Emotions play a big role in the NHL playoffs. Before, during, or after the game, there's a plethora of ways emotion can creep up on a team.
Last year, if you'll remember, emotions played a pretty big role in the Rangers' opening game loss in Round Two when Nicklas Backstrom seemingly boarded Dan Boyle before the Capitals scored the go-ahead goal with a second left. That hit was uncalled and the NHL's Department of Player Safety saw nothing wrong with it either. Even today I disagree (the second view shows he pretty much hit nothing but Boyle's head) but that's how it went down.
In Game Three of the Rangers' current First Round matchup with the Penguins, a somewhat similar situation occurred. Kris Letang two-hand slashed Viktor Stalberg's neck/face, leaving the Rangers forward with three missing teeth and an absence from the optional practice Wednesday morning.
The hit sure looked intentional, although the Department of Player Safety disagreed and made the decision that Letang would not receive a hearing.
Yet the explanation the Rangers got from the league on why it doesn't merit a suspension was that their own Dominic Moore hit Letang on the forecheck, causing Letang's stick to go up and hit Stalberg in the face. Stalberg lost three teeth -- real ones, not fakes -- and was cut on his chin. There was no worry of a concussion, and he played the rest of the period.
I'm not going to go into more detail on the hit than this: It's more than clear Letang is being hit by Dominic Moore, but he has his balance, actually looks up and sees Stalberg and winds up to make the slash. Make whatever argument you want, it's clear what side of the fence I'm on.
The most important aspect of this? The lingering impact of the hit, non-call, and no supplemental discipline. The Rangers need to move on. Alain Vigneault made this clear after the optional skate Wednesday morning, but that's much easier said than done. The team is obviously annoyed about the situation, which was compounded by coming on the heels of a huge loss.
Revenge is a dish best served with a win, as no one but me has ever said (I think). I thought the Rangers played too physically in Game Three; they tried to push the hitting aspect more than the creating offense aspect and it backfired on them horribly.
My concern is that something similar will happen in Game Four. The Rangers have their backs against the wall again. They have to win to avoid being one loss away from a First Round exit, with two of the next three games in Pittsburgh. The Rangers are the first team in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit two years in a row. I doubt very highly they can do it three years in a row.
So, yeah, this is an important conversation. A big part of the 2014 and even 2015 runs of success was the Rangers' ability to keep their emotions in check and take their anger out on the ice, scoring goals and making quality plays, rather than gunning for big hits and taking stupid penalties.
I saw the Penguins jabbing a lot after Game Two, and I thought it was a good sign the Rangers had gotten in their head. The tables turned at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and now the Rangers have to be the team concerned about their own emotions.
If they're not, they might not have many more days to be upset about anything.