Henrik Lundqvist 2

Game 5 Is Alive

An independent observer of the Rangers-Penguins Eastern Conference Semifinal series could easily jump to the conclusion that the Rangers have been thoroughly outclassed in this series, and that a win for Pittsburgh on Sunday is all but a foregone conclusion.

After all, the Rangers lost an almost unlosable game in Game 1 when they gave up a 3-0 leave, failed to score a goal in Game 2, and then lost their first game on home ice, in what was a must-win game. To top it off, the Penguins are 5-0-1 against the Rangers this year in Mellon arena, and perhaps will be even more motivated coming off a 3-0 loss in Game 4.

But to at least this observer, such a conclusion would be wrong. In each of the four games played in the series, a single play has determined the fate of the game.

In Game 1, the Rangers did indeed give up a 3-0 lead, but had tied it at 4-4 and looked a good chance to go to get a chance to regroup and play their second overtime of the playoffs. A controversial interference call that awarded a penalty to Sidney Crosby in the final minutes of regulation gave the Penguins all the opportunity they needed, and the Rangers dropped the series opener.

One could certainly argue that the Rangers should never have been in that position with a 3-0 lead in the first place, but the bottom line is that the penalty directly contributed to the outcome of the game.

In Game 2, Martin Straka again was a victim of a refereeing decision, seeing his goal waved off as Marc-Andre Fleury benefitted from a quick whistle. The game again could’ve been tied late in the third, but in the end the Penguins would add an empty net goal for the 2-0 series lead.

It wasn’t the officials that decided Game 3, but it was Ryan Hollweg‘s penalty for boarding late in the second period that killed off a Rangers rally from 1-3 down.

Finally in Game 4 it was a stop by Henrik Lundqvist, first on Evgeni Malkin’s breakaway, and then on the ensuing penalty shot, that maintained a 1-0 lead at a critical stage of the game.

Change history on any one of those game turning moments, and we could have a very different series than the one we now have. Still, with all that said, good teams find a way to win, bad teams a way to lose, and the Rangers under Tom Renney have always teetered between the two.

To become a good team, and to bring the series back to New York, the Rangers need to make some of their own luck, and do a better job at controlling the momentum.

Has been seen in Games 1 and 3 of the series so far, the Penguins have been far more adept at controlling the momentum of the game. In Game 1, trailing 3-0 the Rangers had the game in hand, only to see a lucky deflection off of Michal Rozsival‘s skate go into the net. It wasn’t so much the goal that turned things around, as what the Penguins did on the next shift.

After dumping the puck deep, the Penguins forechecked aggressively and forced Christian Backman into turnover the puck behind the net, the puck goes out to a wide open Pascal Dupuis and it’s 3-2 Rangers. It took all of 14 seconds for the Penguins to grab the momentum. A similar series occurred in the third period when they took just 20 seconds to take the lead in the game, capitalizing again on the Rangers’ inability to buckle down under pressure.

The Rangers did manage to tie it later in the third to setup the Crosby dive and power play game winner, but the game was won and lost on those two shifts following Pittsburgh goals.

Game 2 was largely without any sort of momentum for either team, neither team scored at even strength, and the difference was special teams for the Penguins, who capitalized on some smart work in front by Jordan Staal.

In Game 3 the Penguins were in the drivers’ seat, with a 3-1 lead and the Rangers down two men with Blair Betts and Chris Drury having both suffered game ending injuries. The Rangers’ captain Jaromir Jagr wasn’t ready to let the game go that easy however, and lead the team back to a 3-3 tie. The Rangers had all the momentum in the game, and had the MSG crowd behind them only for Ryan Hollweg to step in the way.

With the Rangers forechecking hard and threatening the Rangers net, Ryan Hollweg lined up Petr Sykora, knocking him into the boards from behind on what was an obvious penalty. Hollweg has had more than one game turning penalty in his pro career, but there’s no doubt this was a big one. Instead of the Rangers pushing for a 4-3 lead, Evgeni Malkin would score off the post on the power play, and the Rangers would ultimately capitualte for a fifth goal in the third period.

And finally in Game 4 it was the Rangers who controlled the momentum, through some timely saves by Henrik Lundqvist (and a missed open net by Jordan Staal) that made sure the Penguins never really got anything going.

Obviously the Rangers had to win Game 4 to keep the series, alive. It’s also obvious that if they want to continue to play this year, they need to find a way to win in Pittsburgh.

Controlling the momentum of the game early, for a team coming off their first post season loss and looking to prove something will likely be in the hands of Henrik Lundqvist and a young Rangers’ defense, but end the end, they will likely determine the outcome of the game and negate any momentum the Penguins seek to gain from their potent offense.

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