As the Penguins were in the process of having their way with the New York Rangers -- winning three of the first four games of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series and owning an 11-5 goal advantage -- it became very popular in some media circles to dismiss the Rangers as being a significantly lesser team or ever to ridicule them as not belonging.
That would not be a stance anyone would want to be bragging about today. This isn't to say such an opinion was necessarily wrong, only that it might be.
The Rangers would not go easily. They showed up at the Consol Energy Center last night, scored the first two goals and the fourth, fifth and sixth in a 5-1 thrashing. The series goes back to Madison Square Garden for game 6 tomorrow night.
The Penguins remain the favorite to win the series not only because they have a 3-2 lead in games but because my almost all accounts they are the better team.
But a lot of people thought that in 2011 when the Penguins took a 3-1 lead in games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. To make that edge all the more commanding, the Penguins won both of the first two games in Tampa. The scores of the next three games were 8-2, 4-1, 1-0 -- all Tampa Bay wins. It’s true the Penguins were playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but there were playing without those two when they won three of the first four games.
What might be the most optimistic note for the Rangers, more than having game 6 at home, is that their power play awoke from its long slump. The Rangers were 0-for-36 on power play opportunities -- a streak that stretched 10 games -- when Derick Brassard put them up, 2-0, late in the first period. Ryan McDonagh added another power play goal in the second period.
The Rangers led, 4-1, after two period and when the score remained the same with little more than five minutes remaining, coach Dan Bylsma pulled Marc-Andre Fleury when the Penguins had a man advantage. But six skaters could not get the puck pack Henrik Lundqvist. When the teams returned to even strength, Fleury stayed on the bench and the Rangers scored their final goal.
The Penguins only goal was scored by Evgeni Malkin on a brilliant effort in the second period. Malkin barrelled toward the goal and put his own rebound past Lundqvist. But five minute later, Brassard’s second goal put the advantage back to two and 50 seconds after that McDonagh scored on the power play.
One of the great things about the Stanley Cup playoffs is that momentum can be meaningless. The Penguins were winners of three straight over the Rangers and had outscored them, 9-2, in the process. Not only that, they were coming home to the Consol Energy Center. All that momentum left them down, 2-0, and outshot, 17-9, at the end of the first period.
Now the momentum supposedly is with the Rangers, coming off a 5-1 win and heading to Madison Square Garden with a revitalized power play.
It will mean next to nothing when the puck is dropped Sunday night. All the disrespect shown in some parts of the Pittsburgh media toward the Rangers is not without foundation. They are not a particularly good team. But if they win the next two games, entirely possible, they will not have beaten a particularly good team.