Brandon Dubinsky

Three things the Rangers need to avoid elimination

The New York Rangers have played the top seeded Washington Capitals tough through four games of their opening round series. Unfortunately for them, toughness doesn’t equal wins and after collapsing after a 3-0 lead in Game 4 to lose in overtime, they find themselves on the brink of elimination heading into this afternoon’s Game 5.

For the Rangers to turn their fortunes around, the answers seem simple but there are a few things in particular that they can do to help stave off elimination today and use to to perhaps mount a comeback in the series. If the Rangers are going to make the Capitals relive last season’s playoff nightmare they’re going to need to do these three things to make it happen.

1. Get the power play working

Despite all the bluster going on between coaches Bruce Boudreau and John Tortorella, the fact is the Rangers are getting their chances on the power play and they’re failing miserably. Through four games they’ve had 18 power play opportunities and they’ve come away with just one goal. Scoring on 5.6% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many or any games.

We understand that the Capitals are playing with more dedication to defense, but when you’ve got an extra player on the ice to score with you should be scoring more no matter what. The Rangers have the second worst power play in the playoffs (only Boston’s is worse) and they’ll need to get Bryan McCabe and Marian Gaborik going and helping them find room on the ice to score.

2. Make Michal Neuvirth uncomfortable

We’re not advocating that the Rangers crash the net with reckless abandon and go out of their way to run Caps rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, but they’re not doing enough offensively to get in his head. The Rangers are having a hard time scoring goals, period, and rattling Neuvirth with numerous goals hasn’t fazed him (just look at Game 4 again). Stepping up the pressure and turning the area around his net into a scene out of Mad Max would do wonders for New York and their efforts to put the puck past him.

Through four games, the Rangers have scored just seven goals. Averaging under two goals a game just won’t get it done unless your own goalie is pitching shutouts all series. Henrik Lundqvist is good, but he’s not good enough to score goals for the Rangers to get himself a win. Making Neuvirth work a little harder to make stops and perhaps get in his head could help loosen things up for the Rangers.

3. John Tortorella should take notes from the past

When Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 his message to the team that season in the final year of the dead puck era was that “safe was death.” That message to his team to help push the pressure and keep the offense dialed in and working hard. In those days giving up just one or two goals would mean the game was virtually over as coming back from that was hard enough.

The Rangers should adopt a similar mentality given how the Caps are playing them. The goals are few and they need to push the pressure. Yes, the Capitals have intimidating offensive stars in Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and the Rangers have been playing like a team full of goalies blocking shots and getting in the way of their stars, but not being afraid to break it out and let guys like Brandon Dubinsky get free to take some shots and the offense going would do them a world of good. Not to mention it might make them less susceptible to seeing another “el foldo” with a multi-goal lead.

If there’s an expansion draft, which goalie should Pittsburgh protect?

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) misses on a shot on Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal series Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Marc-Andre Fleury could have started in Game 3 on Monday, but didn’t. Instead the Penguins went with Matt Murray, who rewarded their trust by stopping 47 shots in a 3-2 victory over Washington.

What’s remarkable is that no part of that story is surprising at this point. Under different circumstances, the Penguins might have started Fleury as soon as he had the green light to return from his concussion, but why switch course when Murray’s been excelling between the pipes?

But that’s just the reality of these set of circumstances, right? Shouldn’t the starting gig eventually revert back to Fleury given that he is the established upper-echelon goaltender while Murray is still fairly inexperienced?

Under normal circumstances that would seem like a reasonable conclusion and in the short-term that might be the road the Penguins go down, but as Sportsnet recently brought up a potential expansion draft has the power to change things.

As Sportsnet reported:

An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.

Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.

As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season. It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.

Sportsnet goes into detail about Murray’s performance in the playoffs as well as the situation this has left Marc-Andre Fleury in and it’s a good read. For our purposes right now, let’s focus on the what if scenario of that possible expansion draft.

It might all sound premature given that Murray only has 19 total playoff and regular season NHL games under his belt and certainly there’s a lot that could happen between now and any potential expansion draft that would make the Penguins’ decision easier. At the same time, it’s worth keeping in mind that the 21-year-old goaltender didn’t come out of nowhere this season. The majority of people might not have paid attention to Murray prior to this season, but his 2014-15 AHL rookie campaign was nothing short of incredible and he remained dominant in the AHL in 2015-16 before getting summoned.

In that context, Murray is more than just a hot goaltender and even if he gets lit up in Game 4 tonight resulting in Fleury being thrust back into service, that wouldn’t dismiss this conversation as no longer relevant. Either way the Penguins decision in an expansion draft would come down to picking between the relative safety of 31-year-old Fleury or the high potential of Murray.

It’s a tough call to make, but the consolation for the Penguins is that they won’t be the only team forced to make difficult decisions as the result of an expansion draft, should one happen.

PHT Morning Skate: Hartley’s not the first to get fired within year of winning Jack Adams Award

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley sets a play during overtime of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Boston, Thursday, March 5, 2015. The Flames defeated the Bruins 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

It took less than a year for Bob Hartley to go from winning the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach to being fired. That might seem like an incredible drop, but Hartley’s not the first to go through this. (Calgary Sun)

Speaking of the Hartley firing, Mark Giordano said “it’s an eye-opener for a lot of our players.” (Calgary Sun)

Pittsburgh has a 2-1 edge in its second round series, but between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals captain has been the bigger contributor. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

After spending a season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, Mark Morris has decided to go back to coaching college hockey. (The News & Observer)

If you have $7.19 million lying around, you might be able to buy Ryan Getzlaf‘s Corona del Mar house. (Orange County Register)

Finally, on a different note, the Tampa Bay Times have bought and shutdown the Tampa Tribune, as USA Today reported. That ended Erik Erlendsson’s tenure as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s beat writer for the Tribune and Lightning coach Jon Cooper took it upon himself to write this:

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.