is surprising as it was an embarrassing effort in a must-win game. This offseason looms large. Henrik Lundqvist is still an elite netminder, but he’s 34 years old. The defense needs to be reworked; Keith Yandle should be re-signed but can’t under this configuration. Dan Girardi needs to be moved out (traded away or bought out), and the young defensemen need to play. Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider are all restricted free agents. Could we see an significant trade or two? They have traded so many early-round picks, including the 2016 first- and second-rounder, that they can’t replenish the system in the draft.
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Yeah, so important (and complicated) offseason upcoming for general manager Jeff Gorton.
Let’s get to the day’s recaps:
PENGUINS 6, RANGERS 3 (Penguins 4-1)
— The Penguins are rolling, and they remain the hottest team in the NHL. What makes them so dangerous now? They play a speed and skill game, with each line able to contribute night after night. Speed backs down defenses, and forces turnovers.
— In this one, the 5-11 Bryan Rust scored twice (once on an empty net) and added an assist for his first points in the series. He’s not going to be a big source of offense, but when you can get contributions from a role player, all the better.
— Phil Kessel (power-play goal, assist) is a tremendous hockey player. He beat Lundqvist (17 saves on 23 shots) on a slick top-corner wrist shot, and he also had an assist on Carl Hagelin’s goal. Even though he had one shot, it seemed like he was all over the place. The speedy winger has three goals and six points, with 20 shots, in the playoffs.
— Matt Cullen (goal, assist) has given the Penguins some solid minutes in a bottom-six center role. The 39-year-old has Cup experience on his resume, and has been a solid playoff performer — 14 goals, 44 points in 79 games.
— Matt Murray (38 saves) has treated the playoffs like your average regular season game. He has given up four goals on 89 shots in the playoffs — 1.33 GAA and .955 SV%.
— Lundqvist was pulled for the start of the third period, the second game in a row in which he was pulled for "poor" performance. He gave up four goals on 18 shots Thursday. I use the quote marks to suggest that it wasn't only Lundqvist. The Rangers' defensive-zone play has been dysfunctional for much of the season, and Lundqvist was hung out to dry again. But he didn't save the Rangers like he normally does. Despite these games, Lundqvist is still a top-tier guy. His even-strength SV% was .9367, the best of his career. He also had a .920 SV% on the season. Antti Raanta made five saves in relief.
— Very curious to see what Kreider (goal) gets as a restricted free agent, and if the Gorton-led front office believes in bridge deals, like Glen Sather did. He had 22 goals and 35 points in 70 games, including the playoffs.
DUCKS 5, PREDATORS 2 (Ducks 3-2)
— Did you really think the Ducks were done when they were down 2-0 in the series. OK, so I had some doubts, but I wasn’t counting them out. To me, this series has been a microcosm of their season … slow start to a strong build. Though, in this one goaltending was the difference as the Predators at even strength out-chanced the Ducks 17-10 and controlled the flow.
— Pekka Rinne (27 saves) has reverted by to his regular-season form, or lack thereof. Rinne gave up one goal on 10 power play shots. But the bigger issue is that he’s given up at least three goals in three consecutive games, all losses.
— Sami Vatanen (goal, assist) had an active game, also recording a plus-three rating, five shots on goal and two penalty minutes. He has a point in three consecutive games. The Ducks’ defense depth is a major strength. They also got a goal from Cam Fowler, on the power play.
— Boy, we keep saying it, but that David Perron-for-Hagelin trade has worked out so well for both teams. Perron had a goal and an assist to give him three points in the playoffs. This after he tallied 20 points in 28 games with the Ducks.
— Anaheim also got goals from Ryan Kesler and Ryan Garbutt. What am I thinking, the Ducks’ depth in general is a big strength. They can hit you from every line. Kesler has two goals in the series, while Garbutt’s was his first.
— The Predators need their top offensive players to step up. In this game, Ryan Johansen (goal) did. He also had three shots on goal. It’s been a quiet series for the 23-year-old, now with two points in five games.
— Where has James Neal been? He had one shot on goal and four penalty minutes in this one. For the series, he has one goal, in Game 1, on 17 shots … nine of which came in Game 1. Miika Salomaki got the other goal, the first playoff marker of his career.
BLACKHAWKS 6, BLUES 3 (Series 3-3)
— The Blackhawks are 15-1 in Game 6s under coach Joel Quenneville. They are 2-2 in Game 7s. That matters now because they’ve erased a 3-1 series disadvantage, and forced a Game 7 in St. Louis on Monday.
— There’s no other way to put it — you cannot count out the Blackhawks. They scored first (Andrew Ladd, who also got an assist) and then proceeded to give up three more goals in the first. They then went into full Blackhawks mode in the second period, scoring three times on 19 shots. Is there a team that can turn it on better than the Blackhawks? Maybe the Capitals, but that’s it.
— Ladd has had a quiet series as these were his first points. He does have 22 shots, so perhaps this is the start of something worthwhile for the Blackhawks, who could use some more puck luck from him in the do-or-die game.
— Andrew Shaw (power play goal) returned after serving his one-game suspension. Again, he was active, also getting two shots on goal and five hits. The pesky Shaw has three goals and five points in the series. He only had 14 goals and 34 points in 78 games.
— We also had a Dale Weise (goal) sighting. So the Blackhawks got some key contributions from deadline acquisitions. Weise has played in three games in this series, tallying a goal on three shots. He had one assists in 15 games with Chicago in the regular season, never seeming to fully acclimate.
— Marian Hossa (goal, assist), Artem Anisimov and Trevor van Riemsdyk also got goals. While Coach Q has not shown a lot of faith in the bottom pair guys (as expected), van Riemsdyk has seen his ice time increase from 7:02 last year to over 24 minutes this season.
— Corey Crawford (25 saves) had a rough start in giving up three goals on 11 first-period shots, but he settled down. It also appears he and the Blackhawks dodged a scare after he took a shot up high and went down for a few minutes. He stayed in and came out for the third period, though.
— Vladimir Tarasenko (goal) continues to wreak havoc on the opposition. He has four goals and six points in this series. In his playoff career, 19 games, he has 14 goals. Scottie Upshall and Alex Pietrangelo got the other goals.
— Brian Elliott (30 saves on 35 shots) has picked a poor time to struggle. He has given up nine goals in the past two games, both losses. This after starting the series by stopping at least 92.9% of the shots against through four games. Exciting might not fully capture how good Game 7 could be.