New York Rangers  v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Seven

How far can the Rangers go?

35 Comments

After a spirited rebound from a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks in part to Henrik Lundqvist’s great goaltending, you can forgive some Rangers fans for wondering if this is “the year.” PHT examines some of the top reasons why this may or may not be the time for a big run.

“Resiliency”

That term gets thrown around a lot in sports, yet this might be one of the more appropriate instances. The Rangers have been thrust into some trying situations and fought through them during this season and postseason, although it hasn’t always been pretty.

As a new head coach, Alain Vigneault began the season with a nine-game road trip that left them with a 3-6-0 record but may have planted a seed that this team would need to roll with the punches in 2013-14.

New York memorably played two back-to-backs and six games in nine nights between the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh series, which is quite the uncommon run in the postseason. (Teams generally – but not universally – receive one night between each game while they’re active in a series.) Most importantly in the “resiliency” category, they’ve fought off elimination four times already, with Lundqvist allowing a single goal in each game.

It also seems fitting that the Rangers ended up with a better road record (25-14-2) than home mark (20-17-4) this regular season.

Fatigue

Of course, the flip side of that is that you can only climb that mountain and defy those odds so many times.

It’s been a long season including the 2014 Olympics for the likes of Lundqvist, 32, so it’s not shocking that it sounded like he needed a break after Game 7:

That grind might just catch up to them in the next round or two.

Depth and Defense

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Chalk it up to bad luck or poor efforts, but it really is stunning that Rick Nash hasn’t scored a goal in 14 playoff games and only has two career playoff goals overall. His only point in the last round came on a secondary assist … on an empty-netter.

Still, to some extent, that shows a strength of the Rangers: other players can step up when someone is struggling. The Rangers don’t have anyone in the top 10 in playoff scoring despite 14 games played, but they have four in the top 30: Brad Richards (nine points) plus Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot (all tied at eight). Guys like Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin bring different things to the table and even Brian Boyle had a big impact on Game 7 against Pittsburgh. When you have multiple weapons, it’s tough to negate all of them.

They also have the kind of blueliners who can negate opponents. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal headline a defense that’s quietly formidable. The Rangers allowed 193 goals this season, which ranked fourth in the league.

Star Power

Still, you have to think that Nash will need to come through at some point. Aside from Lundqvist, the Rangers are a bit lacking in top-end talent, at least at the “star” level. P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith are more prominent defensive names than McDonagh at this point in most circles and the Rangers boast players either a bit past their prime or about to enter those peak years.

Scoring by committee sounds great … until you see the things that a still-active player like Patrick Kane can do.

***

While the Rangers shouldn’t be taken lightly, they’d likely be underdogs against most – if not all – of the teams remaining in the playoffs. That might just be the way they like it, though.

Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel has nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. Some have said he’s playing the best of his hockey of his career.

Yet when Team USA announced its final World Cup roster on Friday, Kessel wasn’t on it. Four forwards — David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky — were added instead.

“Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Kessel said Sunday. “But it is what it is. I think I’ve had a pretty good playoffs, I’ve always done pretty well for (Team USA) in all the tournaments I’ve played in for them. But we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t be disappointed.”

Two years ago, Kessel led the Americans in the Olympics with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was named the best forward in the tournament. Callahan, in comparison, had no goals and one assist in six games.

Of course, Callahan has a history with World Cup head coach John Tortorella. So does Dubinsky. And let’s face it, when you think of the kind of player that epitomizes Tortorella-coached teams, it’s not Kessel, it’s blue-collar workers like Callahan and Dubinsky.

Still, to not choose a guy who’s a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate?

“I’m surprised he was left off Team USA,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said today, before head coach Mike Sullivan praised Kessel for his competitiveness and for improving his play away from the puck and along the boards.

At any rate, Kessel didn’t sound like getting left off the World Cup squad was bothering him too much. One day from playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, he’s pretty happy with where he’s at right now.

“I’ve never really been on a team that’s felt like this,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, to be honest. I’m so excited to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and play with these guys.”

Pominville: ‘Name one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year’

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 18:  Jason Pominville #29 of the Minnesota Wild skates during an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 18, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Jason Pominville couldn’t have envisioned a worse start to his season.

Pominville picked up four assists in his first three games of 2015-16, but he didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 28 (22 games). The 33-year-old finished the year with 11 goals and 36 points in 75 games. Those are clearly disappointing numbers for a player who comes with a cap hit of $5.6 million per season.

“Last year it was just the start I had,” Pominville said during a Q & A with the Star Tribune. “I’m not even too worried about the rest of it. You get off to the start I had, and name me one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year. It’s tough to get behind the 8-ball. You lose confidence, you’re trying to find your play and get back to where you’ve had success, but you get away from it because you’re trying to overdo things or overthinking. I just need to get off to a better start, and my points will be where they normally would be.”

It’ll be intersting to see if the Wild give Pominville the opportunity to have a bounce-back season. A high cap hit combined with poor production could also lead to him finding himself elsewhere in 2016-17.

Wild beat reporter Michael Russo mentioned that Pominville could be bought out this summer, but that would be expensive. If Minnesota buys out the veteran, they’d have $877,777 of dead money on the cap next year, but a significantly higher amount after that.

Here’s what the full buyout would look like (via General Fanager):

Pominville

A $4.627,777 cap hit in 2017-18 is definitely steep.

The Wild could also decide to keep Pominville around and see if he can rebound from last year’s disaster. After all, he’s one year removed from an 18-goal, 54-point season and two years removed from a 30/30 season.

Fleury: Now’s not the time to think about future in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on from the bench in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — The last time the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury was the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder.

Now, seven years later, the Pens are back — but Fleury’s in a greatly reduced role. He’s backing up 22-year-old Matt Murray, which has cast doubt on Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh.

It’s a situation he acknowledged at today’s Stanley Cup media availability, but one he didn’t exactly want to dive into.

“Not yet,” Fleury said, when asked if he’s thinking about what might happen next year. “It’s not time. It’s time to win it, it’s time to chase the Cup, and that’s all that matters.”

Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh has been a hot topic this postseason. Pens GM Jim Rutherford was asked about it during the Eastern Conference Final, and offered up an emphatic defense of his longtime No. 1 netminder.

From the NHL:

Q: What about the young players?

Rutherford: “They speak for themselves. Those two goalies – you can never have enough good goalies. The Penguins have three good ones now. I feel bad for Fleury. He’s such a great team guy and we’re fortunate that he is. He’s handled this situation like a pro. First class. He’s ready to go when called on.”

Q: Does this mean he’s history with the organization?

Rutherford: “Absolutely not.”

That absolute hasn’t kept pundits from pointing out that Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh is far from certain.

First, there’s the fact the No. 1 gig may not just be Murray’s now, but also moving forward — meaning Fleury, who turns 32 in November, would be a backup making $5.75 million annually through 2019. An expensive backup, sure, but also a good backup. Fleury’s had at least 30 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .920 save percentage over each of the last two seasons, and was an All-Star in 2015.

That’s the kind of goalie a few teams could use.

One of them, as has been speculated over the last few months, is the proposed Las Vegas expansion club. While the announcement has yet to be made official, all signs — including discussions of expansion draft format at the most recent GM meetings — have led to assumptions Vegas will be a go.

With that said, consider this bit from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

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.

Now, keep in mind the Penguins do love Fleury, and still think he’s quality goalie. That’s partly why Fleury received the chance to reclaim his starting gig in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, when head coach Mike Sullivan parked Murray after yanking him in Game 4.

But Fleury wasn’t great — allowing four goals on 25 shots — and Murray stepped back in like he hadn’t missed a beat, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

As such, it sees as though it would take a pretty dramatic turn of events for Fleury to regain the net. Because of that, he spent most of Sunday focusing on the “we,” not the “I.”

“To me, it’s about the team — it’s not about me or the way I play. I can’t be selfish about it,” he said. “I’ve been playing here a long time and I really love this city, and I’d really love for them to have another championship here.

“It’s a lot bigger than me, you know?”

Pittsburgh Med: Bonino ‘fine,’ Letang MIA and Daley not ruling out a return (Update)

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 5: Phil Kessel #81 and Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate a third period goal against the Ottawa Senators scored by Carl Hagelin (not shown) at Canadian Tire Centre on April 5, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — Here are your Penguins health updates prior to Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final:

Nick Bonino: The center of the HBK line — he’s the B between Carl Hagelin and Phil KesselBonino didn’t skate yesterday and didn’t practice today, but will be “fine” for the series opener, per head coach Mike Sullivan.

Bonino was shaken up during Pittsburgh’s Game 7 win over the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, with what looked to be a lower-body injury (possibly a leg ailment, due to blocking a shot).

Bonino has been terrific this postseason, with 15 points in 18 games.

Kris Letang: This one is a little more unclear. Letang didn’t practice on Sunday and, like Bonino, didn’t meet with reporters during Stanley Cup media day afterward.

Sullivan didn’t address Letang’s absence during his availability. So nobody’s quite sure what’s going on.

Letang logged his usual massive ice time in the series clincher against the Bolts — 28:13 — and there was no indication he was dealing with any injury.

Trevor Daley: Interesting development from Daley during media availability. He said his timetable for return from a broken ankle in Game 4 (May 20) of the Tampa Bay series was 4-8 weeks, and wouldn’t completely rule out a return in this Stanley Cup Final.

Now, do keep in mind Sullivan already said Daley’s season was done, and Daley acknowledged that’s probably true.

“I do feel sorry for myself,” the veteran blueliner said. “I try to control what I can control. This — I can’t control this situation. So I’m going to have to try and make the best of it.

“I’ll be around, but I don’t know about being involved. They ain’t gonna keep me away, though. I’m going to be around for this.”

Update: