Katie Smith To Be Inducted Into Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame

*Courtesy New York Liberty*

Smith is first-ballot Hall of Famer; to be enshrined with star-studded class in September

NEW YORK, NY – March 31, 2018 – New York Liberty head coach Katie Smith will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, it was announced by the organization on Saturday.

Smith will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the group’s enshrinement weekend on September 6-8, 2018 in Springfield, Mass.

Smith, who will be inducted in her first year of eligibility is joined in the class by Tina Thompson, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, Maurice Cheeks, Lefty Driesell, Dino Radja, Charlie Scott, Rod Thorn, Ora Mae Washington and Rick Welts.

Smith is one of the most decorated players in the history of women’s basketball, retiring following the 2013 season as the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball history with 7,885 points, and she ranked second all-time in the WNBA with 6,452 points.

In the WNBA, Smith was a two-time champion (2006, 2008), Finals MVP in 2008, and a seven-time All-Star, being voted as one of the top-15 players in WNBA history in 2011, and one of the 20 best and most influential players in 2016. Smith played her first two professional seasons with the Columbus Quest in the ABL, helping guide them to the only two championships in league history (1996, 1997).

Smith’s accomplishments reach far beyond the WNBA. At the international level, Smith won three Olympic gold medals as a member of the U.S. Women’s Basketball National Team (2000, 2004, 2008), to go along with a pair of World Championship gold medals (1998, 2002).

Collegiately, she starred at Ohio State University, helping guide the Buckeyes to the NCAA Championship game as a freshman, and going on to break the Big Ten all-time scoring record for both men and women. Ohio State retired her number in 2001, making her the first female athlete in school history to have her number retired.

Last month it was announced Smith will also be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame this summer in Knoxville, Tenn. That ceremony is slated for Saturday, June 9.

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As An Era Ends, Don’t Forget The Good Times

As the home portion of the 2017-18 season came to an end Friday against Tampa Bay, I hope Blueshirts fans took a moment to appreciate the most recent era of Rangers hockey.

Since the start of the 2005-06 season, the organization never played a single game while out of playoff contention until this past Wednesday’s contest in Washington. That’s 1,026 consecutive meaningful regular season games!

[Watch Rangers-Hurricanes Tonight on MSG2 & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

One hundred twenty-nine playoff games since the spring of 2006, which stands second in the entire NHL behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins. Six memorable Game 7 victories. Three trips to the Conference Finals. One Stanley Cup Final appearance. And one Presidents’ Trophy.

Despite not reaching the ultimate goal, falling three wins shy in 2013-14, the last 13 seasons have provided lifetime memories for a generation of New York Rangers hockey fans. Don’t forget, the team missed the postseason for seven straight seasons prior to 2005-06.

The backbone of the club for the last 13 seasons has been 2017-18 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner Henrik Lundqvist.

Quick story: Henrik attended the 2000 NHL Entry Draft in Calgary along with his twin brother Joel. The Dallas Stars selected Joel with the 68th overall pick early in the third round. After heading down to the Stars’ table for a meet-and-greet with members of their front office, Joel headed back up into the stands to sit with his brother.

I am told that the Stars came THIS CLOSE to selecting Henrik over the next few rounds, and would have definitely chosen him with their 7th round pick had the Rangers not drafted him 205th overall.

Oh, how the fortunes of two franchises would have changed. And by the way, none of the five players drafted by Dallas in between the 68th and 205th overall picks ever played a game in the NHL. Henrik told me during his rookie season that the biggest thing on his mind during training camp was where he was going to live in Hartford. He never made it to the Nutmeg State and was the Blueshirts starting goaltender by November.

I like to give some of the credit for the run of 11 playoff appearances in 13 seasons to my radio broadcast partner – the former Captain of the Rangers, Dave Maloney. Dave’s first game as a full-time member of the MSG Network broadcast crew was on October 5, 2005 – the season opener in Philadelphia. Most hockey “experts” thought the team had no shot at a postseason berth. Jaromir Jagr scored two third period goals that night to lead Tom Renney’s Rangers to a 5-3 win over the Flyers – the first two of a franchise record 54 goals for Jagr that season, as the Rangers stunned the hockey world with a 100-point season.

So many memories. Marian Gaborik in triple overtime in D.C. in 2012. Coming back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to defeat both Pittsburgh in 2014 and Washington in 2015. Marty St. Louis’ goal on Mother’s Day 2014. The roar of the crowd as the final seconds ticked down in Game 6 of the Conference Final against Montreal later that same month. Derek Stepan in overtime to eliminate the Capitals in Game 7 in 2015.

As the organization re-tools with a plethora of draft picks and prospects, here’s to the next great era of Rangers hockey.

[Watch Rangers-Hurricanes Tonight on MSG2 & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

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Chytil Breaks Through, Scores First NHL Goal

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

There’s a saying, “you always want to finish strong.” Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, they didn’t achieve that in their final home game of the season.

In the Rangers 7-3 loss to the Lightning Friday night at The Garden, 2017 first-round draft pick, Filip Chytil tallied his first career goal. It was the payoff to a long night — and season — of hard work.

In 14:45 of ice time, Chytil took 20 shifts and had the strongest game of his young NHL career.

Throughout the night Filip was a force on the ice and he came close to scoring several times; before eventually potting his goal.

BREAKDOWN OF FILIP CHYTIL’S PERFORMANCE

1. FIRST PERIOD

In the opening frame, Chytil saw a modest 4:49 of ice time and won three face-offs. Filip was buzzing around Tampa’s net and had a number of opportunities to make a play only to see the puck either go wide of the net, or for a Lightning defender to knock the disc away.

2. SECOND PERIOD

The second period was one of Chytil’s best since being recalled. Filip increased his ice time so that he had a healthy 10 minutes and two seconds through two periods. And he won 71 percent of his face-offs. Playing alongside Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello has provided Chytil with the foundation necessary to acclimate to the NHL as quickly as possible.

“We were doing some things well,” said Chris Kreider. “It’s a good experience, obviously we have a young group that will hopefully learn from it and grow.”

[Watch Rangers-Hurricanes Tonight on MSG2 & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

3. THIRD PERIOD

The wait is finally over. With 8:14 gone in the third period, Filip entered the record books. The rookie center, who had been swarming the net all night, saw something that made his eyes light up like a Christmas tree. Louis Domingue was a hair too far out of his net and couldn’t control the puck. So, without thinking, Chytil swooped in and buried the puck for his first NHL goal.

“Zuccy (Mats Zuccarello) shoots and it was a rebound and empty net,” said Filip. “I’m so excited I scored my first goal; finally.”

Head coach Alain Vigneault added, “I thought Filip had a good game. He showed some real good speed, he had a couple good looks, got his first NHL goal. From an individual standpoint, that was a good step today.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

“He is more confident than the first two games,” said Mika Zibanejad. “(Filip) He is skating well with the puck and doing a lot of good things out there. I am trying to help him as much as I can and the other guys are as well. It’s fun to see.”

[Watch Rangers-Hurricanes Tonight on MSG2 & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

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New York Rangers Spelling Bee

The New York Rangers have a very diverse squad with talent hailing from countries all over the world!

With that said, some Blueshirt names may be pretty tricky and difficult to spell. Take our quiz to find out if you have what it takes to win a New York Rangers Spelling Bee…

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A Trio of Returns For Rangers Home Finale

The Rangers host Tampa Bay this evening and it marks the return of former Ranger stalwarts Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and J.T. Miller.

This is Tampa’s only visit to The Garden so this will mark the debut in a Lightning uniform for all three. The teams have split the two previous games, both played in Tampa Bay. While in a Blueshirt, Miller scored the OT-winner in early November to give the Rangers at the time, a much-needed 2-1 victory. In early March, the Lighting overwhelmed the Rangers in the first period and coasted to a 5-3 win.

Tampa Bay is in a dogfight with Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference while the Rangers look to continue to play a spirited, competitive game.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Tonight on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, since the 2010-11 season, there has been no defensive pair in the league that has spent more time together on the ice then the re-united McDonagh-Girardi combo. The John Tortorella years were hard ones on both defensemen when shot-blocking and grinding were the keys to defending. Girardi likely epitomized that style best and the undrafted defender would be acknowledged for his honest, effective play by representing the Rangers at the 2012 All-Star Game.

McDonagh looked poised to take the next step to elite status when he led the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. Injuries likely played the key role in stalling that progress up the food chain, yet he remains one of the elite defenders in the game today. Both would grow to be key components of a winning culture. When a franchise enjoys extended success as the Rangers did – when McDonagh and Girardi were eating minutes – quality parts are taken for granted. Only in the absence of those parts is the value truly recognized. While it is important to acknowledge that any part is replaceable, it will be a while before the parts known as Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are replaced on the Rangers blueline.

They are to be always remembered as great Rangers.

The Rangers are coming off a tough overtime loss to Washington. Staked to a late 2-1 third-period lead on a goal by Ryan Spooner, the Caps would tie the score even later in regulation to send the game into overtime.

There has been some criticism of the play of young Neal Pionk on the game-tying goal. In all due candor, with a little more NHL-experienced blueline or with the team in the hunt for something beyond respect, Pionk is most likely not on the ice in that situation. Not yet, anyway. That being said, as his career moves on, Pionk will read the situation differently realizing that the danger player was not the opponent behind him but the player who was in that crucial scoring area on top of the crease. Pionk has shown great promise with terrific offensive instincts. Moving forward, throw some acquired knowledge into his repertoire and the Rangers will have an important three-zone player in Neal Pionk.

[Read: Getting to Know Neal Pionk]

3 KEYS

1. Force the Pace

Tampa was beaten last night in Boston, 4-2, in an electric match played with playoff intensity. The Rangers need to dictate the pace of this game with quick puck movement and even quicker feet.

2. D-Zone

Against Washington, the Rangers showed much better d-zone play with minimalized chasing and good patience. As a result, there was less time spent in the defensive zone, which will be equally important against this very good Lightning opponent.

3. Kreider-Zibanejad-Fast

Held off the scoresheet against the Caps after a good run, the Rangers top line will seek to continue to set the pace for the rest of this season with committed three-zone play. Leaders need to be leaders.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

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Familiar Faces, Different Jerseys, Back At The Garden

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

For Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, Friday night’s game at The Garden will be a homecoming.

The trio of former Rangers are returning as visitors for the first time in their careers. And, they will be joined by Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman, who have been through this before.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

With this, the Rangers’ final home game of the season, you can bet the Blueshirt Faithful will be pleased and interested to see their former favorite players skating at The Garden once more, although in a different uniform.

As for the quintuplet of Rangers-turned-Lightning players, they can expect a video tribute and hardy ovation from the crowd.

Now without further ado, allow me to take you on a trip down memory lane.

RYAN CALLAHAN, RW
(Rangers Stats 2006-14: 450 GP; 132 G; 122 A; 254 PTS)

Who could ever forget the Rangers’ former captain?

During an era when the Blueshirts were starting to come into their own, Callahan was the heart and soul of the team.

And if you ever doubted the moniker, “Black and Blueshirts,” you should have seen Callahan after a game.

The guy was a walking bruise-magnet. Of course, most of his teammates were, for that was the style of play favored by then coach, John Tortorella.

As an example, Ryan accumulated 1,470 hits and 416 shots blocked in his time as a Ranger.

His willingness to put his body on the line not only endeared him to his teammates but to the fans as well.

And while Captain Cally was never a superstar, he did record three 20-goal seasons on Broadway.

Alas, a contract dispute ended his time with the team midway through the 2013-14 season, as he was shipped to the Lightning for their captain Martin St. Louis and draft considerations.

On a personal level, my fondest memory of Callahan took place shortly before he was traded.

On Feb. 4, 2014, six games before Ryan was dealt, the Rangers played host to the Colorado Avalanche.

At that point, it was a well-known fact The Captain would be gone — even if the fans held out hope for a contract resolution.

Sitting in the lower-bowl of Madison Square Garden with my dad, I watched as the crowd serenaded Captain Cally with cheers of “Please don’t go!,” and “Captain Cally!”

So what did Callahan do?

He went out and delivered two goals in the first period. And while he didn’t complete the hat trick, he did add an assist later in the game.

I remember, when Ryan scored his first goal of the evening, the crowd erupted into cheers. When he scored his second, the crowd was ready to blow the roof off the place.

While Callahan had many other highlights during his time on Broadway, that game is the one that stands out to me most of all.

RYAN MCDONAGH, D
(Rangers Stats 2010-18: 516 GP; 151 G; 187 A; 238 PTS)

The Rangers’ most recent captain was as loyal and hardworking as they come. And he filled Callahan’s shoes as a primary member of the “Black and Blueshirts.”

McDonagh’s style of play often drew comparisons to Blueshirts legend, Brian Leetch. And he did his best impression of Leetch when he tallied 10 points in the Eastern Conference Final victory over the Canadiens in 2014.

However, injuries hindered Ryan over the past couple seasons, dimming the shine of his early career exploits.

Alas, his status as an unrestricted free agent after next season caused the team to deal him at the trade deadline this past February.

Now let’s go back to the most memorable moment of Mac’s career.

Do you remember where you were on May 8, 2015? Ryan McDonagh sure does.

The 2014-15 Rangers won the Presidents Trophy as the best team in the league.

But a second-round matchup with the Capitals threatened to end their season far too early.

Down three-games-to-one in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Blueshirts had their backs to the wall when they hosted Game 5.

A scoreless duel between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby had The Garden Faithful on the edge of their seats. Then, with 10:54 gone in the third period, Washington’s Curtis Glencross beat Lundqvist for the game’s first goal.

With their season on the brink of extinction, the Blueshirts needed a rally.

As time wound down, it appeared the Capitals were finally going to vanquish their playoff demons.

But with 1:41 remaining in regulation, Chris Kreider fired a blast from the left face-off circle past Holtby; tying the game in dramatic fashion.

The Blueshirts had gotten their rally, but could they complete the job?

With 9:37 gone in the first overtime, McDonagh joined the rush. With the puck on his stick, he wired a shot from just above the hash marks into the back of Washington’s net; setting off the celebration.

The Rangers were still alive. But it would take another hero to finish the story.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

DAN GIRARDI, D
(Rangers Stats 2006-17: 788 GP; 46 G; 184 A; 230 PTS):

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Girardi was a key member of the “Black and Blueshirts.”

It seems as if every Rangers player in recent memory was a member of the B&B Club.

But Girardi was no ordinary member. He was the founder.

From the time he made his Blueshirts debut as an undrafted free agent — until his unfortunate, yet necessary buyout following last season — Girardi led the New Yorkers in hits and blocked shots. No wonder he seemed to age in dog years.

Dan was the player who embodied the everyday working man, and that’s what endeared him to the fans.

As such, another stroll down memory lane.

Five days after McDonagh saved the Blueshirts’ season, the “Warrior” Girardi played a pivotal role in finishing their epic comeback against the Capitals.

The Rangers had come back to force a do-or-die Game 7. If that’s not dramatic enough, the game went into sudden-death overtime.

At the 11:24 mark of the first overtime, Girardi fired the puck on goal but Holtby didn’t control the rebound. Instantly, Derek Stepan found the puck on his stick and promptly deposited the disc into the net; sending the Blueshirts to the Eastern Conference Final.

Girardi’s assist on Stepan’s series-clinching goal is one of the many highlights of his career. Here’s a look at another.

Assists are nice, and no doubt important, but goals are what ultimately determines who wins and loses.

I take you back to the night Girardi broke the Islanders‘ hearts; April 13, 2013.

The Rangers and Islanders were embroiled in a playoff race; made all the more complicated by the lockout that cost the NHL half of the season.

With Lundqvist manning the pipes opposite Evgeni Nabokov, you knew the game was going to be exciting … and it was.

Lundqvist and Nabokov carried their respective shutouts through the end of regulation. Both were desperate to secure the always important “second point” for their team.

Jeff Z. Klein of the NY Times wrote, “Girardi was set up for the goal by a pretty backhand pass from center Derick Brassard. Girardi broke in and sent his wrist shot perfectly into the top corner on the long side, past Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov.”

Klein continued, “Girardi was mobbed behind the Islanders net by his jubilant teammates, including goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who skated the length of the ice to join the pileup after recording his first shutout of the season.”

“We’re a good team; we’re a good team,” said then Blueshirts bench boss, Tortorella. “We stuck together. We found a way to get it done.”

And throughout his tenure on Broadway, there was nobody who held the team together more than the “Warrior” Dan Girardi.

J.T. MILLER, C
(Rangers Stats 2012-18: 341 GP; 72 G; 100 A; 172 PTS)

Would you be surprised if I told you the Rangers only had two first-round draft picks from 2011-16?

With the Rangers being perennial playoff contenders from 2011-16, the team often traded picks to obtain players that could help the team in the present.

The only two times the Blueshirts actually kept their first-round pick, they selected Brady Skjei (2012) and, of course, Miller (2011).

J.T. was a hotly-hyped center who had poise and a skill set well beyond his years. But somehow, he never quite reached the heights many fans expected.

Arguably his most memorable moment came under the bright lights of the NHL’s annual Winter Classic.

On New Year’s Day 2018, the Rangers and Sabres did battle at Citi Field. If the fans that sat through the game’s Arctic conditions thought they were cold, they should have taken a look at Miller.

J.T. proved he had ice in his veins when he scored the game-winning power-play goal at 2:43 of overtime; sending Blueshirt fans home happy.

J.T. Miller describes his emotions after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in the Winter Classic against the Sabres.

ANTON STRALMAN, D
(Rangers Stats 2011-14: 182 GP; 7 G; 31 A; 38 PTS)

The often forgotten man on the Blueshirts’ back line, Stralman was Mr. Dependable.

After failing to impress the Devils during training camp in 2011, Stralman was released from his PTO (professional tryout) and wound up signing with the Rangers on Nov. 5, 2011.

However, once he debuted for the Blueshirts, he never looked back.

While Stralman wasn’t the same type of offensive threat that, say, Ryan McDonagh was, he was still a steady stickhandler and that allowed him to make one of the biggest “saves” in recent history.

The 2013-14 Blueshirts rode a wave of momentum straight to the Stanley Cup Final. However, once there, the Kings disposed of the Rangers in five games.

But in Game 3, with the Rangers down two-games-to-none in the series, Stralman had his “Rangers Moment.”

Steve Serby of the NY Post wrote, “It was 1-0 for the Rangers with the Kings on the power play, when an Alec Martinez screamer wound up sliding toward the net, and Jeff Carter, planted in front of the net, whiffed on it. The puck, with a mind of its own, began moving toward the red goal line at a snail’s pace behind Lundqvist, seemingly an inexorable crawl to Blueshirt hell.”

Serby continued: “Finally, the hockey gods who had been so cruel to the Rangers decided to smile on them in their hour of need. With the second sweep of his stick, Stralman swept away nightmare visions of a sweep.”

“It’s one of those things where you need a little luck,” said Stralman. “Carter was going to jump on it because he’s right in the slot there with me. I tried to get his stick out first and just keep it there, to buy myself some time to do that second effort to keep it out.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

That said, Happy Homecoming to the ex-Rangers — until the opening faceoff.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

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Intensity and Tension Rise In Final Push for Playoffs

In this week’s Dano on the Devils, Ken Daneyko breaks down the Devils‘ nail-biting win over the Hurricanes, Keith Kinkaid‘s ascendency to the team’s main goalie and the final stretch before the postseason.

MSGNetworks.com: It seems like every single game in the last month or so has been so dramatic for the Devils. Tuesday night was no different, with New Jersey coming from behind to take the two points. What are your thoughts on the game and the recent stretch of intense games?

Ken Daneyko: As we know, every game is so crucial. Every team around the Devils — whether it’s the teams ahead of them in the standings or the Panthers, who are right behind them — are playing extremely well and are manufacturing wins. That’s what made this race so intriguing, you’re seeing teams play with desperation. All the teams involved are scratching and clawing, and it’s going to be a fight till the end.

The Devils got through a daunting seven-game stretch against some of the best teams in the NHL with a 5-2 record. With the game against the Hurricanes Tuesday, it was always going to be a tough one after beating Pittsburgh and Tampa. This is no disregard to Carolina, who was right there in the race for the most season before hitting a down stretch recently. They had won three in a row going into Tuesday and they have a lot of speed and young talent.

[Watch Devils-Penguins Tonight at 6:30 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO. Download Free]

I thought Carolina played hard and put the Devils on their heels after a strong start by New Jersey. The second 10 minutes of the first period was so different from the first 10. The Hurricanes went up 2-1 and, all of sudden, you’re thinking this is going to be one of those games. But you’re never going to be perfect, things aren’t always going to be in sync in every game for 60 minutes. After the second half of the second period all the way into third, the Devils had that surge and moxie to find a way to win the game.

They got a big play when it mattered, whether it was a big save from Keith Kinkaid or a big goal at the right time. You need your big guns to show up in situations like this and that’s what Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall did. You need your workhorses to pitch in as well and what a huge goal from Stefan Noesen, who has stepped up recently along with others like Blake Coleman.

As a guy with a rooting interest, I have to say it’s gut-wrenching to watch! It’s much easier when you’re playing. Nevertheless, the Devils have given themselves a chance here and that’s all you can ask for.

MSGNetworks.com: You mentioned Keith Kinkaid, who looks as if he has seized the No. 1 goalie spot from Cory Schneider. He didn’t have a perfect game against the Hurricanes, but managed to come through when it counted. Are you surprised that Keith has played this well and is there any concern about Schneider going forward?

Ken Daneyko: Keith wasn’t perfect Tuesday night, but that’s the element that has improved in his game recently. To be a goalie that plays regularly, you know you’re not going to be perfect every night or stand on your head. Having said that, it’s having that mental toughness to make the big save at the right time and he was able to do that. He’s been outstanding in recent games and probably stole a game or two during their recent stretch. He was good when he needed to be.

[Fischler: Kinkaid Becomes Devils’ “Block-aid”]

It’s a tough and delicate situation for Cory. But this is pro sports. Cory is such a character guy and an elite first-class goaltender on and off the ice. He’s dealing with some adversity and he would be the first one not to make an excuse for himself. But certainly, the injuries he’s suffered this season have played a factor. It is what it is. All elite players go through tough stretches. That’s what makes you better.

Having said that, he gets it and he’s been supportive. You have to go with the hot hand, that’s the bottom line. I try to be even-keeled about the situation because you’re only as good as your last game. Keith has got to stay in the zone and he’s done something to improve his game – his mental toughness has gone to another level.  As for Cory, it’s going to be his moment before you-know-what and you’ll need everyone on the roster. He gets it and that’s what you love about him. He’s a character guy.

MSGNetworks.com: The man making that decision is John Hynes. He’s guided the team through this season and has them in position to make the playoffs. The coach always seems to keep his emotions in check and be even-keeled most of the time. Is that something that can be an advantage, especially for a young team like the Devils?

Ken Daneyko: You normally see that type of calm out of veteran coaches. Speaking from experience with my time with coaches like [Jacques] Lemaire and Larry Robinson, they always managed to be even-keeled. They always keep their emotional balance. They never got too high after wins or too low after losses. These games are basically playoff games and the Devils are fighting for their lives to stay in this race. It’s an important learning process, especially for a young team.

I’m around Coach Hynes a lot and I really like his demeanor, the way he handles the team and his knowledge of the game. I thought he did a heck of a job in the game against Tampa Bay. Execution from the players make a coach look good on any given night, but you could see he had a gameplan against Tampa.  He was able to strategically matchup Travis Zajac‘s line against the Lightning’s top forwards. He really coached that night and those are some of the steps he’s taken and the team has taken. He was able to shut down Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos as good as any team has this season.

This is coming on the back end of back-to-back nights after a tough game in Pittsburgh. Despite not being at their peak physically, they were able to play a sound game. That shows the preparation from Hynes and the rest of his coaching staff — Geoff Ward and Alain Nasreddine. These guys are learning, too, and they’re a young coaching staff.

I have the utmost respect for Coach Hynes and he continues to show that he’s a smart hockey mind.

MSGNetworks.com: How different is it for you to watch these games as someone who’s in the media compared to your playing days? I’m sure there’s a lot of scoreboard watching going on.

Ken Daneyko: It’s funny, this time of year, you end up rooting for your rivals! The fans will get behind the Islanders when they play the Panthers or the Rangers when they play another team in playoff contention. For one night, you’ll be thinking, ‘Let’s go Rangers!’ You hope you get help along the way.

As a fan, it’s gut-wrenching and you get into it. As a player, you take a peek out of the corner of your eye at the scoreboard, but you’re more worried about what you can do and control.

[Watch Devils-Penguins Tonight at 6:30 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO. Download Free]

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Rangers Fall in Nation’s Capital

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

We are witnessing the development of a potential blue line stud.

Ever since Neal Pionk joined the Rangers on February 9, he’s done nothing but impress.

Courtesy of a recent seven-game points streak, Pionk managed to draw comparisons to Blueshirts’ legend Brian Leetch.

In the Rangers 3-2 overtime loss to the Capitals Wednesday at the Capital One Arena, Neal proved he doesn’t need to score to impact the game.

Midway through the first period, “Real Deal Neal,” circled through the neutral zone before decisively holding onto the puck and taking it towards Braden Holtby’s net. Pionk didn’t beat Holtby, but the breakaway still highlighted his burgeoning skills.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

And after the first period, Neal led all skaters in the game with an ice time of 10:08. At the end of the evening, he led all skaters with a game-high 26:19 of ice time. Every time he was on the ice, he made an impact; even if he didn’t touch the little rubber disc.

One way to evaluate players is to see what they do without the puck. In fact, that’s one of the last skills young players develop. But Pionk is ahead of the curve.

Per head coach Alain Vigneault, “Neal’s hockey IQ is off the charts. Everybody, from our scouts to Gorts (Jeff Gorton), talked about Neal being an offensive guy and he’s lived up to what we thought. He moves the puck well and he sets up plays; even when he doesn’t have the puck.”

As for the game…

WHAT WENT WRONG

1) MINUTE WOES

I know I sound like a broken record, but once again the Rangers surrendered a goal with roughly a minute to go in a period. And against Washington, they did it twice.

With 33 seconds remaining in the first period, Andre Burakovsky sent a shot toward Henrik Lundqvist’s glove side. The puck somehow found room between Lundqvist and the post; sneaking into the Rangers’ net to tie the game.

Meanwhile, the second time came after a questionable call by the ice officials — more on that below. The Capitals pulled Holtby for an extra skater and with 1:05 left in regulation, Lars Eller tied the game.

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

2) THE CALL

With just over a minute remaining in regulation, Washington pulled Holtby for a sixth skater. But before Braden got to the bench, the extra attacker touched the puck. That, by definition, is a penalty. And it’s called “too many men on the ice.”

It was a clear as day call, yet somehow the refs did not call it. And when the Capitals tied the game seconds later, the game had been irreparably changed.

“At the end of the day, they had too many men on the ice,” said Vigneault. “It was an easy call to make. And they didn’t make it.”

POSITIVE TAKEAWAYS

1) HIS MAJESTY RETURNS

After missing the last couple games with general soreness, Lundqvist returned to action against Washington. And he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.

Even though he took the loss, there was nothing shabby about Lundqvist’s 30 saves; most of which were on Grade-A scoring chances.

“Henrik was great from the start,” said Kevin Hayes.

2) PENALTY-KILL PERFECTION

A 3-for-3 effort on the penalty-kill looked as if it would make the difference in the game. After all, every time Washington appeared to gain some momentum via a penalty, the Blueshirts shut them down.

“Our power-play was so good all night,” said Lundqvist. “It kept us in the game.”

3) ROOKIE PARTY

Another game, another point for 2017 first-round draft pick, Lias Andersson. After scoring a goal in his NHL debut, Andersson registered his first career assist — a primary helper — on Ryan Spooner’s third period goal. And had the Rangers managed to hold on to their 2-1 lead, Lias’ assist would have been a game-winner.

FINAL THOUGHTS

“It’s so frustrating to lose this game,” said Lundqvist. “As good as we were on the penalty-kill, we can’t give up that look on the six-on-five; it’s too easy. We all have something to play for.”

[Watch Rangers-Lightning Friday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

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Test Your Knicks-tionary Knowledge!

Clyde Frazier may be as known for being a skilled wordsmith as he is for his exquisite style and basketball prowess.

So, do you think you’re in tune with Clyde’s vocabulary? Take this Knicks-tionary quiz and find out if you’re a real Clyde Frazier whiz!

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Butcher Becoming the Meat of New Jersey’s Defense

At first look, Will Butcher doesn’t strike you as a defenseman who instills physical fear in an opponent’s heart.

That’s because he doesn’t.

Likewise, the lighthorse 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from Madison, WI never will be auditioning for the roles of Gulliver, Godzilla, Gargantua or your friendly local Giraffe. Monstrous, he’s not.

But this New Jersey Devils rookie sure can play defense — plus offense — and that explains why his club has a chance to notch a playoff berth … although the Florida Panthers remain in close pursuit.

Will’s two power play assists galvanized a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

The victory thrusts the Devils right into momentum mode which continues at The Rock on Thursday when defending champion Pittsburgh visits Newark.

[Watch Devils-Penguins Thursday at 6:30 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO. Download Free]

Because of rookies such as Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Butcher, the Devils have been energized in the homestretch beyond any preseason belief.

“The way Butcher plays,” said ex-NHLer-turned Devils radio analyst Chico Resch, “it’s all about brain work. He’s one of the smartest rookie defensemen I’ve ever seen.”

With the Penguins next in line, a comparison between Butcher and the visitors’ cerebral Kris Letang will be inevitable.

One of the best comparison critics is Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, Letang’s teammate on the 2016 Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning sextet.

“For young defensemen like Will,” said Lovejoy, “this game can be difficult. But he’s succeeded coming out of college with no minor league experience and shows he belongs.”

Before Butcher’s signing with the Garden Staters last Summer, the 23-year-old University of Denver graduate had become the first Wisconsin-born player to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as America’s top collegiate player.

[Fischler: Devils Nab Butcher]

Which was all well and good, but offered no guarantees that he could simply segue as a starting defender on a once-struggling team that now has magnetized attention. But he’s succeeding beyond anyone’s expectations.

“To play in the NHL,” Butcher noted, “I knew I needed a complete game because everybody is good offensively. If I couldn’t play defensively, I knew I was not going to be able to play.”

Will Butcher tells his tale of reaching the NHL, from his small-town roots to the moment he knew he was finally in the pros.

That Devils general manager Ray Shero was able to get Will to willingly sign a contract was monumental considering that Butcher originally had been plucked by Colorado in the 2013 draft.

But he nixed the Avalanche for one very good reason called John Hynes. New Jersey’s head coach had a system appealing to Will where he could get support on the back end and play to his strengths.

Butcher: “I was looking for the right organizational fit; where I could see myself growing a career. Hynes hit a home run on a lot of that stuff. I liked his demeanor, his attitude, where he wants to take the team. I felt I needed to be a part of that.”

Will spends considerable time with the club’s defensive coach Alain Nasreddine, who breaks down video with the freshman. Nasreddine has been a solid sounding board, but it’s the head coach who counts most.

“What I like,” said Hynes, “is Will’s ability to move the puck so well. His instincts are good and he has the knack for delivering the puck to the net.”

A naturally gifted skater, Will Butcher's ability to move on the ice has added a new dimension to the Devils this season. The defenseman hits the ice with our Ken Daneyko and Bryce Salvador to show why he's so good with his lateral movement.

That point has been underlined after 74 games during which Will has become, by far, the Devils’ top scoring defenseman with 39 points.

“Butcher is a gifted passer and an excellent power play quarterback,” explained Leo Scaglione Jr. who is an occasional New Jersey prospect reporter on MSG Networks Devils telecasts. “He sees the ice very well and is good with his hands.”

Asked to pinpoint his most valuable asset, Will points to his brain. “I can think the game pretty well. I use my hockey sense — my I.Q. — to make plays quicker than what they happen. I study things before we play and use my smarts in situations.”

Which explains why you won’t see Will skating Willy-Nilly all over the ice. It’s why Butcher guided the University of Denver to the collegiate championship tallying seven goals and 30 assists in 43 games.

It didn’t hurt that he was mentored by Denver’s storied hockey coach Jim Montgomery who told Shero that Butcher was “so much better than people think.” Pride in his defensive game is one of Will’s fortes.

He lists Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie as the most challenging foes to defend against.

“The top end guys are so good. Matter of fact, I learn a lot just from watching them even when I’m not skating against them.”

For much of the season, Butcher has been paired with Lovejoy although on Tuesday night, against the Hurricanes, his partner was Mirco Mueller. Will insists that Hynes’ system makes it easy to rotate partners.

Once he decided to nix an Avalanche deal, Will — plus his father and agent — auditioned a few clubs but was captivated by Hynes’ pitch.

During a conference call with the media, Will Butcher explains why decided to sign with the New Jersey Devils.

Jim Montgomery: “I give Hynes a lot of credit for using Will and bringing him into situations that have enabled his confidence to grow.”

Growth came fast; quicker than most thought. He became the first Devil in team history to collect 20 points in his first 30 NHL games.

In time, he ranked first among NHL rookie defensemen in assists and power play points. What’s more, he’s impressed former Devils D-men such as MSG Networks New Jersey analyst Bryce Salvador with his cool, calm, collected game.

“What really strikes me most,” said Salvador, “is his poise. He never gets frustrated when he makes a mistake. In fact, it’s almost like he reflects on it. Plus, it’s rare to see Will make the same mistake twice.

“You always hear him say, ‘Maybe I’m not the fastest D-man, but I’m one of the fastest thinkers in processing the situation. That’s my skill set; my asset and what I rely on.’ I definitely see that in him.”

Finding a way to win has become the Devils mantra in this melodramatic homestretch, yet Hynes’ stickhandlers are handling the pressure with aplomb — especially the Butcher Boy.

“Riding the waves even-keeled is how is he’s surviving as a defenseman,” Salvador asserted. “It’s part of the reason why the Devils have been able to rely on him.”

The Maven calls Butcher “the meat of the Devils’ defense.”

To which Hynes punctuated, “Butcher has grown in every area.”

On Thursday, the team and Will’s individual growth both can mature even more — closer to that magnetic post-season berth!

As some sage could have said about Butcher, where there’s a Will there’s a way!

[Watch Devils-Penguins Thursday at 6:30 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO. Download Free]

THOUGHTS ON BUTCHER:

TAYLOR HALL: He’s such a good puck mover. He really shows a lot of deception while he’s out there, he thinks one or two plays ahead and when you have that influence at the top of your power play, it really settles the whole group down so Hynesy made a switch mid-game and you saw how it affected our power play. It’s great to see him chip in on a couple goals.

JOHN HYNES: Will’s done a very good job on the power play. We knew what type of player Will was going to be coming in and to the player’s credit, when you put him in situations he’s moved the puck very well, he’s been very effective on the power play. When there are opportunities to make plays, even five-on-five he does a very good job of that and you saw those things tonight. On the other side of it, some of it was just adjusting to the pace and the competitive level to defend at the NHL level. But we knew about his hockey smarts, how coachable he is and how he’s willing to learn and those things continue to get better.

ANDY GREENE: He’s been great. He’s been really good on the puck and making smart plays with it and dishing it out. There’s no panic in his game under pressure and it’s nice to see.

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