Mt. Everest wasn’t climbed in a day; we all know that. It also seems evident that the Rangers’ hike to the Stanley Cup has reached its initial level because it has to start somewhere; so why not on Madison Square Garden ice?
Since we’re now in the early stages of the baseball season, it can be said that the Blueshirts are on first base with second base in sight; actually, as close as Saturday night (8 p.m.) for Game 2 of this opening New York-Pittsburgh series.
For the Rangers to make it two-for-two, it will require a reprise of Thursday night’s Garden series-opener, which featured a Blueshirt goal by Derick Brassard only 28 seconds after the initial face-off. Ryan McDonagh followed that up with a power play tally near the end of the first period.
If nothing else, the 2-1 decision suggests that this series could disappear in the Rangers’ favor as quickly as the red light was illuminated by Brassard.
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin reduced to insignificance Thursday night, the Penguins are being forced to rely on the likes of ex-Islander Blake Comeau to stay alive. If the Penguins’ survival is at issue, that will never do. Comeau’s second-period goal at least made the game interesting.
Game 2 figures to follow a similar script, if only because the Penguins’ depth is wading pool size and no notable changes are available between here and the Allegheny Mountains.
Why should Game 2 be a mirror image of Game 1?
- GOALTENDING: The only way Marc-Andre Fleury can make a positive dent in the Rangers’ surge is by turning into a four-foot-high, six-foot-wide sumo wrestler of which none have been found in this century. Fleury’s first-minute complimentary rebound led directly to Brassard’s breaking-the-ice-goal. Henrik Lundqvist proved playoff sharp when the desperate Penguins revved their attack in the third period. Plus, Hank has the troops to fill any goaltending lapses that might develop in games ahead.
- OFFENSE: Whether they are united on one line or spread on separate units, neither Crosby nor Malkin appear capable of spurring a comeback. After that duet, the Penguins’ pop-gun offense is about as threatening as an empty cartridge. By contrast, the Rangers’ balanced four lines appear ready for a blitz at any moment.
- DEFENSE: Ex-Devil Paul Martin remains the lone Pitt backliner capable of maintaining decorum in the Penguins’ zone. That’s not much of a barrier compared with New York’s balanced units led by McDonagh.
- ATTITUDE: If body language means anything, the visitors appeared beaten before the opening game was 20 minutes old, but did manage a third-period counterattack. If captain Crosby is unable to inspire his mates, it certainly won’t be Malkin. With their short-term vision on turning Game 2 into Win Two, the Rangers’ long-term mission remains winning the Cup. The Penguins should be tickled with one win in this tournament.
- POWER PLAY: In other weeks, the Rangers might have struck out on the man-advantage situations. At least they went one-for-four on the PP after two periods and that enabled them to take a one-goal lead into the final frame. Pitt’s once-superior power play had only one chance and that proved to be the acme of futility.
- MISJUDGEMENTS: With his team trailing by a goal in the third period, Pittsburgh’s Steve Downey once against committed a foolish crosscheck on Mats Zuccarello, leaving his club shorthanded when it least could afford it.
Where do the Blueshirts go from here?
Based on Game 1, it should be from a victory Saturday to yet another in Pittsburgh simply because the Penguins are somewhere between understaffed and underpowered.
Unless Fleury can produce a shutout in Game 2 — while doubling as scorer — his valiant efforts should conclude in four games; five at the very most.
Anything else must be considered an upset.