Avalanche, Rangers would make for an exciting Stanley Cup Final

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If that was a Stanley Cup final preview, can we fast-forward to June? I kid, but what a hockey game that was. It certainly had the makings of a June tilt until the shootout reminded us this was a regular season game in October. The hosts even brought back their “No Quit in NY” playoff t-shirts from last season to celebrate their opportunity to welcome last year’s victors to enemy territory.

The heavyweight nationally televised thriller between the reigning-champion Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, which ended in a 3-2 shootout victory for the visitors, had everything you could’ve hoped for as a hockey fan.
It was a breathtaking battle of acrobatics, agility, awareness, and positioning. But the Bulgarian, traded over the offseason, with his 44 saves plus three more in the shootout, emerged victorious for his new team over his former team and his former heir Igor Shesterkin at his former place.

Regarding the Rangers, Tuesday’s effort was much-improved following their stinkers against league bottom-feeders. They awoke from their two-game slumber by pushing the league’s gold standard to the limit.
They showed grit, toughness resilience and not only were awarded a point for their efforts but acquired the knowledge they could stay with the league’s best even when they’re not executing to perfection. That’s not to say the champs were perfect themselves, but that’s what happens in a battle between two great teams, right? You push each other out of your comfort zones.
Here are some takeaways from the thriller.

The flawed rule:
This game was so good that it exploited a flaw in the NHL rulebook when the officials nailed Alexis Lafreniere for a high stick on reigning Norris trophy winner Cale Makar when driving toward Georgiev. But upon replay, it was blatantly obvious the stick of Makar’s teammate caused the damage.
The play was reviewed, but it only sought a potential double minor. Referees are prohibited from reversing a penalty call since it’s classified as a “Non-reviewable” play. The repercussion for a coach losing his challenge plea is a delay of game penalty, so it’s at his discretion whether he wants to throw the red flag, and this should include calls he views as erroneous and wrong.

Yes, this was a regular-season affair, but imagine the reaction if we were in the Stanley Cup final.
However, instead of griping about it, the enraged Rangers’ penalty killers fed off the equally incensed home crowd and stood tall against the league’s top power-play unit after yielding a Valeri Nichuskin tip-in goal earlier.   Nevertheless, despite being down 1-0, outshot 20-11, and thoroughly outplayed, New York had a reason for optimism entering the second stanza.

Goody, Goody! 
With 10:27 remaining in the second, a Jacob Trouba turnover and a hook on Miko Rantanen allowed Rantanen to race down the ice alone on a breakaway, only to be thunderously denied by Shesterkin for his best save of the evening, thus turning the tide.
After a lifeless first try, the Rangers’ second man-advantage of the period resulted in them finally showing signs of offensive zone pressure and the ability to mix it shot selections. Still, Chris Kreider was robbed by Georgiev, who smartly laid on the puck to preserve the Avalanche lead.

Alas, with 1:54 left, New York was rewarded on the scoreboard for their best period in the past week, as Trouba fed Barclay Goodrow, whose tap-in evened the game at one after two.

NO QUIT IN NY:
As the third period began, the contest’s story was about the dueling goaltenders. Georgiev was quick, precise, and avoided leaving rebounds in front that plagued his New York tenure.
Meanwhile, Shesterkin held his own, too but caved first in the standoff when Andrew Cogliano streaked down the ice, forced a rare Igor turnover, and then found Logan O’Connor wide-open with a yawning cage 59 seconds into the frame for a shorthanded tally and a 2-1 Colorado lead.

If it were Columbus or San Jose on the other end of the ice, those Blueshirts would’ve folded and run out of gas.
But the players relished the moment, dug their heels in, and returned to work. Adam Fox took advantage of open ice, pushed MacKinnon off the puck, skated into the offensive zone, and dished it off to Barclay Goodrow. Goodrow (Who had a two-point night) then found Jimmy Vesey, who found a crashing Fox on the right side for the equalizer with 5:57 left, sending MSG into a frenzy.

Powerless on the power play again:
Following the goal, the teams exchanged go-ahead chances, but to no avail, and the game reached overtime.
The extra frame produced an abundance of opportunities, including a New York power play, but nothing came of it, making them 0 for four in the game.
We fittingly headed to a shootout on a night where the anticipation surrounded the two goaltenders who delivered a combined 94 saves on 98 shots through 65 minutes of riveting action. Georgiev’s 44 stops, in addition to his +2.47 “Goals saves above expected” on the night, was his most since joining Colorado, while Shesterkin’s 42 and his +2.80 GSAX per Clearsight analytics were a season-high.

After a scoreless first two rounds of the skills competition, Rantanen, who was 0 for seven against Shesterkin on the night, beat him glove side. Needing a goal to keep his team alive, Panarin beautifully deked out his old friend, only for Evan Rodriguez to return the favor and undress Shesterkin for the eventual game-winner in round four, as Georgiev stopped Lafreniere to end it.

Colorado may have won Tuesday’s battle, but the classic now has us salivating about a possible seven-game war in June. One the Rangers would likely now feel confident enduring should both teams get there.

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