I think I like the new arena.
There are so many places I could start. Let's talk about the abysmal first period, in which the return of the King was clearly all that kept us in it. We were outshot 12-5 over the course of that period, and with all due respect to Biron, I'm not sure we would have had a scoreless game after one with him in net. It wasn't so much a spectacular save here and there (those came in the third) as it was a solid effort that came out of us spending almost the entire period in front of him. As Torts put it, "No disrespect to Edmonton, but [the Pens] are a much better team than Edmonton, and we looked like we were playing Edmonton in the first period. We couldn't play that way."
Other than Callahan fighting Mike Comrie (awesome), there wasn't a ton of excitement generated by the Blueshirts in the first. On top of the coincidental majors that obviously came from that fight, there were 4 other penalties called in the first: a pair of coincidental roughings to Del Zotto and Evgeni Malkin early on, and a pair of coincidental unsportsmanlikes to Avery and Matt Cooke (which I think should have gone to Del Zotto and Arron Asham, who were actually the instigators on the play in question, but the officials saw Avery and Cooke on the ice, so they assumed it must have been them).
In the second period, we spend a good deal more time in the Pens' end. I still felt like we were outplayed for a lot of it, but we battled back and got our chances, one of which found its way to the back of the net, off the stick of Erik Christensen (whom I proudly gave the evil eye pregame after learning about his comments yesterday). Hooray! 1-0 Rangers!
Oops. It wasn't supposed to happen like that. The Pens were supposed to be winning. What can we do about this?
That...was the floating voice of the NHL. I heard it on the wind, after Christensen scored. And so, in came the officiating brigade. A handful of really weak calls against the Rangers closed out this game, coupled with really embarrassing non-calls for the Penguins, including two really inexcusable misses: Crosby skating through Lundqvist's crease and taking his legs out from under him (the play was up at the blue line, going in the other direction); and - well, what do you know, Crosby again - slashing Girardi while on the power play. I know, I know: you come here for the numbers, not the words. OK, here you go:
Christensen scored almost exactly halfway through the game, at 10:16 of the second. In the 30:16 of hockey preceding the goal, the Rangers were shorthanded for 2:00, and the teams were at even strength for the remaining 28:16. Following the goal, in 33:22, the Rangers were shorthanded for 10:00, and at even strength for the remaining 23:22. For the first time in over 3 seasons, the Rangers did not find one second of power play time. And yes, that includes a double minor for high-sticking against Staal, and an unsportsmanlike for Hank breaking his stick. But it also includes some really soft calls, like a hook on Gaborik and a hold on Callahan. As usual, as the game got closer and closer to its end, with the Rangers holding onto their narrow lead, the calls got worse and worse: the Rangers were shorthanded for 5:53 of the final ten minutes of the third period (that's 59%).
But the rankness of the calls was really compounded by the non-calls in the other direction: taken alone, the calls were just kinda bad news, but when looking at the things the Penguins weren't called for, one has no choice but to cry shenanigans. As Lundqvist put it after the game, "I'd like to see the penalty record the last five years in Pittsburgh. We're shorthanded so many times in Pittsburgh, and it's definitely not our fault." I make take Hank up on that, if I get the chance later.
Brooks, in the article I liked to above, says "The Rangers don't want to get a reputation as whiners, but last night was a joke, both on calls made against the team as well as those not made against the Penguins." I, too, don't want to sound like a whiner, and I tend to refrain from blaming officials for games, knowing we have to battle back as a team even when calls are awful. So why go on and on about the refs last night? Because it didn't fucking matter. Because we did battle back as a team. We killed every Penguin power play, including the one late in the 3rd wherein Callahan was in the box and Girardi was off with what looked to me like some kind of minor arm problem.
After the second period, I said "We can't win this game 1-0." As the bad calls kept pouring in, I started muttering to myself, in my seat at not-the-Igloo, like some kind of crazy person, "I've seen this movie before. I know exactly how it goes. Don't let this happen. This movie sucks. Show me a different movie." et cetera. And then on the heels of killing off Callahan's phantom-hold, there it was: a 1-1 game, with Pens fans screaming all around me. And 27 seconds later, 2-1. Everyone screaming. Me, pouting: "I've seen it too many times. This movie fucking sucks." And after Lundqvist stood on his head all night, making a handful of saves I still don't understand, all of CONSOL is taunting him, chanting his name. "Luuuuund-qviiiiist. Luuuuuund-qviiiiiist." I fucking hate this movie.
You know, there's not a ton of difference between this year's officials and last year's officials. Or between this year's Crosby brigade and last. You know what's new this year? We don't stop battling. And so, 27 seconds into Lundqvist's deserved unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for breaking his stick in frustration (and for sending the shaft down the ice toward an official, which was equally deserved), Dubinsky made a really pretty move around Alex Goligoski and fed Staal in front. And the next thing I knew, I was up on my feet, surrounded by an abyss of angry silence, screaming, "Fluuuuuuuu-eryyyyyyyyy! Fluuuuuuu-eryyyyyyyy!" And it was a tie game again.
Well, we all know what happened next. With a minute and a half left in overtime, Dubinsky and Callahan came down the ice and...well, just watch it. The whole video. Twice, at least.
Yes. Yes to life, and yes to hockey, and yes to everything. It's worth noting that Callahan is the one who netted that last one. That's worth noting because, along with his assist on Staal's tying goal, and his fight with Comrie in the first, Callahan earned himself a Gordie Howe Hat Trick last night. And that's awesome. This game was just the best. The Pens' offensive onslaught, the officiating disaster, and none of it mattered. We kept fighting, and 2 teams' 4 goals in 6:09 later, we came out on top. Yes, yes, and fuck yes.
Before I go, I hope you'll indulge me for a Special Rant, on the topic of Penguin fans.
As an obsessive Ranger fan outside of New York, I tend to travel to a lot of away games to see my boys. Yes, I'll catch a game or two at the Garden each season, but I'll also see three in Pittsburgh, as well as the occasional trip to Jersey, or DC, or Toronto, and so on. I've seen NHL games in 12 different arenas, most of them Ranger games. So I'm in an uncommon position, in that I am regularly a big fan of the visiting team, wherever I go. As such, I'm never looking to start a fight. I always come in respectful, cheer for opposing players that I like, and so on. I don't mean to be talking about how I'm great, but as a regular visiting fan, I am always careful to be appropriate wherever I go. I will cheer loud and long for the Rangers, but I'm not one of these guys who calls out other fans around me: they're there to enjoy the game, just like me.
Which is why I have all this pent-up aggression that I need to get out here on the blog: these fans are terrible! Maybe last night was a specifically bad set of circumstances, but by God with this fan base's knowledge of hockey you couldn't run a skate rental shop. First of all, even when they're getting every officiating break in the book, they want more. We were lucky enough to bring a friend, who is just now learning the sport (this was his second game ever), and at one point, some Pen fan screamed out "Why wasn't that interference?" at such an incorrect play that even our near-hockey-virgin friend was able to answer (under his breath, of course) "Oh, I know this one! Because the puck was right there!"
This lack of awareness is extended beyond just a silly penalty call bias. My favorite moment was after Lundqvist's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was being served by Avery, when everyone around me started getting on Sean Avery's case, because they saw him in the box. It reminded me of a moment in Atlanta a few years back, when the Thrashers scored on a soft shot from the point, and the entire arena started chanting "Luuuuuund-qviiiiiist," despite Stephen Valiquette being in goal. Everyone was getting on Avery because they read somewhere that they were supposed to, even though the call was on Lundqvist. Just a total lack of awareness of the game.
And, finally, I'm bitter, because I am nothing but nice to these people, and I smile and nod when they say incredibly stupid things about the game, and then I get called an asshole anyway, just because my team won. On my way out of the seats: "Go back to New York, you asshole!" Really? So, that I replied to: "Actually, I've lived in Pittsburgh for a decade, I just can't stand your hockey team. But thanks for being so friendly - you're doing a great job of representing our city. It was nice to meet you."
Look, I really do love the city of Pittsburgh. And I am friends with a number of Penguin fans, some of whom even know what the hell they're talking about when it comes to hockey. But a lot of these Penguin fans need to get a fucking clue. The exemplar, for me, was when some guy behind me yelled just before the phantom-hook on Gaborik, "Come on, that'd be holding in the NFL!" Not only did he get even the phantom-call wrong, but I've always said this about Penguin fans: they really know their football.
Thanks for the indulgence. Anyway, I love to see what I saw last night, and I'd love to see us bring it back home to play the Bruins tomorrow. This has the workings of a pretty good hockey team, and it's been a while since I've been able to honestly say I'm just excited about the team. Let's go Rangers.