Hockey! New York Rangers survive Sens, move on to conference semis

Yeah, I haven’t written about hockey for this website yet, but it’s been quite a while since I was a full-time hockey fan. Nowadays I still keep track of the Rangers, but I don’t watch a ton of their games like I do the Mets. I don’t really know why. Hockey is a lot more exciting than baseball. There is constant action instead of a 20 second wait in between pitches. During a hockey game, there are only a few more breaks in the action than during a soccer match, yet the increased amount of speed, violence and scoring in hockey more than makes up for it. The wild scramble to score at the end of a hockey game is much more fun to watch than watching a basketball game in which a timeout is called every five seconds.

Despite all these wonderful things about hockey, it sits at the periphery of many a sports fan’s universe. Maybe it’s because none of the stars are American or maybe it’s because there is less obvious athleticism apparent (although the amount of athleticism and skill involved is substantial). I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what makes people like some sports and dislike others, and I never come up with a rational answer. I laugh at baseball fans who think soccer is boring, and yet I watch a lot more baseball than soccer.

Anyway, the point is that hockey is awesome, and it would be awesome even if the Rangers did not beat the Senators 2-1 last night in Game Seven of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal match-up. After a furious first period in which each team did just about everything except put the puck in the net, the Rangers forced a turnover early in the second period to enter the attack zone with a three-on-two rush. Derek Stepan made a perfect pass to Marc Staal, who snapped the puck past the excellent Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson for a 1-0 advantage.

Just a few minutes later, the Rangers again stormed into the Ottawa zone, and this time Brandon Dubinksy found Dan Girardi, who had scored just five goals in the whole regular season, wide open right in front of the goal. Anderson was helpless to stop Girardi’s shot and the score was now 2-0. The party was on.

Just like when I was in college, the party did not last long. Ottawa went on the powerplay less than a minute after the Girardi goal and Chris Philips hit Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson for a beautiful one-timer. Alfredsson blasted the puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to cut the New York lead down to one.

That set the stage for an extremely intense third period in which the Senators seemed to hold the puck in the Rangers zone for five minutes at a time. Thanks to some spectacular work from Lundqvist, the Rangers survived for a 2-1 victory.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the seven game series versus the Senators had been the play of rookie Chris Kreider, who joined the fray when Carl Hagelin was suspended after Game Two for elbowing Alfredsson in the head. Kreider had never played an NHL game before this series, and Blueshirt Banter writer Joe Fortunato is all kinds of excited for the youngster.

Speaking of Chris Kreider, oh my word. He was, without a doubt, the New York Rangers best forward last night. Read that sentence again. The Rangers five-game old rookie was the team’s best forward in the biggest game of the season. He goes into the tough areas of the ice, uses his big frame and somehow walks out with the puck. His puck control is exceptional, his passes are crisp, his shot is astounding and he sure knows how to make space for himself. I’ve completely fallen in love with this kid. To preform like that, in those circumstances, at that game. My word. He’s going to be special.

Of course, Lundqvist was an important part of the series win as well, and he’s just been named a finalist for the Hart Trophy (AKA the NHL MVP). Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh and Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay, both forwards, are the two other finalists. Pittsburgh has just been eliminated from the postseason by Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay never qualified.

Of course, I’m always against handing out MVP awards based on which player is on the best team, but you know how these things usually go.

The Rangers are right back in action this Saturday at MSG to take on the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The New Jersey Devils just won a game seven of their own, and they’ll take on the Philadelphia Flyers in the other semifinal. Meanwhile, out west, it’s Nashville versus Phoenix and Los Angeles versus St. Louis.

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