Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Lady Byng herself no doubt would have gotten into a few scraps come playoff time. So it was no surprise to see the Rangers and Penguins act contrary to the gentlemanliness for which Ms. Byng’s memorial trophy is awarded.
“I mean, it’s part of the playoffs,” Chris Kreider said with a shrug after the Rangers’ 4-2 victory Saturday in Game 2 of a first-round playoff series now tied at one game apiece.
The key was that the Rangers made it work for them, playing an impressively physical game while also letting slide some apparent extracurricular activities by the Penguins — as did the referees.
The former resulted in a gaping 57-25 Rangers edge in hits — a team record for a playoff game that ended in regulation time. (It was the 500th playoff game for the Rangers, but hits were not an official stat when they played their first in 1927.)
The latter resulted in pushing, shoving, cross-checking, punching, spearing and, in one case, an old-school fight between the Rangers’ Kevin Klein and the Penguins’ Chris Kunitz.
Both sides certainly had their moments, including a nasty cross-check of Evgeni Malkin by the Rangers’ Keith Yandle. That one was called, at least, and resulted in a power-play goal that drew the Penguins within two.
Kris Letang, the Penguins’ star defenseman, was in the middle of several incidents, including a punch to the face of Viktor Stalberg and a cross-check that appeared to injure Eric Staal’s right shoulder. Malkin, playing his first game since March 11, appeared to jab his stick into Brady Skjei.
Tanner Glass, one of the Rangers’ more physical players, said it was par for the playoff course, especially after one team took a three-goal lead. But still, he did not disagree the refs might have missed a few.
“Yes, I thought there was some stuff there, especially like the one slash behind the net from [Eric] Fehr [on Kreider], but the refs have a tough job,’’ Glass said. “They’re watching a lot of stuff out there, especially when guys get that edge to their game. You can’t catch everything.”
Again, this stuff is not unusual in the playoffs. But the Penguins have a reputation as a speed-and-skill team, so the fact that the series is going down this road this soon is unexpected.
“I mean, it’s kind of different hockey than we saw the past two years [against the Penguins],” Derick Brassard said. “Those guys are a fast team. They’re not really physical, but they can hurt you in many ways.
“But in Games 3 and 4, it’s going to get even deeper in the series and it will get more tight and more chippy.”
None of this is to suggest the series will degenerate into an old-style brawl. The modern NHL does not work that way.
So let’s just say that the best thing about Game 2 for the Rangers — other than winning it — was how they struck a balance as their season teetered on the brink.
“It’s good to push back and stick up for your teammates,” said J.T. Miller, who had three assists in 4:14 in the second period. “But at the same time, you have to make sure you’re responsible and play whistle to whistle and try not to worry about the stuff after the whistles.”
Said Alain Vigneault, “You’ve got to play the game that’s in front of you . . . The referees have to call what they see, and we have to play accordingly.”
Derek Stepan left briefly to go through the concussion protocol after being hit from behind by Ben Lovejoy, another uncalled potential penalty.
“As the series goes on, it always seems to get chippier, every series I’ve ever been in,” Stepan said after being cleared. “Game 1 is one way and it seems to ramp up as you through 2, 3, 4 and 5.”
So did he think the Penguins got away with stuff? “I mean, it’s hard to comment on something that is out of our control,” he said. “The good thing is we come out with a win and it’s a 1-1 series.”