Rangers Play on, Isles & Devils Look Forward

1. Dan Girardi was not given many positive pre-playoff reviews and knows his game had been under scrutiny all season; often questioned.

2. After watching the Blueshirts workhorse in Game 1 against Montreal, I came away convinced that Girardi is among the most determined players on either roster, Habs or Rangers. Translated: Dangerous Dan wants to prove his critics were wrong; with a capital W.

3. It takes a surplus of guts to be Mats Zuccarello, especially since the Canadiens made him their Bullseye No. 1 in the opener on Wednesday.

4. Zucchy went down a dozen times and always rebounded like a handball off the wall. The Never-Say-Die Norseman is both an inspiration and the engine driving the New York attack.

5. Not that Tanner Glass was giving a lesson in Hockey Shooting 101, but the backhand is the most confusing drive for most goalies, give or take the snapshot. The hockey backhander’s baseball counterpart is the knuckleball.

6. Watching Oscar Lindberg in action is not unlike studying the Islanders Nikolay Kulemin. Both do all the little things well; moves that go unnoticed to most except coaches, opponents and scouts.

7. Since the Devils have, figuratively, miles of cap space — and need defensive help — they figure to be one of the up-front bidders for New Rochelle native Kevin Shattenkirk.

8. Likewise, since scoring has been an issue with the Garden Staters, T.J. Oshie also figures to be in Ray Shero‘s periscope.

9. One game does not make a series — nor a playoff hero for that matter — but in his first postseason game as a Ranger, Brendan Smith looked like a Jeff Gorton deadline prize.

10. What A Difference A Year Makes Department: Last April, in the opening playoff game, the Rangers outplayed Pittsburgh by a ton for 18 minutes of the first period and wound up trailing 1-0 after the frame. This year the Blueshirts were outplayed by Montreal in the opening stanza and emerged ahead 1-0. (You know the rest.)

11. Doug Weight will submit to his boss, Garth Snow, a player report card of sorts. From the grades, you can be sure that the General Manager will determine who gets protected, who’ll be dealt and who’ll play for Las Vegas next fall.

12. The Isles game of Goaltending Musical Chairs will rank among the most compelling offseason story lines. Jaro Halak‘s six-game win streak to end the season has enhanced his status by leaps, if not bounds.

13. Funny things happen while waiting outside dressing rooms as freelance journalist Liz Mirovich tells me. After finishing her interviews in the Rangers room last Sunday, she encountered Evgeni Malkin in civvies since he was “scratched” because of injury. Malkin was stunned when Mirovich greeted him in fluent Russian and a conversation followed:

14. “Once Malkin realized that I could speak his language, we had a long talk,” Liz told me. “The thing that impressed me — apart from him being so amiable — was how awed he is about New York City. He still can’t get over its bigness.”

15. P.S. The Malkin-Mirovich schmooze soon was invaded by Sidney Crosby, who was equally impressive to the reporter. “Sid was as nice as could be,” she added. “What’s more, he loved to talk. It was as friendly a conversation as could be and the two stars were just as ‘normal’ as you could imagine.” (Nice to know)

16. The most telling, on-the-mark-end-of-season farewell comment by John Hynes about his Devils was as stunning as a punch to the jaw: “We need more gumption on our team.”

17. Right now the lead gumption guy has to be Miles (A Minute) Wood, who’s as fast on his skates and he is with his fists.

18. Not that he’ll win it, but Michael Grabner — with 27 regular season goals — sure looks like a worthy Lady Byng Trophy candidate. After all, he had only 10 penalty minutes over 76 games and more goals than anyone expected.

19. Prior to the playoffs, Mats Zuccarello figured his Rangers had a “50-50” shot at winning. “We’re two good, similar teams,” said Mighty Mite. That’s a fair assessment.

20. In terms of Islanders leadership, after captain John Tavares and backliner Johnny Boychuk, Anders Lee has emerged as a younger spirit to be followed.

BUFFALO, NY - APRIL 02: Anders Lee #27 and Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders celebrate their 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL game at the KeyBank Center on April 2, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

21. Lee’s career goal-scoring year started late. In fact, it wasn’t until a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings that his game really blossomed. It was November 23 when the former Notre Dame stud scored twice on his way to a season total of 34.

22. One Isles unit that figures to stay intact is a fourth line featuring Cal Clutterbuck, Nikolay Kulemin and Casey Cizikas. Kulemin is as good a replacement for Matt Martin as anyone; maybe even better. Over 82 games, Martin totaled nine points. Kulemin played 72 games for 23 points.

23. Ryan McDonagh about playing in Bell Centre: “It’s a loud, energetic, fun place. The fans closely follow the game and understand the plays. We feed off the crowd.”

24. Our old pal Jack Capuano will be one of the assistant coaches for Uncle Sam’s 2017 Men’s National Team. Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill will run the team in the IIHF World Championship, which takes place May 5-21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.

25. Not that Alain Vigneault needs any coaching advice, but one scout offers this about exploiting the Habs defense: “The Rangers should try the chip and forecheck technique, even though it’s not exactly a strategy that the team embraces.”

26. The Good Devils News: Young hopefuls got lots of ice time. That includes Steve Santini, who’ll be a star in three years or sooner. Others are Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Joe Blandisi and Blake Coleman.

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 21: Steven Santini #34 of the New Jersey Devils controls the puck against the New York Rangers during the game at Prudential Center on March 21, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

27. One of my most avid Devils-watchers, James Mauldin, is especially high on Santini. “He’s physical in front of the net and in the corners,” says James. “I like the fact that he skates with his head up constantly.”

28. More good news from GM Ray Shero: “We have a plan and we’re a team on the rise and we’re not in a bad spot when it comes to draft picks and young picks; plus we’re not inundated with bad contracts.”

29. Why did New Jersey lose 24 games by one goal? Taylor Hall chalks it up to a lack of killer instinct and confidence.

30. Words of humor from former Rangers coach, the late Fred (The Fog) Shero; Ray’s Dad: “We know that hockey is where we live, where we can best meet and overcome pain and wrong and death. Life is a place where we spend time between games.”