What does $20M get? For the Rangers, one point in the Stanley Cup Final

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Here are the stats from New York’s three highest-paid forwards — Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis — through the first three games of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final:

Nash: No goals, no assists, minus-3 rating.

Richards: No goals, no assists, minus-4 rating.

St. Louis: One goal, no assists, minus-4 rating.

Given the amount of money the Blueshirts have committed to this trio this season — $7.8 million for Nash, $6.7 million for Richards, $5.6 million for St. Louis — it stands to reason the club is probably expecting more production from its “big three.”

Just ask Richards, who deep-sixed the notion all they need is some puck luck.

“You don’t talk about getting bounces,” Richards said on Tuesday. “It’d be nice to have them, but you don’t just talk and hope they come. You score a goal at the right time that helps and then you’ve gotta create more, get to the inside more.

“They’ve turned pucks over, we’ve turned pucks over, but for some reason it seems like ours are finding a way into the net. Their turnovers, either there is a big save or something close. But that’s an easy way to look at it. We’ve gotta find a way.”

That Richards, Nash and St. Louis have failed to generate any offense this series is one of the reasons New York finds itself in an 0-3 hole. St. Louis, to his credit, was a pretty productive in the three previous rounds and leads the Blueshirts in both goals (seven) and is second in points (14); Richards has been less productive (11 points in 23 games), though hardly surprising given his decline over the last two seasons, and all the pending buyout talk.

Which brings us to Nash.

To say No. 61 has struggled this postseason would be a major understatement — his 10 points put him on par with Jussi Jokinen and Torey Krug, guys that were eliminated two rounds ago (or Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny, who didn’t get past the opening round.) The style of play that saw Nash score 30-plus goals seven times — power, strength, ability to drive the net — has seemingly vanished; when Nash was put back on the Ranger power play late in Game 3 and created a scoring chance by driving to the middle of the ice, it was like watching an overwhelmed boxer land one really nice counter punch — an impressive flash, but one that wouldn’t change the outcome of the fight.

To be clear, Nash can’t be blamed for New York’s power play woes. He’s been largely absent from a unit that’s gone 1-for-14 this series — which brings us back to Richards and St. Louis, who’ve been front and center. Richards had an eye-popping 8:47 of man-advantage time in Game 3 while St. Louis had 4:38, yet the two could only muster four shots on goal.

“You got to finish in this game,” head coach Alain Vigneault lamented on Monday night. “It’s a performance-oriented business. Power play had some looks, but it didn’t finish.”

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, Vigneault does with Richards, Nash and St. Louis moving forward. He indirectly called out the Richards-St.Louis-Hagelin unit prior to Game 3 but stayed away from throwing his lines in the blender during the contest, suggesting afterward that putting Nash on the PP was about as big of a shakeup as he had in his arsenal.

That, really, might sum up the situation on the whole. Vigneault’s playing the hand he’s been dealt here; he’s gone the entire postseason without Nash and Richards contributing much offensively and St. Louis has now gone silent as well. Sometimes, that happens. It’s also why the Rangers are talking about puck luck and bounces and breaks needing to go their way — there just aren’t many other answers or solutions to give.

Still…for $20 million, you’d think they’d be getting more.

PHT Extra: Mike Halford and Jason Brough discuss what the Rangers have to do in order to make a comeback attempt.

Penguins avoid collapse, beat Preds in crazy Stanley Cup Final opener

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PITTSBURGH — The game of hockey can be crazy at times.

Then you have nights like Monday, when it gets really crazy.

In a game that often made no sense at all, the Penguins built up a 3-0 lead, blew that lead, then rallied late to beat Nashville 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So, uh, where to even begin with this?

Let’s start with the game-winner. Jake Guentzel, who was on the verge of being a healthy scratch for tonight’s affair, scored with less than four minutes remaining to snap an eight-game goalless drought.

Now, consider the circumstances under which this goal was scored.

Guentzel was facing tremendous pressure to get his offense going. And the shot he scored on was Pittsburgh’s first in 37 minutes of action. During that time, the Pens recorded the first zero-shot playoff period since NHL began tracking SOG in 1957-58.

Guentzel’s goal also came after Nashville had staged a furious, wild three-goal rally to even things up.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissions and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Preds, with Sissions and Gaudreau finding the back of the net less than four minutes apart in the final frame. Gaudreau, who up until a few weeks ago was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs, looked as though he was primed to become the next unlikely postseason hero.

But it wasn’t to be.

Because there were other equally unlikely developments on the night.

Heck, we haven’t discussed the first period yet. Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino scored in a span of 4:11 in the opening frame, a flurry filled with fortuitous bounces and breaks. Malkin’s tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage, after Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Bonino’s marker was an own goal, knocked in by Preds d-man Mattias Ekholm.

Oh, and there was that disallowed marker.

Perhaps you heard? It was an ignominious start for the NHL on its biggest stage. Seven minutes in, the Preds looked to have taken a 1-0 lead when P.K. Subban‘s blast beat Matt Murray. But hold on. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan quickly challenged and, upon review, it was deemed that Filip Forsberg entered the Pittsburgh zone illegally.

More, from the NHL’s situation room blog:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, NHL Hockey Operations staff determined that Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone, nor did he have possession and control before crossing the blue line.

This ruling came just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended offside challenges in his state-of-the-league address.

Crazy is right. And fitting, given what transpired tonight.

Video: Guentzel, Penguins regain lead after 37-minute shot drought

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Luck keeps going the Pittsburgh Penguins’ way in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Nashville Predators kept firing away at Matt Murray, holding the Penguins without a shot on goal for a whopping 37 minutes and managing to tie the contest 3-3 after falling behind 3-0.

It was a ridiculous display … and then Pittsburgh got its next shot.

Jake Guentzel scored on that attempt, roofing it past a struggling Pekka Rinne. It’s the sort of thing you can’t even dream up.

Pittsburgh also added an empty-net goal, so Nashville needs an epic final 30 seconds if they hope to avoid a crushing Game 1 loss.

Predators hold Penguins without a shot in second, now down 3-1 in Game 1

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There’s little sense denying the Pittsburgh Penguins’ luck through 40 minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1.

Through the first period, some favorable calls and a lucky bounce or two helped Pittsburgh generate a stunning 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh ended the opening frame with a burst of activity after a strong start to the Stanley Cup Final by Nashville.

The Predators regained their composure and confidence in the second, resulting in a dominant display on the ice (if not on the scoreboard).

The Penguins only managed couldn’t even manage a single, measly shot on goal against Pekka Rinne during the middle frame, but unfortunately for Nashville, some dominant puck possession only resulted in a goal by Ryan Ellis.

A 3-1 deficit is digestible, if frustrating, for Nashville. We’ll see if they can get back into Game 1 in the third period.

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Video: Calls go Penguins’ way early in Game 1; own goal plagues Predators

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However you feel about the context of each call, it’s tough to deny that some big decisions ended up going favorably early for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

To start, a would-be 1-0 goal by P.K. Subban was waved off thanks to Filip Forsberg being deemed offside. More on that here.

In a rare span, the Predators were whistled for two penalties during the same sequence in the first period, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Pittsburgh started off the advantage a little rocky, but then Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0. (Video of that tally in the headline above.)

The controversy comes as Sidney Crosby seemed to get away with interference/elbow shortly before that goal was scored. That sequence will feed a conspiracy theory or two.

The Predators have managed to avoid tough stretches for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but things seemed to really escalate from there. The Penguins managed three goals in a staggering 4:11 of game time, with Nick Bonino putting a puck off Mattias Ekholm for a painful own goal, making it 3-0 as the first period concluded.

The Penguins seemed to take control of the game after that disallowed goal, adding to the argument that some combination of the decision and the slowdown helped turn the tide.

How will the Predators respond to this adversity in Game 1? Find out on NBC and via the stream below.

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