Game of the Week: Matt Cooke’s ugly hit changes game, Rangers win 5-2 after wild third period

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When it comes to suspension debates, we usually discuss shades of gray rather than black-and-white matters. Yet when it comes to Matt Cooke’s elbow on Ryan McDonagh, it shouldn’t be a matter of whether or not the repeat offender should be suspended. The question should instead be: “For how long?”

Eddie Olczyk said that Cooke might receive an eight-game suspension, while many are wondering if it could be in the double digits. Want isn’t up to much debate is the idea that Mario Lemieux might look a little silly if he doesn’t supplement the league’s decision with an in-house punishment as well.

This was a tightly fought, but mostly in-control 1-1 game before Cooke’s unnecessary elbow on McDonagh. After that, the game spiraled into a sloppy, hateful mess that resulted in a huge win for the New York Rangers. The Pittsburgh Penguins controlled most of the play, but the resulting power plays from an undisciplined play by Cooke and a high stick by Matt Niskanen ultimately doomed them.

NY Rangers 5, Pittsburgh 2

Cooke received a five-minute elbowing major and a 10-minute game misconduct for the hit, putting his team in a terrible position during the third period. At first, it looked like the Rangers were going to let that opportunity slip through their fingers though, as Chris Kunitz scored an impressive shorthanded goal to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

The Rangers couldn’t really make much of a difference on that lengthy single man advantage, but a reckless Niskanen double minor for high-sticking gave New York a 5-on-3 power play. Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan scored power-play goals nine seconds apart to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead thanks to those mistakes, with things only going downhill for Pittsburgh from that point.

McDonagh earned a measure of revenge for the Cooke elbow by setting up a Derek Stepan goal after getting the puck right as he left the penalty box to make it 4-2. Brandon Dubinsky ended up making it 5-2 with an empty net goal, representing a wild flurry that included four unanswered goals.

Both Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan scored a goal and two assists while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 38 out of 40 shots to earn a significant win for the Rangers. This marks Lundqvist’s 31st win of the 2010-11 season. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on 26 shots in this game, but few will blame Fleury when Cooke is the obvious goat.

How this game affects the Rangers and Penguins:

The Rangers didn’t play their best all-around game this afternoon, but they earned an important two points to strengthen their hold on seventh place. With 82 points in 73 games played, they have a slim lead over the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres (78 points in 71 GP) and a healthy six point margin in front of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes (76 points in 72 GP).

This will be a tough loss for the Penguins to accept, as they remain in fourth place with 90 points in 72 games played. They only hold a one-point lead over the fifth place Tampa Bay Lightning, with both teams having 10 games left this season.

The Rangers ultimately passed a tough test today, even if they didn’t do it with flying colors. The NHL faces a big test in their own right, as they have a chance to send a message with their decision regarding Cooke. The league hasn’t exactly been on the honor roll when it comes to those choices in the past, but we’ll let you know what ends up happening (if anything).

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.