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January 22, 2019
Second Round: New York vs Pittsburgh
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
New York Rangers (5) vs Pittsburgh Penguins: Pittsburgh won series, 4-1.
This was a weird one. Pittsburgh won in five, making it seem like a walk. But a lot of the games were extremely tight and could have easily gone the other way with a bounce here or there. Yet, at the same time, I never got the feeling the Penguins were in danger of losing the series. They were always in control even when things appeared somewhat squirrely.
In Game Two, a quick whistle in the third period nullified a potential Marty Straka goal, preserving Pittsburgh's 1-0 lead and eventual 2-0 victory. That said, had the "goal" counted, I have no doubt the Pens would have found a way to win the game.
It could even be argued Marian Hossa's overtime winner in Game Five was the definitive turning point, because things could have ended far differently had the series shifted to New York for a Game Six. I doubt it, but you never know.
The true turning point, however, was Ryan Hollweg's boneheaded penalty in Game Three. New York had just rallied for two quick ones to tie the game 3-3 in the second when Hollweg dashed all momentum by running Petr Sykora from behind into the boards. Malkin converted the subsequent power play, hammering a slapper from the right circle, and Pittsburgh never looked back, taking a 3-0 series lead with a 5-3 win.
If Hollweg keeps his cool, and the Rangers manage to scratch out a win, this series could have been 2-2 heading back to the Burgh. But Ryan Hollweg is Ryan Hollweg for a reason. He took the stupid penalty. Malkin made him pay. Series over.
His best moment came in Game Four. With nothing on the scoreboard in the second period, Jagr swooped in off left wing and unleashed one of his trademark sweeping wristers through a Sergei Gonchar screen to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. The goal held up as the winner in the 3-0 triumph.
But just as the shot was released, Brooks Orpik skated across and knocked 68 silly. After a few moments on the ice, Jagr drug himself back to the bench and didn't miss a shift. So much for the Puff Nuts nickname. Jagr exited as the playoffs' leading scorer, with five goals and 15 points in 10 games.
Henrik Lundqvist got off to a rough start. All sorts of crazy bounces victimized him in Game One, and he got lit up pretty good in Game Three, but he was rather sensational in the other three contests. Without Lundqvist, the Rangers get skunked. He stole Game Four, with the highlight being a penalty shot save on Malkin. There was even a stretch in Game Five where I started wondering if the Penguins would ever beat King Henrik again. But they did. Three times.
The king is dead. Long live the king. Marc-Andre Fleury is royalty in the Steel City. The Flower was dynamite all series, posting a .924 save percentage compared to Lundqvist's .902 mark.
Fleury could have folded in Game One after falling behind 3-0. He could have gotten rattled after allowing the two quick ones in Game Three. He could have even come to pieces after the Pens squandered the 2-0 third-period lead in Game Five. But Fleury never faltered. He never cracked. His training is complete. He's a Jedi now.
Evegeni Malkin was the best forward in the series. He was dynamic with the puck, registering four goals and seven points. He was also downright nasty at times, meeting the Rangers hit for hit and making Paul Mara his personal whipping boy at the end of Game Four.
Marian Hossa had his best performance as a Penguin in Game Five. Not only did he bag a pair of goals, including the OT winner, he was his usual flawless self defensively. While Hossa's all-around game has been superb since day one with the Birds, he's gotta put the puck in the net. He's been generating chances all postseason, and they're finally starting to go in. He had four goals against New York, and it's probably only the start of something special.
Ryan Hollweg's penalty in Game Three branded him a weasel, but he was trying to be aggressive and set a tone. He just got a little carried away.
No, when I think of weasels, I think of only one man: Sean Avery.
You'd think playing part of Game Three with a lacerated spleen would absolve Avery of any earlier weasely behavior, but not so fast, my friend. Mr. Cuthbert was real busy in those first two games.
Avery saved his most weasely antics for Kid Crosby. On one infamous occasion, Sid was lying on the ice when Avery intentionally cracked him in the face with his stick. Yes, sir, that Avery is a class act.
In the closing seconds of Game Two, Avery attempted to give Fleury the business only to have the Flower whack him right back. When Avery chopped Fleury again, Hal Gill and Georges Laraque quickly pounced, sending Avery scurrying for cover. While the stripes were quick to jump in and spare Avery's life, he kept flailing away with an assortment of girly slaps, looking like a gayer, less rugged version of Ralphie in "A Christmas Story." He was only missing the mittens pinned to his coat.
Now that Avery is healthy and not dying and whatnot, can I start making fun of him for getting an internship at Vogue this summer? I rib you not. Apparently, fashion is Avery's true calling. He'll be just like those broads from "The Hills," except dumber. What a (sunshine). But read all about it...