Game 1 of the New York Rangers-Ottawa Senators series was a walk in the park compared to Game 2 for the Blueshirts, in which they lost 3-2 in overtime. One thing we learned during that game and in its aftermath: There is certainly no league conspiracy to assist the Rangers in advancing along in the postseason to ensure higher ratings. There's no Gary Bettman-Pittsburgh Penguins-like love affair here. One player elbows another in the head and (rightfully) is whistled for a five-minute penalty and is slapped with a three-game suspension. Another player does the exact same thing, and gets two minutes without so much as a sniff of a suspension. A third player (was it Killer Carlson?) attacks another from behind and pummels him, drawing a game misconduct and a one-game suspension. And a fourth player gets booted from the game for being the third-man in, when there was actually only one player fighting with nine players in a pile, which begs the question: Third man in to what? The league is still inconsistent and unsure on how to quantify and penalize hits to the head (or flat-out attacking a player for that matter). The Rangers failed to make Ottawa pay, though, for surprising and beating up Brian Boyle in a dark alley when they couldn't score on the resulting five-minute power play. At any rate, the Senators employed an out-of character approach to Game 2, which resulted in a spirited, intense, if a little over-the-top, contest, but a puck bouncing off the skate of Michael Del Zotto and into his own net affected the final score more than the rough stuff. All season long teams have been trying to intimidate the Rangers but have failed, and it didn't really work in this game either. But the final score is really what matters, and that favored the Senators.
Game 3 was a completely different animal than the previous two games. The pace was fast and furious, without the Slap Shot antics of Game 2. Boyle has taken on the role of villain in Ottawa, and along with that, he's taken on the role of star for New York. He scored the only goal of the game (on a heads up off-the-boards sort-of pass by Dan Girardi), giving him one in each of the first three games of the series. Henrik Lundqvist was perfect (39 saves), which, with the slim margin of each game, the Rangers will need him to be the difference-maker, while his counterpart, Craig Anderson, was almost as good. Chris Kreider played in his first NHL game, and even guys like Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel made key defensive plays. What it was, was just another typical New York Rangers game. Which is, of course, a good thing.
And then came Game 4. Which was similar to Game 3 but with more penalties, which was most likely the Rangers' downfall in the 3-2 overtime loss. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead, with their power-play finally producing, but in the second period, they committed too many penalties, giving Ottawa the momentum and the path to tying the game. The Rangers were the best team on the ice in the third period but they couldn't solve Anderson, and their feeble performance in overtime in the postseason continued as the game ended quickly. Boyle and Lundqvist couldn't save them this time. The Senators have not had the lead for even one second in regulation in any of the four games, yet the series is tied, so the Rangers will have to figure out the math in that equation and make it work in their favor. Now it's back to New York as the seven-game series has turned into a three-game affair.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
All Even: The New Jersey Devils tried to wipe the slate clean and atone for their recent playoff disappointments, and they got off to a great start in that direction last Friday, when they defeated the Florida Panthers, 3-2, in Game 1. It was their first road-opening win since 2000, and the victory marked Martin Brodeur's 100th career playoff win. With Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise getting shutout, it was no problem as their secondary scoring came through. And though they had trouble for much of the season holding onto third-period leads, they held on this time, but barely. But barely was enough. Sunday was a mirror-image game, with the Panthers the team trying to hold on to a 3-0 lead, and like Game 1, the losing team stormed back but fell short, with Florida coming out on top, 4-2. The same formula began Game 3, but this time New Jersey shockingly lost a 3-0 lead, and lost the game as well, 4-3. Both teams' goalies were pulled, with reliever and former Devil Scott Clemmensen being the savior for Florida, while Johan Hedberg allowed the winning goal. Another shocking development for the Devils: After setting a regular-season penalty-killing record, they gave up three power-play goals in the loss and six altogether in the first three games. That loss may have been shocking but it wasn't devastating, as the Devils had the perfect response with their 4-0 masterpiece in Game 4. Brodeur recorded his 24th career playoff shutout, which broke Patrick Roy's record, Kovalchuk and Parise scored and the penalty kill was back up to the usual Devils' standards. And though this series isn't close to the acrimonious Rangers-Senators battle (not to mention Flyers-Penguins) there was finally a little bad blood near the end of the game with the Panthers' frustration showing.
Flip-Flopping: Everything was perfect last Friday afternoon, in the New York Yankees' home opener. Jorge Posada was welcomed back with open arms, as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his father in a Field of Dreams moment. Hiroki Kuroda twirled a gem, tossing eight shutout innings, enticing double-play grounders all afternoon long, in the 5-0 win over the Anaheim Angels. Nick Swisher belted a bases-clearing double. And Alex Rodriguez drove in his first run of the year with his 630th career home run, which ties him with Ken Griffey on the all-time list (unfortunately, his self-confessed PED usage makes it but a sorry footnote of an era gone awry, one that made a mockery of baseball milestones, and A-Rod has no one to blame but himself for the indifference that his milestone is met with -- but enough about that). A perfect day all around. But then came Saturday, when the Yanks' shaky starting rotation reared its ugly head, with Phil Hughes getting hammered, as they fell to the Angels, 7-1. The Bombers continued alternating wins and losses, beating the Angels on Jackie Robinson Day, 11-5, to take the series, with the red-hot and now seemingly ageless Derek Jeter contributing with a three-run homer, despite Ivan Nova's mediocre performance. And it was back to losing on Monday, as they ignominiously lost to Carl Pavano, with Freddy Garcia's bad outing giving the Yankees thoughts of Andy Pettitte dancing in their head. The Yanks continued flip-flopping wins and losses on Tuesday with an 8-3 victory. CC Sabathia recovered from his poor start to the game to last seven-plus innings as the offense poured it on, keyed by a two-run double by Chris Stewart, but Brett Gardner hurt his elbow making a sliding catch and had to go on the DL. It was the Yankees' turn to lose again on Wednesday, with the promise of Kuroda's previous start disappearing, as his command wasn't the same as on Friday, and the offense just came up short, in the 6-5 loss. But of course they won on Thursday, 7-6, thanks to Curtis Granderson's historic night, when he bailed out Hughes with his three home run, five hit, four RBI performance, making him the only Yankee to ever have three homers and five hits in one game. Jeter also made history, tying Dave Winfield for 18th place on the all-time hit list with his 3,110th hit. Up next: Bobby Valentine and the entertaining 2012 Boston Red Sox.
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching (and a Broken-Fingered Third Baseman): The storylines for the Mets this week revolved around their starting pitching and David Wright. On Friday, R.A. Dickey baffled the Phillies en route to a 5-2 win. And Josh Thole was baffled himself when he made it safely to second on a sacrifice bunt but, after Jimmy Rollins nicely suggested that he didn't have to slide, the Met catcher strangely jogged back to first where he was promptly tagged out. Thole had no explanation for his actions, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has seen someone do that before -- and it was of course Manny Ramirez. So this was just a case of Josh Being Manny. Jon Niese continued the stellar starting-pitching streak on Saturday, as the Mets rolled to a 5-0 win, with Wright blasting a home run on the first pitch he saw after coming back to play with a broken finger. On Sunday it was Mike Pelfrey's turn to shine, but, unfortunately, the bullpen imploded (the relief corps falling apart is another storyline actually) as the Mets lost 8-2 on Jackie Robinson Day. And also on the unfortunate side, whenever I see a Met wearing No. 42 I instantly conjure up images of Butch Huskey flailing at a two-strike curveball in the dirt and not the groundbreaking, legendary Brooklyn Dodger. It was back to the good on Monday, with Dillon Gee tossing seven solid innings and Ike Davis hitting a key three-run homer. But Tuesday and Wednesday were disasters for the starting staff with Johan Santana having the shortest outing of his career in the 9-3 loss and Dickey letting in eight runs in the 14-6 shellacking at the hands of the Braves. Meanwhile Wright is batting .500, has reached base at least twice in all nine games he's played and with his three RBIs on Wednesday, he tied Darryl Strawberry for the all-time franchise lead with 733. And let's not forget Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who's batting .375 and even stole a base to show Terry Collins that Andres Torres isn't the only one who can do that.
Here Comes Carmelo: Carmelo Anthony. That pretty much sums up the New York Knicks these days. Ok, he's had a lot of help, especially from Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, but Anthony's on one of those magical runs where he can do no wrong with a scoring spree that has him having his best stretch of games as a Knick. He's scored 30 or more points in seven out of the last 11 games, and one of the under-30 games was a 103-65 blowout of the Washington Wizards when he was only needed for 29 minutes. His 42 points weren't enough in the 93-85 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday, but he notched his first triple-double as a Knick (35/12/10), leading his team to an inspiring 118-110 victory over the Boston Celtics, with Smith and Novak pitching in by going a combined (and astounding) 15-for-20 from downtown, as the Knicks poured in 72 points by halftime. The fun continued in their "home" game in New Jersey, as they easily whipped the New Jersey Nets, 105-94, in the Knicks' last-ever game in the Garden State. And while they were relaxing on Thursday night, the Knicks clinched a playoff spot with the Milwaukee Bucks' loss.
Almost Over: As the Nets wind down their tenure in New Jersey, they helped their biggest rival this past week, beating the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, which assisted the Knicks in catapulting them over the Sixers, and after losing to the Celtics and Heat (which was no help to the Knicks), they were defeated by the Knicks on Wednesday, with the stands filled mainly with Knick fans. The Nets did finish with a winning record against the Knicks at home in Jersey, though, going 48-34 in 35 seasons. Three games left now and then on to Brooklyn, where there have to be better times ahead, right?
Spring Football: OTAs for the New York Giants and New York Jets began this week, and each team's schedule was released. As expected, the Giants get five prime-time games this coming season, and they'll be playing games on just about every day of the week: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. And on top of that they have one of the most difficult schedules out there, highlighted by facing all three NFC teams that they defeated in the 2011 playoffs. Of course, they open up against the Dallas Cowboys in the Wednesday night showcase. The Jets open at home vs. the Buffalo Bills, and have four night games, with the Thanksgiving evening matchup with the New England Patriots being the centerpiece of their season. In other news, Big Blue brought back one of last year's heroes, Chase Blackburn, while not a lot has changed for the Jets: When asked if he had any regrets for the way last season ended, Santonio Holmes replied, "Why should I?"
And that's the New York week that was.