If the Rangers are law-abiding citizens – as I know they are – winning Game 2 at Madison Square Garden Saturday should be as easy as exhaling.
Oh, by the way, the canon that Alain Vigneault‘s fraternity should strictly observe is The Law of Averages.
Follow that Chrome Rule, dear Blueshirts, and a second straight victory over the not-so-pesky Penguins should be gift-wrapped in three periods. Then, off to Pittsburgh for a possible series sweep.
Getting back to the law for an arithmetical moment, try this for a convincer: The Rangers have won four straight playoff games from the Ice-Walking-Birds.
And based on the way The Garden ice tilted in New York’s favor on Thursday night, the score should have been 6-1 instead of 2-1.
If the NHL had a hockey version of the Purple Heart, it would be awarded to Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who was doing an excellent imitation of a human bullseye over 60 minutes of play.
Another stint like that Saturday and Fleury might be excused from further action, if for no other reason than combat fatigue; ergo, shell shock.
And if you’re still wondering why the odds are heavily-stacked in New York’s favor, consider the following convincers.
- SMARTS: A.V. has his troops staying out of the brig while the Penguins are getting foolish penalties left and right. As Pitt defenseman Ben Lovejoy put it: “The penalties tire us out and get us off our rhythm.” Those minors also cost games. Ryan McDonagh‘s power-play goal was the decisive score on Thursday. The visitors likely will get more penalties because: 1. They led the league in sin-bin sittings; 2. They keep chasing the speedier Rangers with hooks and holds.
- BEST PLAYERS MUST BE THE BEST PLAYERS: Apart from Fleury, Pitt didn’t have a best player in Game 1. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might as well have been South of Pago Pago for all they were worth. Chris Kunitz skated as if he already had been traded to Phoenix. Meanwhile, Rick Nash set up Derick Brassard with a deliberate blast that led to the demoralizing opening goal 27 seconds into the game. “Rick shot for the rebound,” Brassard said, “and I was there.” Captain McDonough was the best defenseman and offense-man, potting the winner. Better still, the Rangers’ other best men are yet to come. Don’t expect that from the other side.
- DEPTH: After Crosby-Malkin, there’s Blake Comeau, who tallied the Penguins’ goal, and not much else. The likes of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Marty St. Louis, and Carl Hagelin – just to name a few – were all over the visitors. And even with the injury to Dan Girardi, the Blueshirts defense remained deep. New York’s situation can only improve once recovering Kevin Kleinreturns.
- INTIMIDATION: Maxim Lapierre and Steve Downie did their best – or should I say worst – to un-nerve the creative Rangers, but their aggression fell on deaf ears and 20-20 officiating eyes. Smaller New Yorkers such as Mats Zuccarello and St. Louis are too inner-tough to be cowed. If the Pens hope to win by intimidation, they are dreaming. And I don’t mean maybe either.
- POTENTIAL: There seems little more that the Penguins can do; barring Crosby dropping his Clark Kent outfit and emerging as Superman. And that’s about as likely as the cow jumping over the moon. By contrast, the Rangers’ offense hardly has been tapped and a bigger attack is due Saturday.
Surprisingly, there remain a precious few optimists left in Pittsburgh. My Pennsylvania correspondent, Vince Comunale, offers this verbal ray of sunshine: “The Penguins didn’t play their best in the opener and only lost by a goal. They may have gained some confidence.”
Perhaps, but not many are betting on it. Certainly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier is shunning the Penguins’ Kool-Aid.
Lovejoy told him, “We feel we have the guys in the room to do it,” Collier offered the perfect – and realistic – squelch:
“Well, that’s one of us!”
We’ll find out soon enough, although not likely in 28 seconds!