The title is only half sarcastic. The Rangers weren’t playing terrible but also didn’t have much momentum for most of the game, and going into the 3rd period I think most Rangers fans were hoping that the Rangers could just simply find a way to get to overtime. But Matt Cooke came to the Rangers’ rescue with an unprovoked and unnecessary elbow to McDonagh’s head that gave the Rangers a 5 minute PP. From there, the Rangers had a slight setback when Chris Kunitz scored shorthanded, but otherwise dominated the second half of the third period. The win marks the first time this season the Rangers have won 4 games in a row and gives them a 4-1-1 record against Pittsburgh this year. I don’t think any of us expected the Rangers to do that well against Pittsburgh this year, with or without Crosby. We weren’t exactly healthy ourselves. Let’s look at the post-game notes, and then a rant about Matt Cooke.
Henrik Lundqvist- Not too bad of a performance from a guy who couldn’t even move his neck yesterday. 38 saves on 40 shots. Anisimov’s goal aside, it was clear relatively early on that the Rangers were not going to penetrate the Penguins easily. The Penguins outshot the Rangers 29-14 in the first two periods. Lundqvist was really the only guy keeping the Rangers in the game. If Chad Johnson is in I doubt he matches Lundqvist’s performance, and the Rangers would have been out of this game pretty quickly. He didn’t look hindered in any way, and it was also good to see him able to take contact after Talbot skated into him in the first period. For his effort, Lundqvist picked up the second star.
Duballahanisimov- The best Rangers line, as usual. The three of them made an incredible effort on the first goal of the game, which Anisimov scored. Dubinsky screened Fleury perfectly on the powerplay and that led to Gaborik scoring off a the rebound of a McCabe shot. Callahan of gave the Rangers the lead with a very good shot from a tough angle. Anisimov made the outlet pass to McDonagh as he came out of the box that led to Stepan scoring, and Dubinsky got rewarded for his play with the empty netter, which Callahan assisted. Also don’t discount the fact that they each blocked one shot and that Callahan and Dubinsky combined for 9 hits. They all were also key contributors on a penalty kill that completely dismantled the Penguins’ power play.
Marian Gaborik- What a big goal from him today. Earlier in the year that would have hit the post or gone wide. After giving up a shorthanded goal to Kunitz, the Rangers looked like they were going to have to prepare to enter scramble mode again, but Gaborik crashed the net like he SHOULD be doing and found himself alone with the puck in front of the net. Fans have been on Gaborik’s case the whole season, and rightly so. He’s played significantly better recently, though. Five goals and an assist in the last 6 games. He certainly is picking up his production when the Rangers need it most.
With the goals today, Stepan is now 1 goal away from 20 while Anisimov is 2. If both of them can reach the 20 goal mark, it will be the first time since 2000-2001, or 10 years ago, that the Rangers had 6 guys reach the 20 goal mark.
Now let’s talk about Matt Cooke. What an absolutely classless elbow on McDonagh. Here’s a guy who possibly ended Marc Savard’s career with a hit to the head. Here’s a guy who has been suspended twice in the 2008-2009 season for hits to the head, one being to our own Artem Anisimov. Here’s a guy who literally is the reason Gary Bettman changed the rulebook to specifically call for suspensions for hits to the head. And here’s a guy who was suspended earlier this year for a hit from behind on Fedor Tyutin.
But more importantly, Matt Cooke plays on a team that has seen the consequences of head injuries in the worst way. Crosby has been out for over two months with his concussion. Eric Tangradi was the victim of a vicious hit to the head from Trevor Gillies earlier in the year and hasn’t played since. His own owner came out and vehemently denounced head shots and the way the NHL has chosen to deal with them. And yet for absolutely no reason at all he decides to go out of his way to elbow Ryan McDonagh in the head. Say what you want about Sean Avery. Or other pests in the league like PK Subban, Scott Hartnell, Cal Clutterbuck, etc. But they don’t even come close to Matt Cooke in terms of the frequency of his pre-meditated cheapshots, some of which have severely hurt players. It’s an embarrassment to the league that a guy like Matt Cooke gets paid millions to do what he does. It’s unfortunate because when he isn’t being a selfish, reckless idiot, he’s a solid 3rd liner. He can chip in 10+ goals, he is physical (obviously), and he’s a solid penalty killer. Nonetheless, his BS has to stop. It’s pretty clear that previous suspensions haven’t taught him anything, so hopefully the fact that he essentially lost the game for the Penguins by himself will give him enough incentive. If the NHL suspends him for any less than five games I’ll be beyond upset. He deserves AT LEAST 8 games, if not more. At least Glen Sather thinks so.
But let’s also talk about Mario Lemieux, and his previous statements after the Islanders basically went out of their way to murder half of the Penguins roster:
The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.
“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.
“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”
Well Mario, you want to be taken seriously? Now is your chance to send a “clear and strong message” yourself. I agreed with your statement at the time, but now you’ve put yourself in a position where you have to act on it. You want the NHL to do a “better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of [its] players”? Start with your own team. Matt Cooke is CLEARLY not new to this whole cheap shot, intent to injure thing. If you truly wanted to prove your point you’d suspend Cooke without pay yourself an extra few games on top of what the NHL gives out. You’d strip him of the A that somehow ended up on his jersey. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you’d waive Cooke and send him to the minors. Lemieux also sent a letter to Bettman proposing that teams be fined for player suspensions anywhere between 500K-1 million dollars, with extra for repeat offenders. Prove you meant that, as well. Donate $500,000 to concussion research as a self-imposed fine. Lemieux has been outspoken this year about eliminating head-shots from the game, and on that alone good for him. However, he’s going to come across as a huge hypocrite if he doesn’t come out and denounce what Cooke chose to do today.