Before we get to the New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils Eastern Conference finals matchup, we have to start at the beginning, with last Saturday's Blueshirts' thrilling Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals. There was extra pressure, extra agita, extra everything, but the Rangers just went out and played a typical Ranger game. They backchecked, they forechecked, they defended, they were quicker to the puck than Washington -- the same old, same old that we've seen all season from them. The Brad Richards goal a minute and a half into the game was huge, and Michael Del Zotto's goal proved to be the game-winner, while Henrik Lundqvist continued to do what he's done all year. Now: Rangers-Devils.
When we last saw these two teams together, New Jersey attempted to out-Flyer the Rangers with a bit of goonery to start the game, but that resulted in a stoppage to scrape Devil blood off the Garden ice and a Rangers victory. This time around, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Devils' plan was to use an aggressive forecheck to wear out New York's defensemen, and they executed it to a T, forcing the usually reliable Dan Girardi and a few others into making egregious turnovers. Yet, the Devils still couldn't score one goal in the 3-0 loss (or win, for the Blueshirts). They couldn't get past the Ranger shot-blockers nor could they solve Lundqvist. And when they did get loose for a scoring chance, Ryan McDonagh foiled them a few times with a handful of perfect defensive plays.
It was a game of redemption for Girardi, who recovered from his failures in the first two periods to score the winning goal, assist on another, go plus-2 and block five shots. Chris Kreider also had a resurgent game, while on the Devil side, Zach Parise was a whirlwind, but whatever he tried, he just couldn't get the puck past Lundqvist, who stoned the Devil great on three consecutive shots during one shorthanded flurry. And on the downside for the Devils was the almost-disastrous puck-handling by Martin Brodeur. The Rangers won all the statistical categories (shots: 27, 21; power play: 1-4, 0-4; faceoffs: 36-25; hits: 35-21; blocks: 26-15), though New Jersey outplayed them for the most part for 40 minutes. But New York took over in the third, keyed by Girardi's goal, and were just good enough. But they're just good enough so consistently that it's usually enough.
Between Games 1 and 2, Brodeur raised eyebrows by suggesting the Devils should shoot the puck at the heads of the Rangers to get around the incessant shot-blocking by the Blueshirts, which, though foolish to say publicly (and most likely said in jest), really just shows that the Rangers are looked upon as some kind of weird cult, with the whole idea of shot-blocking becoming somewhat of a controversial topic this past week. But in the Game 2 3-2 win, the Devils figured out how to score, as they played with more intensity and desperation than the Rangers, clogging the front of the net, deflecting in goals, which is one way around the Rangers' defense. David Clarkson was the best player on the ice, though Brodeur, despite playing well, had a little more trouble with the puck, when he knocked one into his own net for the first Ranger goal. The Devils did what they had to do after the first two games, gaining a split at the Garden, while the Rangers can console themselves with the thought that they haven't come close to playing one full solid game, yet still have a win under their belt. Both teams keep plowing ahead, imperfectly but without panic, as they continue their playoff runs.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Hello, Good-bye: There were major comings and goings for the New York Yankees this week but those transactions couldn't overshadow the actual games, as the Yanks continue to play inconsistent ball. After defeating the Seattle Mariners on Friday and Saturday, with Hiroki Kuroda going seven strong innings (but giving up a home run to Jesus Montero), Robinson Cano going 4-for-4 and Raul Ibanez blasting a three-run homer in the first one, and Phil Hughes throwing his best game of the year the following afternoon in the 6-2 win, assisted by another Ibanez home run (and the crowd singing "Happy Birthday" to Yogi Berra before the game to wish him a happy 87th), Andy Pettitte made his long-awaited debut on Sunday afternoon. And it went about as well as could be expected for a 40-year-old who hasn't pitched since 2010. Pettitte gave up four runs in six-plus innings in the 6-2 loss, but he survived with no setbacks. Meanwhile, as Eric Chavez returned from the DL, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to the minors, but that was just the beginning. David Robertson was sent to the 15-day DL with a strained oblique, with Cody Eppley being recalled, and in the first of a two-game split with the Baltimore Orioles, Ivan Nova injured his foot and Ibanez was drilled with a pitch, though the Yankees won that game. CC Sabathia suffered a rare loss to Baltimore, though, in Game 2, which snapped his four-game streak of lasting eight innings. The Bombers wrapped up their week with another two-game set, this one in Toronto, and the opener was a forgetful 8-1 drubbing, with Kuroda getting hammered and the offense MIA, while the second game was more of the same, with nothing going with runners in scoring position, in the 4-1 loss, which dropped their record to 3-4 for the week.
No Relief (but a Lot of Wright): After sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies the previous week, the New York Mets could have easily done the same to another NL East rival, the Miami Marlins, but one man got in the way: Frank Francisco (well, he had a sidekick on Sunday). Playing in the Marlins' new gaudy bauble of a parking-lot-like stadium, the Mets, in their 8,000th game in franchise history, came from behind yet again on Friday, but Francisco blew the save. There was no need for the Met closer on Saturday, as R.A. Dickey won his fifth game of the year, backed by David Wright's four hits and Andres Torres' two RBIs, but on Sunday, Francisco teamed up with Manny Acosta to turn another victory into a stunning 8-4 defeat. Francisco somewhat redeemed himself on Monday, though, when he "earned" a save by only allowing one run and not spoiling Miguel Batista's seven-shutout-inning performance, in the Mets' 3-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers (and they pulled off a successful squeeze play while foiling one by the Brewers). The following night, the 8-0 loss and Dillon Gee's awful outing were a footnote to the Terry Collins/Wright/D.J. Carrasco/Ryan Braun brouhaha. Both Collins and Wright did what they thought was right, both fighting for what was good for the team, which ultimately turned a forgetful loss into a positive moment. Carrasco's stint with the Mets didn't last long, though, as after he and his fellow relievers flushed away another strong start by Johan Santana in Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, he was designated for assignment, with Robert Carson called up as his replacement (though the offense executed their second squeeze play of the week). The Mets salvaged the week on Thursday afternoon and continued to carve out an identity as the team that never gives up, as they plated nine unanswered runs to defeat the Reds, 9-4, keyed by Wright's go-ahead, two-out, eighth-inning double (along with going 2-for-2 with three walks -- he's now hitting a sizzling .411 to lead the majors along with a .513 OBP). Not even Francisco and the bullpen could ruin this one for the Mets, as they finished the week with a 3-4 record -- but, oh, what could have been.
Odds & Ends: There's been no official announcement, but the New York Jets have turned down the opportunity to appear on Hard Knocks once again, adding a little much-needed sanity to the organization, though they did announce the signing of Quinton Coples to a four-year deal . . . The New York Giants received their Super Bowl rings on Wednesday night . . . New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, with Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the award . . . Happy birthday to Mr. October, as Reggie Jackson turns 66 on Friday . . . On Wednesday, the Mets and major league baseball made the official announcement that the 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field . . . And finally, my young daughter has made the official announcement that she's sick and tired of the words "Rangers," "Devils," "playoffs" and "hockey" as she feels I like those things more than I like her, which is, of course, untrue -- but, with all due respect to her, when has she ever advanced to the Eastern Conference finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs?
And that's the New York week that was.