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Handy Dandy Playoff Notebook: Keep The Spark Alive

  • I don’t like to think of myself as a superstitious person, I’m a little stitious, and for that reason this edition of the Handy Dandy Playoff Notebook comes on gameday again, as opposed to the day after what was a very interesting Game 5 for the New York Rangers.
  • A Game 5 that for 35 minutes looked very similar to Games 5 and 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. But, as we know now, the Rangers broke through. And it was the children, that are New York’s future, leading the way forward.
  • Adam Fox, a child but hardly the youngest of the bunch, scored the first goal. Alexis Lafrenière got the second. Jacob Trouba had the third, and Filip Chytil got redemption by scoring his second first game-winning goal of the series at Madison Square Garden.
  • It was a true statement game, and just gratifying to see the kid line truly rise to meet the moment.
  • I have to imagine that moments like Game 5 are what the front office envisioned when they selected Lafrenière first overall, and Kakko second overall in their respective drafts. And if you think back to each player’s career pre-Rangers, it makes sense. Whether it was Lafrenière in the QMJHL, or Kakko internationally, each were expected to step up and takeover, and that’s what happened the other night.
  • Ultimately the Rangers played just well enough to win, and to force tonight’s Game 6 in Pittsburgh. I said played well enough because the team still isn’t quite firing on all cylinders, and we still are waiting for players like Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider to have a series defining moment and takeover.
  • For all we know, tonight could be the night. Heck, Kreider was able to step in and make an impact early on when he made his NHL debut during the 2012 playoffs vs. the Ottawa Senators. He had quite a run as a rookie scoring five goals and adding two assists for seven points in 18 games, and the Rangers really could use that player now.
  • Tonight is another big test for the team, and one they are hopefully ready to take on. Sidney Crosby will miss Game 6, which is a big loss for the Penguins, but it was going to be a hard-fought game for the Rangers whether he was or wasn’t in the lineup.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team that have continually shown an ability to persevere and adapt when key players go down. Over the last decade there’s been numerous occasions where they were without Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and select occasions in which they were without both of them.
  • It’s the reason why this tweet exists, and why it is one of the best in the history of #HockeyTwitter
  • This series Crosby’s line has set the pace, and while the Penguins would be at a disadvantage without him, Jake Guentzel’s still standing right there. And to that point, it was Malkin who set up Guentzel for the Penguins’ third goal of the game on Wednesday, and that’s a combination that should work just fine.
  • I don’t want to wade too much into the discourse surrounding the Trouba and Crosby collision, but I will say this. In real-time it was treated very much as a nothing event. There wasn’t a case in which someone from the Penguins stepped in to challenge Trouba, nor were there any of the other theatrics that usually surround borderline and dirty hits.
  • The league has a ton of camera angles, and hasn’t been shy about talking to Trouba in the past. It is unfortunate if Crosby is legitimately hurt, but the reaction was a little over the top relative to other things we’ve seen previously.
  • On a positive note for the Rangers, there’s a chance that Tyler Motte will be in the lineup, a player who was sidelined after getting injured in the final regular season matchup against the Penguins.
  • Getting Motte back would be a major positive for the penalty kill and bottom six, and would be very important in a road game in which the Penguins will have last change and the ability to line match more efficiently.
  • Ryan Lindgren was back, albeit in somewhat limited fashion during Game 5, and he presumably will play again tonight. If Motte is also back, I would hope that Nemeth is scratched, and potentially Ryan Reaves as well. Nothing against Reaves, but the team could use the added flexibility of having someone like Dryden Hunt or Jonny Brodzinski at their disposal.
  • All of that said, the goal for the team tonight is to continue taking things one at a time. One faceoff, one shift, one period, one etc. at a time. This team has been at its best when they don’t look too far ahead, and right now they need to wield the momentum they hold. They landed a counterpunch in Game 5, and will face a hostile crowd in another elimination game.
  • This is not a criticism of Igor Shesterkin, but man tonight would be a perfect night to steal a game and frustrate the ever living hell out of Pittsburgh. He was much better in Game 5, a brief puck-playing gaffe aside, and tonight’s a chance for him to shake off the road jitters.
  • We all remember how much the Bell Centre was a house of horrors for Henrik Lundqvist, and thus far PPG Paints Arena hasn’t been too kind to Shesterkin. The best possible outcome would see the Rangers play very well upfront while Shesterkin had a game for himself, because that would likely result in the team living to fight another day, and playing a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
  • But as I said before, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The Rangers passed their first test on Wednesday. They face another one tonight. The team has survived up to this point while not getting the absolute best from the entire team, and if they are able to keep the spark that was lit in Game 5 going... look out.