BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
((Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Penguins took liberties of hitting the Rangers in the first two games of the series, especially in Game 2 when Jeff Carter knocked Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin on his keister when he went back to the net after playing out the puck.
The Rangers fans whined about the Penguins playing dirty.
Here’s what they don’t understand since they rarely watch hockey: Playoff hockey requires will and toughness a lot more than skill. This isn’t figure skating. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Let me let you in on a little secret, Rangers fans. The Islanders went far the last two seasons because they outworked and outtoughed their opponent. They used brawns over brains to outwit opponents.
For any of you to cite the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup the last two seasons by using skill, not exactly. They actually were physical and dirty, too. Just ask the Islanders. It’s a credit to them they stood up for themselves rather than living in pity.
This is what the Rangers have to do to not only beat the Penguins, but to win the Cup. They have to pummel their opponents. Dare I say, play dirty. It’s a dirty little secret no one talks about. It may not sell tickets, but it wins postseason games.
Of course, they need to pick the right time to do it. They can’t go out of control, either. It’s a balance they need to figure out.
The purpose of hiring Gerard Gallant as the Rangers head coach was that he was a physical enforcer as a player. He knows what it takes to win the Cup as a player and a coach. He understands being tough is an important skill of being a Stanley Cup player.
Behind the scenes, he likely encouraged guys to be tougher than the Penguins.
The Penguins clearly are going to goad the Rangers, so it’s time for the Rangers to fight fire with fire by doing the same.
Look at the teams that won the Stanley Cup in its history. The New Jersey Devils did not win three Stanley Cups by being nice. They had Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko gooning it up when the time was right. Shoot, even when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, they had players like Jeff Beukeboom laying the boom on players. The Philadelphia Flyers were affectionately known as the Broad Street Bullies in the 70s for their ability to impose their will come playoff time. The Edmonton Oilers won Cups in the 80s because they had enforcers taking charge besides protecting Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.
Don’t say the game changed. It hasn’t. The Lightning played dirty so many times while using their skill. There’s something to be said about thugging it up. That’s what’s endearing about hockey. It’s why that aspect of the game will never end. It’s sacred. It’s about who’s tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.
There should be no apologies if the Rangers win being dirty. You know the saying nice guys finish last. The Penguins are all-in on being dirty since Brian Burke and Ron Hextall know that it’s the way to win Stanley Cup.
Glen Sather can attest to this. He cajoled James Dolan to fire John Davidson and Jeff Gorton as part of the Rangers brain trust since he did not believe those two shared the same philosophy of building a hockey team. Davidson and Gorton believe in winning with skill than physicality while Sather focuses on guys using brute and grind to complement scoring. There’s a reason Sather is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and there’s a reason Dolan looks up to him as the hockey guru.
Sather told Dolan to fire Davidson and Gorton because teams took liberties with the Rangers whenever they feel like it. This came last season after Capitals goon Tom Wilson punched Pavel Buchenevich in the side of the head after falling down from trying to bang home the rebound to score. Not only did he punch Buchenvich, but he also pummeled Artemi Panarin, who decided to take matters into his own hands by confronting the Capitals enforcer for what he did to Buchenvich.
Physical play goads the other team to be undisciplined. It’s why Brad Marchand is so good at that and why the Boston Bruins benefit from it.
Right now, the Penguins are forcing the Rangers to make dumb mistakes by playing dirty in the process.
The Rangers need to flip the script and give the Penguins a taste of their medicine.
It’s the only way they are going to win this series.
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