The Rangers wanted no part of an upset on Friday night at The Garden and nothing whatsoever to do with a Penguins uprising, as if such a feat were possible.
And it almost was, as Pittsburgh attacked relentlessly in overtime before Carl Hagelin dispatched the Visitors’ assaults with one flick of the wrist ending the sudden death.
What Alain Vigneault’s skaters wanted is what they fought for and that is a transition – although a bit bumpy — to the Playoff’s Round Two. That means a bout with either the Capitals or (gasp-gasp) the Islanders.
Asserting their superiority in all areas during the Penguins’ extinction, the Blueshirts almost escaped without an injury to the lineup. That situation held until the first period when Mats Zuccarello went down after being hit in the head by a Ryan McDonagh shot.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s the delicious prospect of top-four defenseman Kevin Klein finally rejoining the lineup for the next round, whether it’s Washington or the Isles.
Either way, the New Yorkers are ready. What’s more they are secure in the knowledge that they did not bring their best game to the Penguins’ aquarium throughout the five-game series.
For more positives, A.V’s Armory is stacked with the best, balanced brand of hockey weapons and woe to the foe that will face them next week.
When that happens the Blueshirts will be ready with a varied blend of talent. To wit:
- DERICK BRASSARD: Always playoff-effective, the Blueshirts’ primary center is poised for an even better second round. Tied for the team lead in scoring with four points, he’s blended well with Rick Nash and Zuccarello who may not ready for Round Two.
- DEREK STEPAN: For a change, the Blueshirts opened scoring with a power-play goal; not that this is against NHL law. As a matter of fact, Stepan’s red light might herald even better PP doings in weeks to come; and I don’t mean Steve Weeks or Kevin Weekes either.
- RICK NASH: Big things continue to be demanded of the Large Fellow and that doesn’t include his back checking and defensive work. Remember, this is the spring of 2015, not 2014. Unless I’m missing my guess, the Nash pistons should be producing more speed and more scoring in Round Two.
- CARL HAGELIN: There’s been a tendency to overlook Kid Lightning’s strike-ability, but his speed is the perfect accomplice to a shot that’s deadly accurate. Exhibit A was on display for all to see – except Marc-Andre Fleury – at 10:52 of overtime.
- MCDONAGH-GIRARDI COMBO-PLUS: The Rangers’ Twin Tormenters of enemy forwards continue to give New York a foundation for a solid four-series run. Other formidable Dmen include Marc Staal and Keith Yandle.
Depending on when Klein returns, the remainder of the blueline corps includes Dan Boyle and Matt Hunwick.
While Boyle has looked a step slow at times, he picked up the primary assist on Stepan’s power-play goal. Hunwick, originally pegged as the seventh defensemen, has not looked out of place in any situation on the ice.
A key for the Seventh Avenue Skaters throughout the series has been their ability to grind out a one-goal advantage win one way or the other; even if overtime is necessary.
On Friday night, they were forced to push their way into sudden death. And, this time, with elimination staring them in the sticks, the undermanned Penguins fought valiantly to a finish.
In time, they were finished by Hagelin. The left wing used his speed to pivot into shooting position. The Swift Swede then turned the puck into a flying zephyr that eluded Fleury who otherwise had been near-flawless in the Pitt crease.
“Carl’s goal now gives our guys some rest,” said Staal who played his usually steady game.
Thus, the Blueshirts have earned a respite that will extend at least until Wednesday or Thursday, when the Second Round should begin.
Round Two will no more be a waltz in the park than the Pittsburgh challenge.
Then again, if the Rangers release their reservoir of talent it might very well be no more than a sprint into Round Three.
“Any time you can win in overtime twice,” concluded Hagelin, “it shows that our team has a lot of character!”