Rangers aren’t perfect, but Pens are who we thought they are: not likely to win this series

Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi pulls the puck out of the net after Chris Kreider's second period goal in Game 3 Monday. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

In my pre-playoff predictions, I picked the President’s Trophy-winning New York Rangers to have the easiest first-round series of any NHL post-season team this year and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in just five games. And although I have to give the Pens credit for not weakly waving a white flag through the first three games of the opening round, after their Game 3 2-1 loss to the Blueshirts, I don’t expect we’ll see them upset the league’s best regular-season squad. Part of it is simply because the injury-ravaged Penguins in their current condition just don’t have the horses to run with the skilled and versatile Rangers, but even at full strength – even with the sidelined Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and Pascal Dupuis in the lineup – they don’t possess the depth and balance their opponents do. Read more

Rangers’ Marc Staal uses end boards to set up Chris Kreider for goal on perfect ricochet pass

Chris Kreider of the Rangers and Pittsburgh's Taylor Chorney battle for the puck in Game 4 of their first-round series Monday. (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

With ice in front of their opponents’ net so difficult to acquire in the playoffs, NHLers have grown accustomed to deliberately firing the puck wide of the other team’s net and off the end boards in the hope it will ricochet out to a teammate in position to tap it home for a goal. In Game 4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins/New York Rangers series Monday, Blueshirts defenseman Marc Staal demonstrated why that approach is an option, setting up teammate Chris Kreider for the visitors’ second goal of the night to give them a 2-0 lead.

Staal got the puck at the blueline approximately 11 minutes into the second period in Pittsburgh and quickly shot the puck to the right of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. It bounced out right to Kreider, who batted it into the Pens net in the blink of an eye: Read more

Happy 4/20; here are the best hockey jerseys for potheads

Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Blazers  (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images)

Admittedly, I don’t smoke pot and I never have. But I listen to a lot of music made by marijuana enthusiasts and since today is 4/20, I thought it would be fun to come up with the best hockey jerseys for potheads.

We did have the idea of posting the article at 4:20 Eastern time, but then thought folks should have some time to read before the mythical hour was upon them. We also figured we shouldn’t post it in the morning because none of the target audience would be awake yet.

So let’s get to it now.

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Crosby wakes up, Sutter does a bit of everything in Penguins win

Sidney Crosby

It only took Sidney Crosby four minutes and 39 seconds to double his playoff goal total from last season.

Crosby scored twice in the the second period and Brandon Sutter came up huge on the penalty kill and power play to help the Penguins beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in Game 2 Saturday.

Crosby was dangerous most of the night and found the score sheet twice in a span of 4:39 in the second, breaking a tight goaltending battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury.
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Which Game 1 loser faces the most pressure to win Game 2?

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

If you’ve just lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs or if you’re annoyed at the header of this article, you’re likely thinking, “Sheesh, it’s one game, this is not news, mountain out of a molehill,” etc. And you’d be right in certain cases. You’d be wrong in others, however. No two series are created equal, and some Game 1 defeats were more alarming than others.

Here’s a brief rundown of the Game 1 losers, ranked from most justified in panicking to least.

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Penguins need virtually flawless game to beat Rangers, and didn’t deliver one in Game 1 loss

Rangers forward Derick Brassard scores on Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period of Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The injury-depleted Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the biggest underdogs of any team entering the 2014-15 NHL playoffs, particularly after they finished the season 3-5-2 and barely managed to claim the final Eastern Conference wild card berth to set up a date with the league’s No. 1 regular-season team, the New York Rangers. And when the Blueshirts scored a goal just 28 seconds into the first period Thursday night, went up 2-0 late in the opening frame, and outshot the Pens 13-5 enterng it looked as if a rout was on.

It didn’t turn out that way, as the Pens gathered themselves from the second period on and made a game of it, cutting New York’s lead to 2-1 six minutes into the second and keeping the Rangers off the scoresheet for the rest of the night at Madison Square Garden. But there are two reasons why Pittsburgh didn’t find a way to win Game 1: firstly, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were unable to produce any offense, something necessary for this team to win; and secondly, they’re playing the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup – a squad that requires only the briefest of breakdowns to take advantage of before clamping down on defense.

Pittsburgh needs to play four virtually perfect games in order to win this series, and their slow start and sloppy first period was more than enough for the Blueshirts to beat them. Read more

Rangers get great Game 1 start against Fleury, Pens with goal 28 seconds after opening faceoff

Derick Brassard of the Rangers watches the puck go past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the first goal of the Penguins/Rangers Eastern Conference first-round series. (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Not many hockey pundits, professional or otherwise, were giving the Pittsburgh Penguins much of a chance to win their first-round series with the New York Rangers. And after the Pens gave up the first goal of the series just 28 seconds into Game 1 Thursday night, there are probably more people who feel that way.

Without injured veteran defensemen Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff in the lineup, the Penguins’ defense corps was projected to be a weakness, and it didn’t take long after the opening faceoff before it had a catastrophic defensive breakdown. That came in two parts: the first, when Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury allowed a massive rebound on Rick Nash’s slap shot from the blueline; and, more importantly, when Pens d-man Paul Martin allowed Derick Brassard to blow by him and snap a shot past Fleury to make it 1-0 for the home team before the game was a half-minute old: Read more

2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins will be the underdogs when they take on the Rangers (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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RANGERS: The Rangers yield practically nothing to the opposition. Boasting one of the most skilled and savvy blueline corps in the NHL, New York is always safe with players such as Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi on the prowl. The fact Keith Yandle hasn’t even been mentioned yet speaks volumes of the talent back there, and even if you get through two of those players, you still have to deal with Henrik Lundqvist, the backbone of the franchise. ‘The King’ always gives New York a chance to win, and last year’s appearance in the Stanley Cup final wasn’t enough to slake his thirst for glory. Needless to say, the penalty kill is also a strong suit. Up front the Rangers have speed and skill to burn, headlined by forwards Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and past Cup champion Martin St-Louis. Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin also have some wicked afterburners.

PENGUINS: The Penguins score well in many metrics historically important to playoff success. They’re top-10 in goals against, power play, penalty kill and 5-on-5 scoring. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain two of the NHL’s elite players, and Crosby in particular heated up down the stretch. Marc-Andre Fleury was tied for the NHL lead in shutouts and was having quite the season in net, while first-year coach Mike Johnston has utilized his fast-paced style with a nod to defensive responsibility. The Pens have been a better possession team with Johnston at the helm despite injuries/illnesses to key players Crosby, Malkin, Olli Maatta and others. And if you believe in good storylines, the last time Pittsburgh won the Cup was in 2009 when Dan Bylsma was a rookie coach (albeit as a mid-season replacement). Pittsburgh has the weapons to do it. Now it’s just a matter of execution. Read more