These Knicks Have Rangers Fever

Neither Mindaugas Kuzminskas nor Sasha Vujacic are about to take Ron Duguay or Steve Valiquette’s jobs, but the Knicks forward and guard have found another passion outside of basketball.

They’ve both become Rangers fans.

In addition to the Knicks and Rangers sharing the same training facility, Kuz and Vujacic have taken in several Rangers games at The Garden. They have developed very strong views on the hockey: Eliminate offside. And neither Knick would play goalie.

“Definitely not goaltender,’’ Kuzminskas said. “I remember when I was a kid when we were playing soccer, we usually put into the goal the slowest guy or the guy which we don’t like. So definitely not goaltender.’’

Because of the team’s conflicting travel schedules, there isn’t a great deal of time for Knicks and Rangers players to develop close friendships. They pass each other in the teams’ training facility and in the cafeteria.

But there’s a sense of camaraderie that exists among professional athletes, especially those that understand the pressure and expectations that come with playing in the metropolitan area.

“I like to go support them,’’ Vujacic said. “We’re playing and practicing at the same facilities. They’re all great guys. It was fun to be around that atmosphere.’’

That atmosphere in The Garden was never more electric than it was on June 14, 1994, when the Rangers hoisted the Stanley Cup, ending a 54-year jinx. It prompted one Blueshirts fan to hold up a sign which read, ‘Now I can die in peace.’

The Rangers, with 97 points, are solidly in the playoffs. The Knicks, who play the Heat in Miami tonight (7:30 p.m.; MSG Network) were eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week.

“I’m really happy we have a good team in New York,’’ Kuz said. “New York is a city of big, big sports fans. This year we’re not doing as well as we would like to and I’m just happy that another team is doing great.’’

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Egle Andreikaite attend Anaheim Ducks Vs. New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on February 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by GED/NHL/Getty Images)

The Rangers do it with speed and goal-scoring. Alain Vigneault is one of the most successful coaches in NHL history and his style is player and fan-friendly.

“I like actually how way they play, really fast, fast-paced,’’ Vujacic said. “It’s incredible. And they play as a team. You can feel that.’’

Hockey, especially watching it in person, sells itself.

The chill of the ice, the speed of the game, the sound of players being checked into the boards makes for a thrilling fan experience.

Kuzminskas and Vujacic have hockey fever.

“It’s fast,’’ Vujacic said. “It’s unpredictable.’’

“I like the speed of the game,’’ Kuz said. “When you’re watching live you can’t always follow the puck on TV.

“And all the contact and the speed and the aggressiveness. I’d like to bring some of these things to our team – the aggressiveness contact.’’

Vujacic said he would like to play wing because he likes the creative freedom and play-making.

And, scoring, of course.

Vujacic has been a terrific three-point shooter for his entire NBA career.

Although he has been used sparingly this season, Vujacic wrote his name in the Knicks’ record book on Feb. 2nd when he converted two, four-point plays in the team’s 95-90 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Kuzminskas, a rookie from Lithuania, has shown a promising offensive game. He’s averaging 5.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 14.5 minutes. As he continues to improve his defensive game and add some muscle to his 6-foot-9, 215-pound frame, Kuzminskas should see more minutes.

Kuzminskas and Vujacic said they’re focused on finishing the season strong. If they haven’t begun their offseason workout programs and the Rangers are home, they’d like to watch the Blueshirts in the playoffs.

“It’s fun because we see these guys every day,’’ Vujacic said. “They’re good guys and they’re trying to accomplish something, and they’re doing a good job.’’

NOTES:

MSGNetworks.com asked Kuzminskas and Vujacic if they would make any rules changes to make hockey even more exciting.

“I’m not a big fan of offside to be honest, because too many times it slows the game down,’’ Vujacic said.

“No offside would make it really fast,’’ Kuzminskas said. “I’ve heard the same thing about soccer. I think the people running hockey know more than I do about the sport so I will say it’s good the way it is.’’

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Rangers Looking For 60-Minute Effort Against Pens

It’s five games and counting until the playoffs begin as the Rangers host the Penguins tonight at The Garden.

It’s the fourth of five meetings between the clubs, with the final game of the regular season for both teams on the docket a week from Sunday at The Garden. Both teams have qualified for the postseason, with the seeding and opponent yet to be determined.

A year ago, the Rangers met a healthy Pittsburgh squad three times team down the stretch and lost them all. It sure became a precursor of what was to occur as the Blueshirts were eliminated in five games by Pittsburgh in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

Staying healthy has been the issue this season for Pittsburgh as they have accumulated 243-man games lost due to injury. They will play without five of their top players tonight due to injury. Despite the injury issues, the Pens have been one of the NHL’s top teams largely due to the MVP-type season from Sidney Crosby. The Penguins captain sets the standard for this banged-up, but still dangerous, opponent.

Alain Vigneault is looking for his team to play a full 60-minute game, taking it one shift at a time and playing the right way. It is very hard to disagree with the head coach’s assessment since his team’s play has been inconsistent for some time now. This is the time of the season when teams need to be closer to the top of their game. The Blueshirts have five regular season games left to figure it out.

Alain Vigneault gives a brief update on Ryan McDonagh's status for tonight's game against the Penguins, and he explains why he's still pushing his squad even though they've already clinched a playoff spot.

3 KEYS TO RANGERS-PENGUINS

1. Limit D-Zone Time

Recently, the longer the Rangers have played in their own end the more trouble they’ve gotten themselves into. Rather than regroup, a chase for the puck seems to prevail. Rarely do good things happen when you chase the puck in your own end for a long period of time.

2. Neutral Zone Speed

The Rangers’ team speed comes off the wings. That speed is led by Michael Grabner and Chris Kreider, but by no means is the speed specific to just those two players. Advancing the puck through the neutral zone into that speed backs off defenders and creates chances.

3. Work PIT D

The Penguins will be without their top-three defenders in Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley. The Rangers must get the puck deep and force a less-mobile set of defensemen to move to defend.

COVERAGE

Rangers-Penguins tonight on MSG2 (TV) and 98.7 FM (Radio). Pre-game at 6:30, puck drop a little after 7.

Check it out!

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How Do Rangers Compare To Past Two Champs?

By: Chris Boyle

The Rangers punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup lottery with a point in San Jose on Tuesday.

Despite a loss, the Rangers had a strong third period and were able to gain the point they needed to clinch their playoff return.

For a team like the Maple Leafs, that is the goal. For a contender like the Rangers, this is just the entry point towards their aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup. Is the Stanley Cup a reasonable aspiration from the Wild Card spot? While the odds would seem longer, matching up with the Atlantic Division through to the Eastern Conference Final likely offers a better opportunity than slugging it out with the Capitals and Penguins for 14 games.

New York Rangers vs Montreal Canadiens

Do the Rangers have the roster to not just compete, but win the Stanley Cup? How do they compare with the two previous champions when we look at their shot metrics in-depth?

The Rangers have taken a positive step forward this year in their ability to drive the play. While not a great possession team, their expected goal totals have been fairly reflective of their consistently great results that belie the expected norms of a team who consistently fails the shot metric test.

The Rangers possess a Stanley Cup-worthy offense. This is evident when we look at their league-wide position in the ‘goals for’ column, but becomes even more apparent when we break down the way they produce their opportunities.

Rangers_Cup_Champs_FOR

Comparing the Rangers 2016-17 regular-season production versus the last two Stanley Cup champions playoff success, we see a team that shouldn’t struggle to produce opportunities. The Penguins were pretty dominant during last season’s playoffs by using pre-shot movement. The Penguins were above average in producing opportunities from the most dangerous areas on the ice, as well as producing an elite 7% shots from slot-line feeds. This lead to an expected shooting percentage of almost 9.5%.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, struggled to produce these types of consistent opportunities but were extremely opportunistic relying on streak shooting for their offense. Their expected shooting percentage was only 8.1%, far below their actual shooting percentage of 9%.

The Rangers’ offense has been more dynamic this season than both of these offenses and their speed is the lynchpin to all of their success this season. While a poor shooting streak can undermine a team or help define a champion in Chicago’s case, this shouldn’t be a Rangers’ concern entering the playoffs.

Rangers_Cup_Champs

Where the Rangers may not measure up is on the defensive side of the puck. Both the Blackhawks and the Penguins only needed league average goaltending to win their respective Stanley Cups. Both teams provided an environment where their goaltenders gained clear sight and didn’t have to deal with difficult scenarios. While the Rangers maintain a positive chance differential, their up-tempo style provides the opportunity for a wide variance. A ton of chances at both ends of the ice can lead to erratic short-term results and colossal upsets.

While the defensive shortcomings may seemingly push the Rangers away from the Cup conversation, we need to look at the Blackhawks’ Cup run and their reliance on streak shooting to achieve their 2014-15 championship. The Rangers’ numbers are based on the assumption of average goaltending on a team that has received a surprisingly average performance from Henrik Lundqvist, a player who had a legit MVP caliber season in 2015-16.

If you pair the Rangers’ offense with a .909 SV%, you may be able to go on a fun playoff ride, but ultimately it will fall short of the desired goal. If you can add in Lundqvist’s pre-2017 ability to manipulate his environment by +.009, we have an elite offense with a .918 goaltending and that places the Rangers back among the legit contenders.

At this stage of his career, does Lundqvist have one more save percentage bending run in him? It’s a huge question because this team is built around maxing out his prime and it will define whether this Rangers team has any chance to end their 22-year drought.

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Adjustments Needed on Both Sides of the Ball for Knicks

Heat 105, Knicks 88

Ron Baker shook his head when he considered the box score. While he was answering general questions about the loss, he turned the focus on himself. In 40 minutes while filling in for the injured Derrick Rose, Baker missed 10 of his 12 field goal attempts, including all five of his three-point shots.

He had several open looks as a result of good ball movement. The shots just missed.

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This has been a common theme over the past two years. The Triangle Offense creates shots, but it’s not about taking them, it’s about making them.

So while Jeff Hornacek pointed out how the team needs to add more defensive-minded players next season, you can’t overlook the fact that the Knicks also need to find shooters.

DS_X3G6526W

For a third-straight season, the Knicks are among the worst shooting teams in the NBA. They currently have the eighth-lowest field goal percentage (44.7%) in the league. 

The Triangle Offense tends to produce more mid-range shots. In an era where league-wide three-point attempts increase each year, the Triangle does not utilize the three-ball. The Knicks attempt 24.8 threes per game, which is the 11th fewest in the league.

Here’s the issue: the Knicks take the fourth-most two-point shots in the league and rank 28th out of 30 teams in shooting percentage (48.4%).

Meanwhile, take a look at this table of the top-5 teams that shoot the highest volume of shots from inside the three-point arc. There is a common theme among them. Can you find it?

Team   2PA  2P%

PHX   65.5 48.4

DET    65.3  49.2

CHI     65.0  48.1

NYK    63.9  48.4

MIN    62.8  50.7

Here’s the answer: None of these teams are currently in the playoffs. The Pistons are in a tailspin and the Bulls have fallen out of the eighth spot.

Now let’s look at the last season before the Triangle was introduced. The Knicks were not a playoff team in 2013-14, but after a late push, they just missed clinching a fourth-straight bid after an injury-riddled season.

That season, the Knicks ranked 16th in FG% (44.9%). They averaged 24.9 threes per game, which is slightly more than this season’s team, but ranked fifth in the league at the time. More importantly, they shot 37.2% from downtown, which was seventh in the league.

The year before, which was the 54-win season, the Knicks were the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the league (28.9 per game) and fifth in percentage (37.6%).

Remember when people said that wasn’t a sustainable offense? Remember the constant “live-and-die with the three” mantra?

How’s that looking right about now?

As for the defense, it may be less about personnel and more about priority. Last season’s team, with arguably less talent (though Robin Lopez was an unheralded anchor), was far more effective on defense. The Knicks finished the season in the top-10 in scoring defense (101.1 points per game). This season, the Knicks are allowing 108.4 points per game, which is the fifth-highest in the league.

I gave this stat last night in my pregame Fix segment on Knicks Game Night and it certainly says it all about the difference in the defensive effort this season compared to last:

In 2015-16, the Knicks held their opponent under 100 points in 40 games.

In 2016-17, the Knicks have held their opponent under 100 points in 13 games. That’s the fewest amount of sub-100 defensive games in 28 years. 

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Ice Madness – Finals of Retro Hockey Video Games

And then, there were two … THE FINALS ARE HERE!

In a battle of 16-bit proportions, NHL ’94 and NHL ’95 will have one epic final battle to crown, once and for all, the greatest retro ice hockey video game EVER.

How did these two games get to the final dance?

NHL ’94, the unanimous favorite entering the tournament, certainly had the tougher road to the finals: After soundly defeating Face Off! in the first round, it met lifelong rival NHLPA ’93 in the quarterfinals … and crushed it. In the semifinals, ’94 toppled Blades of Steel, one of the greatest NES games ever (let alone hockey or a sports game), by a very slim margin.

NHL ’95 cruised to the big show: TV Sports Hockey and Mario Lemieux Hockey were trounced by the retro hockey giant. In the semis, NHL ’95 faced its stiffest competition to date, Ice Hockey (NES), but even that darling of so many retro gaming enthusiasts couldn’t muster up a fight against the ’95 juggernaut, which collected over 60% of the vote, stamping it into the final two.

So now two games in the same series — created by the same company, released in back-to-back years — put sticks to ice and pucks in the back of the net in hopes of becoming the champ.

arda_bracket_2

Voting goes until Monday, April 3, where the tournament winner will be announced here on #ArdasWordsOnABlog on MSGNetworks.com.

WHICH ONE WILL BE CROWNED VIDEO GAME ROYALTY?

WHICH ONE SHALL BE VOTED THE GREATEST RETRO HOCKEY VIDEO GAME EVER?!?

MATCHUP: NHL ’94 vs. NHL ’95

NHL ’94
Third Round: Beat Blades of Steel, 53%-47%;
Second Round: Beat NHLPA ’93, 77%-23%;
First Round: Beat Face Off!, 95%-5%

NHL ’95
Third Round: Beat Ice Hockey (NES), 61%-39%;
Second Round: Beat Mario Lemieux Hockey, 90%-10%;
First Round: Beat TV Sports Hockey, 89%-11%

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What’s Going on with the Rangers?

1. This March swoon, if you want to call it that (6-8-2 in the last 16 games) could reasonably be explained as human nature.

Perhaps because for a while now, the Rangers have been pretty much locked into their fate – the first Wild Card in the East, and a crossover into the Atlantic playoff bracket.

Does that excuse anything that’s happened to their game or to their record? No. But we’ve seen many times over the decades, and even in the playoffs; when one team is actually more desperate than the other, the more desperate team usually wins.

The Rangers have played opponent after opponent fighting for their playoff lives or for important seeding position while having little for which to actually play for themselves.

2. With that said, New York needs to find some desperation soon or more accurately – right now, because it’s getting late here –  five games remaining – and they’re starting to resemble the group that stumbled into the 2016 playoffs, losing in five games by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins, by the way, who are having their own little problems (injuries, four straight losses, having been swamped 5-1 at home by Chicago Wednesday night and the top seed slipping away) come to The Garden for the Rangers’ next game on Friday.

Hayes Huge Again in Rangers' Comeback Win vs. Penguins

3. Which brings us to the little matter of not only the Rangers facing an angry defending champ, but doing so in the dreaded first-game-after-a-road-trip scenario, on a home-ice surface where they have a 19-16-3 record (but have won just 11 of 29 since their 8-1 home start and now have lost seven in a row).

That’s a problem the Rangers may not have enough time to fix, with just three home games remaining in the regular season (Philadelphia in town Sunday, and the Penguins again to close the season). They need to figure out how to play their usual straight-ahead road game at home, though they will have road-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, most likely.

4. The Blueshirts’ road-warrior reputation took a hit on the just-finished California trip, where they beat slip-sliding Los Angeles behind Antti Raanta’s shutout. Then, they played two of their worst road games of the season, allowing a total of 11 goals to Anaheim and slump-ridden San Jose with an admittedly wobbly Henrik Lundqvist in goal. They got the one point that clinched a playoff spot, but there has to be concern for the start-to-finish performances in both games this late in the season.

Last season, the Rangers were on one of their best stretches of the year around the trade deadline, then spiraled downward. This skid isn’t nearly on that level nor is it as sustained. But it is alarming in the way it has come down – sloppiness in net-front coverage, carelessness with the puck coming up ice, a seriously struggling penalty kill, and now the big question of whether Lundqvist has enough time (four, maybe five more starts) to get his game back after a two-week absence with a hip injury.

To me, the defensive-zone play and the penalty kill can be lethal if not fixed quickly, no matter who the first-round opponent turns out to be. I always say this about special teams: A good power play can win you games; a bad penalty kill will lose games. Especially in the playoffs.

In addition, the Blueshirts and coach Alain Vigneault have half a dozen more experimental games to find the right forward lines, the right defense pairs, and, as they are fond of saying, the right way to play and consistently so.

5. If you saw Lundqvist’s post-game interview on MSG Networks, you saw a guy who seemed to lack confidence and answers. There are reasons, many of them, to think Lundqvist can and will come out of this, ranging from goalie coach Benoit Allaire’s magic whispering, to Lundqvist’s legendary competitiveness and work habits. But he has struggled coming out of breaks before, as he mentioned Tuesday night, and this has been his most difficult season already. He is obviously the most important player on the roster.

6. The Rangers did sew up their seventh straight playoff berth, and 11th in the last 12 seasons in the salary-cap era, no small feat; especially in doing so coming off seven straight non-playoff seasons before the lockout (two lockouts ago).

I’ve always thought, ultimately with the final prize aside, that this is one of the golden eras in Rangers history. This stretch of excellence when the team has had a few chances to truly compete with the league’s elite for the Stanley Cup.

You’d have to be an awfully spoiled fan (what I call the “Steinbrenner-ization” of sports?) to not appreciate it for what it has been. This team in 2016-17 overachieved for a lot of the year, and by many were expected to take a step back this season. They didn’t. Or haven’t yet. And whatever happens from now through April or beyond, they will have chances to get better in the summer and continue to load up for another run next season.

7. I still think, though not as strongly perhaps as I did a couple of weeks ago, that these Rangers, if they figure out some stuff, and once they get to the instant desperation produced by the start of the Cup tournament, are the best team in the Atlantic bracket.

March 4, 2017: The New York Rangers face the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

But we know that the Montreal Canadiens have Carey Price, the vintage-Lundqvist of the North, and that the other two teams will come into the playoffs on a roll, having had to fight it out for weeks just to get invited.

The Rangers have some pedigree, with loads of players who have been through playoff wars, many of them having been in 13 series (three Eastern Conference finals, one Stanley Cup final) in the previous five seasons.

It’s up to the Rangers to rediscover the game they played for three-quarters of the season or so, by taking care of the puck, protecting the house around the net, and using their speed and skill. The other teams in the Atlantic bracket have just as many issues defensively as the Rangers have had lately.

But even if the Rangers are better, and are playing better, we all know that there are no guarantees in any series in the postseason, particularly in that first round.

8. Ryan McDonagh hit every single note perfectly after the 5-4 loss in San Jose, which was that the team was not competitive enough through two periods, but saw the Rangers somehow gain a 4-3 third-period lead before losing in OT.

On the playoff clincher: “The big picture, you know, we give ourselves an opportunity to compete for the best trophy in sports,” McDonagh said on MSG Networks. “We know our game isn’t where it needs to be for us to be successful in these playoffs, but we’ve got some games here now to continue to improve in some areas.

“We’re still giving up a lot of goals, especially the last few games, and it’s around the front of the net there … special teams, we’ve got to continue to work there. We got some power-play goals, but the penalty kill is going to be crucial as we keep going.

“We had one mission, to try and find a way to clinch, and we should feel real good about ourselves. And I hope our fans are excited because it’s fun hockey and we did a lot of hard work to get it here, and we’re hoping to accomplish a lot more.”

It’s still possible, but some leaks must be plugged first, some structure and resolve rediscovered. In a hurry.

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Devils Have Foundation Set With First Line

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko discusses a controversial non-call, the cohesion of the Taylor Hall-Kyle Palmieri-Travis Zajac line and playing spoiler down the stretch.

MSGNetworks.com: We saw some pretty interesting calls and non-calls in Tuesday’s game between the Devils and Jets. We know that Taylor Hall and John Hynes wanted a penalty shot after Hall was tripped up by the Jets’ Blake Wheeler in OT. What was your take on the play?

Devils Taylor Hall Jets Blake Wheeler GettyImages 032917

Ken Daneyko: From the criteria of the rule, yeah, you would have thought that it would have been called a penalty shot. Having said that, some calls go your way, some go against you. It seems that calls have gone against the Devils in the last four-to-six weeks.

[Watch: Hynes Frustrated After No Penalty Shot Call]

While I certainly thought it should have been a penalty shot, I was more concerned about Taylor Hall. The way he went into the boards, I was so concerned about his health. It showed what type of shape he’s in and how tough he is because he went into the boards with full speed, and I was just elated that he wasn’t injured. That was my first thought.

As for the game, the Devils have had all these close contests. At this stage of the season, I know the players want to win and they’re playing hard every night to do so. They lost these close games and [Tuesday] was another tough one. But in looking towards the future, I’m seeing some good signs – Beau Bennett scored, Pavel Zacha with an assist. As a fan, you want to see the development of the younger guys. They did a lot of good things, but couldn’t find a way to win. They’re still learning and it’s part of the process to win these types of games consistently.

[Read More “Dano on the Devils”]

MSGNetworks.com: On the bright side for the Devils and Hall, he was able to score a beautiful breakaway goal against Winnipeg. It looks like the Devils may have a first line for next year in Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Is that something to look forward to next season?

Ken Daneyko: You can have a well-balanced attack, but you always want that front line and I expect big things from those guys. Who knows what transpires next year, but the Devils are pretty set with the leaders and top guys like Palmieri, Hall and Zajac. I’m sure they’ll be excited about starting from scratch together or partially together.

Devils Palmieri Flyers Away Stock 102915

They know they’ll feel good about themselves going into next season. As the season winds down here, they can be counted on and know they can be a top line in this league.

MSGNetworks.com: The Hall line did have support Tuesday with some of the younger forwards stepping up and playing well. We saw it over the weekend with Blake Coleman scoring. This has to be encouraging for the future.

Ken Daneyko: We know that there will need to be some improvement offensively going forward, but it’s good to see these young guys come through. It can only boost their confidence. [Stefan] Noesen displayed some really good hands in tight [on his goal Tuesday] and he’s scored a couple of really nice goals.

Guys like Noesen, guys like Coleman, they get rewarded for some of their hard work around the net.  It’s going to help the team when you need to get a goal and you’re starting to see that. Coleman scored his first of his career on Sunday and that has to do wonders for his confidence. He’s starting to create more chances and offensive plays.

He’s got some offensive ability. Along with Noesen, Zacha and Bennett, we’ll see if these guys are a part of the solution moving forward.

MSGNetworks.com: Looking ahead to the Devils’ next game, they have an opportunity to play spoiler against the Islanders on Friday.  Obviously, the Isles are fighting for their playoff lives. Is there any motivation in playing the spoiler role and does that playoff-type atmosphere rub off on a young team that’s learning?

Devils Santini Islanders Mayfield Gionta GettyImages 033017

Ken Daneyko: Well, everybody knows the situation. For a team like the Devils, yeah, you take pride in that. That’s part of the team’s process – playing in big games when they’re big for the other team and learning what it’s going to take to succeed. These are little steps you want to take pride in. I think it’s going to help the Devils progress, playing in some meaningful games for other teams and seeing what that’s like for their opponents. The Devils have something to prove to be a part of the playoff conversation next season.

MSGNetworks.com: Finally, we’ve heard you had a good conversation with John MacLean and Steve Cangialosi about why you think the Capitals are going to be the favorite to win the Cup during Tuesday’s telecast. You’ve pretty much seen the entire league, do you have a dark horse we should look out for in the playoffs?

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Ken Daneyko: What’s great about the playoffs is that there are no certainties when it comes to the postseason success. There are teams that look great in the regular season, but in a seven-game series we know that anything can happen. There’s always a dark horse and I think this year will be no different.

Even though they’re having a great season, you look at a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets and can say they’re a dark horse. You might not put them in the same class as the Caps or even the Rangers because these teams have been there and done that. Montreal with Carey Price is capable of stealing a series. They’re a team that can make some noise. The Boston Bruins if they get in, they’re big, they’re strong and I think they’re built more for seven-games series. They could be dangerous as well. I still say you’ve got to beat the champs and the Penguins know what it takes come playoff time. If they get healthy, they’re going to be tough.

Devils Ben Lovejoy Penguins Sidney Crosby 122316

Out West, I think the Nashville Predators have something going on. That’s a team that could be a dark horse and could surprise some teams. They’re a little more balanced, offensively, and they have a great defensive corps. That’s always so important in the playoffs.

Teams like the Calgary Flames are dangerous too, with the way Brian Elliott is playing and their real good defensive unit. The top teams like the Sharks, have been there and made it through their ‘down’ period. I’d also put the Ducks right up there and they’re heating up at the right time. But you can never count the Blackhawks out. They’ve won The Cup three times since 2010.

It’s going to be fun and that’s why we all love the playoffs!

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MSG Pup Playoffs Official Rules

OFFICIAL RULES
Pup Playoffs (“Challenge”)

No Purchase Necessary TO ENTER OR WIN.

ELIGIBILITY: Open to legal residents of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, 18 or older, who are the legal owners of a dog between the ages of 1 and 9 years (“Eligible Pup”). Eligible Pup must be licensed, in good health, neutered and be current on all vaccinations. Void outside the states listed and where prohibited. Employees of MSGN Holdings, L.P. (“Sponsor”), MSG Networks, Inc. (“MSG”), New York Rangers, LLC (the “Rangers”), the National Hockey League, its member teams and NHL Enterprises, L.P. (collectively, “NHL Entities”) any advertiser, sponsor and/or promotional partner of the Challenge (each a “Promotional Partner”), and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, related entities and advertising and promotion agencies, and their immediate families (parent, child, spouse, sibling, grandparent or grandchild and their respective spouses, regardless of where they reside) and those living in their same households, whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to enter or win. By participating, entrants agree to be bound by these official rules (“Official Rules”) and the decisions of Sponsor, which are binding and final on matters relating to this Challenge. The Challenge is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.

SUBMISSION PERIOD:  Between 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time (“ET”) on March 30, 2017 and 10:00 p.m. ET on April 1, 2017 (“Submission Period”), to submit an Eligible Pup, post a close-up photo of the Eligible Pup via your Instagram account and tag @MSGNetworks and include the hashtag #MSGPupCup. Entry should include a close-up of one Pup only and should not include any people. Entry must be your own original work and must not be offensive or inappropriate, as determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion. Entry must not defame or violate or infringe upon the rights of any person or entity.

Limit one (1) submission per person. Multiple submissions received from any person will be void. Submissions generated by script, macro or other automated means, or by any means which subvert the submission process are void. All submissions become the property of Sponsor. If you do not have an Instagram account, establishing one is free. All Instagram terms and conditions apply. Your account must be set to “public.” You can return your account to “private” any time after the winner announcement. Message and data rates may apply.

PUP CHALLENGER DRAWING: Twenty-five (25) potential “Pup Challengers” will be selected in a random drawing on or about April 2, 2017 from among all Eligible Pups received. Odds of being selected as a Pup Challenger depend on the number of Eligible Pups received.

pup playoff participant voting period: Owners of Pup Challengers (“Owners”) understand that the photos of their Eligible Pups will be regramed and posted by @MSGNetworks on Instagram for voting to determine the Playoff Participants.  When regramed and posted, these photos may include MSG, Pup Playoff and/or partner branding.  Each day, between April 2, 2017 and April 9, 2017 (“Voting Period”), at or around 10 a.m. ET, Sponsor will post two or three Pup Challengers via @MSGNetworks. Its followers on Instagram will have the opportunity to review the Pup Challengers and cast a vote via the “like” functionality on Instagram for the Pup Challenger(s) they like best.  Sponsor will accept votes for each Pup Challenger for a period of 24 hours from time the Pup Challenger was posted, as determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion. Any votes received for any Pup Challenger after such 24 hour period has ended will not be used to determine the Playoff Participants. Following the conclusion of the Voting Period, the ten (10) Pup Challengers who received the most valid votes, as determined by Sponsor, will be deemed the “Playoff Participants.”  In the event of a tie, all tied participants will be deemed a Playoff Participant.

Limit one (1) vote per person per Pup Challenger. Multiple votes received from any person will be disqualified. Votes generated by script, macro or other automated means or any other means intended to impact the integrity of the voting process, as determined by Sponsor, may be void.  Votes obtained by any fraudulent or inappropriate means, including, without limitation, offering prizes or other inducements to members of the public, payment for votes or offering to trade votes, as determined by Sponsor (as defined below), in its sole discretion, may result in those votes being void and Pup Challenger being disqualified.

PLAYOFF PARTICIPANT NOTIFICATION: Owners will be notified on or about April 9, 2017 via a comment or direct message on his/her winning post & he/she will have 12 hours from time of notification to respond to Sponsor. Owners will be required to execute and return an Affidavit of Eligibility, Liability and Publicity Release as well as provide proof in a form acceptable to Sponsor of potential Playoff Participant’s health and vaccination status. The failure to respond to such notification or provide all required documentation within the time period(s) specified or an Owner’s or potential Playoff Participant’s noncompliance with these Official Rules may result in disqualification, and at Sponsor’s sole discretion, a runner-up may be notified. 

PLAYOFF PARTICIPANT PRIZE DRAWING:  Three (3) potential Playoff Ticket winners will be selected in a random drawing that will take place during the Pup Playoff from among all Playoff Participants present at the Pup Playoff. Odds of winning depend on the number of Pup Challenger that attend the Pup Playoff.

PUP CHALLENGER PRIZES (25): Each Owner will receive a Rangers Pup-related item.  Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) $30 each. PLAYOFF TICKET PRIZE (3): Two (2) tickets to Game X of Round 1 of the 2016-2017 Playoffs between TEAM and Rangers, scheduled to take place on DATE at Madison Square Garden. Opposing team, game time and game date to be determined when official playoff details are announced. Approximate Retail Value: $300-$500 per pair. Travel to/from the game is not included as part of the prize. Tickets are subject to terms and conditions specified thereon. Seat locations will be determined by Sponsor. Winner and guest must comply with all venue rules and regulations. Failure to do so may result in forfeiture of prize. In the event the game is cancelled, no compensation or substitution will be provided; however, remainder of prize package will be awarded and Sponsor will have no further obligation to winner. Total Maximum ARV of all prizes: $2,250. No cash equivalents, transfers or substitution of a prize permitted except at the sole discretion of the Sponsor, who reserve the right to substitute a prize of comparable or greater value, at its sole discretion. Winners are responsible for the payment of all taxes on a prize as well as any costs and expenses associated with prize acceptance and use not specified herein as being provided. Prizes are awarded “as is” with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied. All prize details are at Sponsor’s sole discretion. Limit one (1) Pup Challenger Prize and one (1) Playoff Ticket Prize per person.

Pup PlayOffS: The Pup Playoffs will take place after 5:00 p.m. ET for a two (2) hour period on a day between April 12, 2017 and April 13, 2017 at a location in New York City to be determined. Exact location, date and time will be provided to Playoff Challengers at time of notification. There is no cash award associated with participation in the Pup Playoffs. Transportation to and from location will not be provided. There are no planned activities or challenges as part of the Pup Playoffs. It will be an opportunity for the Pup Challengers to have a group play date.

Owners understand that the Pup Playoffs may be streamed via Facebook Live as well as photographed, filmed and otherwise recorded (collectively, the “Playoff Footage”) and that the Playoff Footage will be owned by Sponsor, who has the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, create derivative works of, edit, alter, display, exhibit, combine with other materials, exploit and otherwise use the Playoff Footage and all elements embodied therein, along with the name and user name of Owner as well as the Playoff Participant’s name, image and/or likeness, voice or performance, in any manner and in any and all media now known or hereafter devised throughout the universe for any purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, for commercial purposes, without further compensation or notification to, or permission from, Owner or any third party and Owner hereby waives any moral rights in Playoff Footage.  Sponsor is under no obligation to publically display the Pup Playoffs or otherwise make use of the rights granted herein.

General Conditions: Sponsor, MSG Networks, Inc., Instagram, LLC, the Rangers, the NHL Entities, Promotional Partners and all of their respective parents, affiliates, subsidiaries, related entities and advertising and promotion agencies and all of their respective directors, officers, partners, employees, shareholders, representatives and agents and all others associated with the development and execution of the Challenge (collectively, the “Released Parties”) are not responsible for lost, late, incomplete, inaccurate, stolen, misdirected, undelivered or garbled submissions, likes/votes or email; or for lost, interrupted or unavailable network, server, Internet Service Provider (ISP), website, or other connections, availability or accessibility or miscommunications or failed computer, satellite, telephone or cable transmissions, lines, or technical failure or jumbled, scrambled, delayed, or misdirected transmissions or computer hardware or software malfunctions, failures or difficulties, or other errors or difficulties of any kind whether human, mechanical, electronic, computer, network, typographical, printing or otherwise relating to or in connection with the Challenge, including, without limitation, errors or difficulties which may occur in connection with the administration of the Challenge, the processing of submissions, the tabulation of likes/votes, the announcement of the prizes or in any Challenge-related materials. Released Parties are also not responsible for any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by site users, tampering, hacking, or by any equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Challenge. Released Parties are not responsible for injury or damage to participants’ or to any other person’s computers related to or resulting from participation in this Challenge or downloading materials from or use of Instagram.  Persons who tamper with or abuse any aspect of the Challenge or social platform, who are in violation of these Official Rules or who act in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, in each case as solely determined by Sponsor, will be disqualified and all associated submissions and/or likes/votes will be void.  Should any portion of the Challenge be, in Sponsor’s sole opinion, compromised by virus, worms, bugs, non-authorized human intervention or other causes which, in the sole opinion of the Sponsor, corrupt or impair the administration, security, fairness or proper play, or submission of submissions, Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion to suspend, modify or terminate the Challenge and, if terminated, at its discretion, select the potential Playoff Participants from all eligible, non-suspect submissions received prior to such action being taken or as otherwise deemed fair and appropriate by Sponsor.  By participating, entrants release and discharge and agree to indemnify and hold harmless the Released Parties  from and against, any liability for any injuries, losses or damages of any kind, including death, to persons, or property of any kind resulting in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, from participation in this Challenge, including any travel or activity related thereto and/or or the acceptance or use of any prize awarded [or compliance or non-compliance with these Official Rules. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE CHALLENGE MAY BE IN VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS AND SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES AND OTHER REMEDIES (INCLUDING ATTORNEYS’ FEES) FROM ANY SUCH INDIVIDUAL TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW, INCLUDING CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.

DATA COLLECTION AND USE: Any information collected in connection with the Challenge will be used in accordance with Sponsor’s privacy policy, available at http://corporate.msgnetworks.com/privacy/.

PUP CHALLENGER AND PlayOff Participant LIST: For the names of the Pup Challenger and Playoff Participants (available after April 12, 2017), send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: 11 Penn Plaza, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001, Attn: Melissa Karten, for receipt no later than May 13, 2017.

Sponsor: MSGN Holdings, L.P., 11 Penn Plaza, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001.

This Challenge is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by Instagram, the Rangers, or the NHL Entities.

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BWP Setting Prolific Standards for Red Bulls

Bradley Wright-Phillips will be a New York Red Bull for the long-term future.

The team’s all-time leading goal scorer inked an extension on Wednesday that will keep him with the organization on a “multi-year agreement.”

The only man to ever score 20 goals twice in an MLS season, Wright-Phillips, has been nothing short of prolific for New York, including being an MVP finalist a season ago. But when he first came to the club in 2013, he wasn’t viewed that way and was a bit of an unknown, perhaps best known for sharing the name of his famous brother, Shaun Wright-Phillips, an English international and a star with Chelsea and Manchester City.

In fact, he didn’t seem all that likely to sign with the team at first.

Wright-Phillips came on trial at the same time as Sebastian Stachnik, a German midfielder who actually was impressive at the start of his trial with the club. Wright-Phillips didn’t really distinguish himself early on as he seemed out of shape and struggled with the heat of summer in New Jersey. Stachnik, on the other hand, looked good and showed a promising right foot with the ability to cross the ball.

Red Bulls Wright-Phillips Impact Home 110617 Getty

On the flip side, Wright-Phillips just didn’t seem to mesh with the unit that former head coach Mike Petke put on the field for practice.

But after a few days, he began to click, scoring regularly in training and showing tremendous movement off the ball. As time passed, not only had he made an impression on Red Bulls management, Wright-Phillips began to seriously consider a move to the Red Bulls. Out of contract, he had previously entertained the notion based on the fact that Thierry Henry was playing here.

But now, Wright-Phillips was falling in love with the club.

“When I came here, it was a lovely day. I was in Hoboken in the ‘W.’ It was lovely, I wanted to stay here and train then go back to Hoboken and chill out by the bars. When I got here, obviously was training with Thierry, it was amazing,” Wright-Phillips said Wednesday after training.

“After a while, you start thinking ‘I can get used to this.’ Obviously, you look around, the facilities are amazing, Red Bull Arena is lovely, the coaching staff, all the players are great. It’s a nice place to come to work. Not just me, but all footballers in this place are very lucky.”

The legacy for a man who has won two Supporters Shields with New York isn’t on his mind, yet – “I’m not that old. To be fair, I want to win the MLS Cup here” – but he said that with the new contract, he’s excited that he won’t have to move his family. Not too bad to find a home after originally coming on trial with no serious thoughts about New York being a long-term option.

Not too bad to find a home after originally coming on trial with no serious thoughts about New York being a long-term option.

Tina Cervasio and Kristian Dyer recap the start of the Red Bulls season and how new players and systems are working out thus far for the club.

Now 70 goals and two Designated Player contracts later, Wright-Phillips has twice won the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer. He has led the Red Bulls in scoring for three straight seasons, something no other player in his franchise history has ever done.

His head coach, Jesse Marsch, said, “I know there have been a lot of big players here over the years, but I don’t know if there’s a bigger one than Brad. I don’t know that there’s been a better person than Brad.” High praise, considering the names that have come through this city in recent years.

High praise, considering the names that have come through this city in recent years.

It is a standard of play from Wright-Phillips that has eclipsed some pretty big names to don this team’s colors, including the aforementioned Thierry Henry as well as Juan Pablo Angel and Clint Mathis, both prolific in their scoring rate for this franchise.

“I’m fully aware of who you’re comparing him against and I think the numbers in many ways speak for themselves. Obviously, a guy like Thierry Henry in his entire body of work in his career, is above what Brad’s has been,” Marsch said.

Red Bull Wright-Phillips Henry Crew Home 071214 Getty

“But when you’re talking about just contributions to what has happened here and quality of making plays here, I think Brad’s the best.”

RED BULLS NOTES

    • New York Red Bulls II open up their new home on Saturday afternoon, moving into the cozy confines of Montclair State University. They play on Saturday and again on Wednesday night at the Red Hawks soccer stadium.

 

    • Marsch stated Gonzalo Veron (hamstring) won’t be ready to see minutes on Saturday with the USL team, but that some other players, including Veron, could be playing Wednesday night. Of interest, Marsch noted right back Michael Murillo, midfielder Derrick Etienne, midfielder Alex Muyl and goalkeeper Ryan Meara could all be candidates to play Wednesday to maintain sharpness and fitness.

 

  • Midfielder Sacha Kljestan will return to training with the Red Bulls on Thursday after missing the weekend. Kljestan was called up to the United States National Team for World Cup qualifying but did not play in the win over Honduras or Tuesday’s draw at Panama.
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Sharks Top Blueshirts in OT

SHARKS 5, RANGERS 4 (OT)

Hungry Sharks are a scary sight in any body of water.

Ditto for skating Sharks starved for a victory.

Defeated in their last six games, San Jose’s version of big, nasty ice fish turned on the Rangers last night at SAP Center, and the results were not pleasant for the visitors.

With Henrik Lundqvist making his second straight start following an injury sabbatical, the Blueshirts — after a terrific comeback — were burned 5-4 in overtime by potential Hart and Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that the New Yorkers are unaccustomed to losing on the road and this marked the second consecutive loss; the first being on Sunday night in Anaheim.

Not that there’s particular concern for the Blueshirts overall since a playoff berth has been clinched, but a victory in San Jose on the just-completed road trip would have made the flight home a bit more enjoyable.

Despite a loss, the Rangers had a strong third period and were able to gain the point they needed to clinch their playoff return.

That said, the Seventh Avenue Skaters can do their winning, for a change, at home on Friday night when the defending champion Penguins visit The Garden.

OVERVIEW: While the Rangers road magic is a bit less magical, the trick now is to regroup at home and demonstrate on Friday night that winning at The Garden is not an issue. Playoffs are not that far away. From here to regular season’s end, the objective is for the Blueshirts to be playoff-ready when the post-season begins.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

  1. SLOW START: The Sharks swarmed around the Rangers in the opening minutes and jumped into the lead. For more than half the game, San Jose dominated and in the post-game coach Alain Vigneault zeroed in on that issue.
  1. SHORTHANDED WOES: Once again the Blueshirts were victimized by a shorthanded goal and it set them back early in the game, causing them to battle from behind.
  1. UN-SPECIAL ENCORE: The penalty-killing specialists must upgrade their performances. New York was penalized three times and relinquished the game-winner on a power play in overtime. At least the power play produced a pair of goals, so it wasn’t a total special teams failure.
  1. DEFENSIVE DEMERITS: Signals got crossed too often in front of Lundqvist, allowing San Jose to exploit the opportunities.

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

  1. BETTER BRADY: Rookie defenseman Brady Skjei continues to excel. He established single-game career highs with three assists and three points, recording two power play assists and led all skaters with five hits.
  1. J.T. = JUST TERRIFIC: Rising star J.T. Miller tied a single-game career high with two goals, while registering four shots on goal. He also added to his career-high in points (54) and his 22 goals this season are tied for his career-high.
  1. A.V. ALAIN VICTORIOUS: Blueshirts leader is the third coach in Rangers history who has guided the team to the playoffs in at least four straight seasons. Rangers patriarch and original coach Lester Patrick was the first followed by Emile (The Cat) Francis.

TURNING POINTS: Late in the third period a defensive collapse allowed Chris Tierney to score his second goal of the night to tie the game at 4-4. Then, allowing Brent Burns to shoot the puck in overtime which, of course, led to the game-winner.

WHAT THEY SAID:

  1. DEREK STEPAN: “We didn’t play the right way for the first two periods but I really, really liked what we did in the third period. This group deserves high marks for responding the way it did.”
  1. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “I’m glad we’re in the playoffs, but I need to find a way to get the job done and get the win.”
  1. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “For the first 39 minutes, we didn’t show up. We didn’t make a play and we didn’t execute. We played well in the third period and we’re in the playoffs which is obviously the first goal and we checked that off. I’m going to take some time to analyze this game.”
  1. MAVEN’S REPORTER MATTHEW BLITTNER (IN SAN JOSE): “Games are 60 minutes, regulation, not 21 minutes. Scoring in the third period and tying the game was good. So is qualifying for the playoffs.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins visit The Garden on Friday. Among other things, Sidney Crosby, Inc. will attempt to shore up the Pens playoff seeding.

GAME TIME: 7:00 PM E.T. TV: MSG 2. RADIO: 98.7 FM ESPN.

BOTTOM LINE: The Sharks were desperate to break their losing streak while the Rangers were less intense. Ergo: San Jose wins in overtime. Heartening, however, was the pulsating Rangers comeback in the third period before losing the lead. Meanwhile, King Henrik will rub off more rust against Pittsburgh.

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