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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pens Win Game 2, Lead Series 2-0

What a ride we’re on right now and I hope it doesn’t end for quite some time. I was out of town for the last couple days which is why there is nothing up about Game 1. I was attending my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary party, but fear not. I had up to the minute scoring updates throughout the evening thanks to a Blackberry.

I began that night rather annoyed to see the Pens go down 3-0 in the second, but finished the night giddy as a schoolgirl when a shot by Sidney Crosby deflected off Evgeni Malkin into the net with 1:40 to play.

For today’s game I had to head to work after the first intermission. I woke up in time for the opening puck drop, sweated out the first period then listened to the second period in the car and saw the third period from my desk. That’s dedication right there for you.

Anyway, the Rangers seemed to be sloppy and flat for most of the game today. If it wasn’t for Henrik Lundqvist, this game could have been a laugher instead of a very close 1-0 game that became 2-0 with an empty net goal. I was talking to my buddy Gopher during most of the game as he is a Ranger fan and he was about ready to hurt someone by the end of the game.

Marc-Andre Fleury played well, but did not have to be spectacular. The Penguins defense was much improved from Game 1 and looked much more like the unit that swept away the Senators in round one. Sticks and bodies were in the passing lanes and many shots were kept to the outside. I can only think of about 3-4 really good chances that the Rangers had in this game.

There was a noticeable effort by the Penguins today to go upstairs on Lundqvist. The kid is tough to beat down low and is very good at picking up pucks through traffic. He saw yet another stellar effort in goal go to waste as his team up front couldn’t get anything going in the game. In the middle of the third period Gopher said to me “We are an entirely different team when we crash the net.”

I responded: “You’re right, you guys aren’t a finesse team like the Penguins are.”

Gopher: “Nope, but we think we are.”

That got me to thinking and watching the Rangers play with a more critical eye while popping Tums as the seconds ticked on by in the third. The Rangers were happy to try and take pucks to the net through 4 defenders or make high risk passes into traffic, rather than throwing the puck on goal and crash for rebounds. Fleury had next to no traffic in front of him for most of the game and when you don’t get traffic at this time of year, you’re not going to win many games.

Key example of this from today’s game was when the Rangers appeared to have tied the game late in the third period. Rangers throw it to the cage and finally showing some desperation, start hacking at Fleury like there is no tomorrow. Dan O’Hallaran blows the play dead as the puck squirts through Fleury and into the net. Goal doesn’t count as the whistle blew before the puck crossed the line, but that should show something to the Rangers. If it doesn’t, the Pens are going to roll in this series.

Here's the highlights:

As for my boys today, they showed that they can win a tight checking 1-0 game. This little fact proven today is the key difference between this year’s squad and last year’s team. You can cite experience all you want and I agree with you to a point, but last year the baby Pens couldn’t win a low scoring game. They needed to score 4-5 goals a game to have a shot. This year however, they have the team and the players to shut the opposition down and kill the clock.

I nearly punched my girlfriend in the face while we were driving into work today when Jordan Staal broke the tie in the second period. When I finally saw the replay of the goal while at work, my jaw hit the desk. Malkin made one heck of a play to get that puck to Staal who had the presence of mind to pull that puck back to his forehand and put a hurting on the water-bottle to send the Igloo into a frenzy.

Game 3 is Tuesday night back in New York and I’m only asking one thing from the Pens over these next two games. Win at least one of the next two. I want a split at worst at Madison Square Garden and that might be a lot to ask for. The Penguins lost all four meetings at MSG this season and looked terrible in the last two meetings there. If I remember right, in one of those games the Penguins only had a handful of shots through two periods and barely broke double digits for the game. Granted the Pens team in those games wasn’t near the same team that is playing right now, but they cannot sit and be content with a 2-0 series lead. This is a very dangerous Rangers team that will no doubt come out flying in Game 3. The Pens will have to weather the storm early, much like they did in the first round against Ottawa.

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