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Maybe it makes sense that the New York Rangers began the 2013-14 season with a nine-game road trip, as few things came easy to this team. They fought through a lot of obstacles to make it to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, yet the Los Angeles Kings finally represented a mountain they couldn’t climb.
Depending on the next steps this organization takes, this will either be a series they regret for years or one of those “learn how to lose before you learn how to win” moments.
Let’s take a look at the Rangers’ season as a whole and consider what it could mean for the future.
- Henrik Lundqvist finally made it to the championship round of a postseason as the Rangers reached their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years. “King Henrik” really came through when the Rangers were on the brink of elimination, which should dispel most of the remaining notions about his inability to step up in big games. The Kings eventually ended his ridiculous run, yet he still impressed in defeat.
- New York came into the 2013-14 season with serious free agent questions to answer. Ultimately, they re-signed Lundqvist and also gave Dan Girardi a contract extension. After failing to reach a compromise with Ryan Callahan, they traded him and what became two first-round picks for Martin St. Louis, who enjoyed some big playoff moments after early struggles with his new team.
- Some might wonder if the Girardi extension will eventually haunt the Rangers. At least plenty of people on social media were hammering on the defensive-minded blueliner, to the point that there were jokes about the jokes.
- Even with the big questions answered, there are plenty of support players who need new deals. From RFAs including regular season scoring leader Mats Zuccarello and rising young forward Chris Kreider to underrated UFA blueliner Anton Stralman, GM Glen Sather has some decisions to make. (See the full list here.)
- The Rangers have to hope that Rick Nash’s playoff luck turns around in the future. Health could certainly be a factor in an up-and-mostly-down season (he was limited to 65 regular season games), yet at 29 with a pricey deal that runs though 2017-18, there’s also the worry that his best days are behind him.
- All things considered, Alain Vigneault’s first season as the Rangers’ head coach was a success. More and more, they’re playing his style of hockey, so there are reasons for optimism. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to avoid another 20-year drought between Stanley Cup Final appearances, however.
For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.
Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.
But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.
Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.
When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.
Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.
The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.
Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.
This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.
In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.
Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.
Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.
Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.
Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?
Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.
Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.
Official update on the really important story of the evening:
The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.
As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.
The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.
Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.