Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
PITTSBURGH - The Rangers had just defeated the Penguins, 2-1 in overtime, to take command of their first-round playoff series. But Derick Brassard's expression and words last night did not match the occasion.
"Obviously, out of the four games we only played one solid game," he said. "I thought we were pretty lucky to come out with that win. We're going to take it, but we're not happy right now."
The question that prompted that downbeat assessment had to do with how little offense the Rangers have generated in taking a 3-1 series lead.
All three of their victories have come by scores of 2-1. They are 2-for-17 on power plays, including two in Game 4 on which they did not generate a shot on goal.
Brassard's three goals are triple the number of anyone else on the team. "We thought we played a solid game in Game 3 and we didn't really play our best tonight," he said.
The paltry output likely will be enough to survive and advance beyond the Penguins, who have done a fine job creating an aesthetically displeasing series that has bogged down the faster, more talented Rangers.
The question is whether this sort of thing will be enough if the Rangers are to go as far as they plan.
For now, most players are willing to chalk it up to the Penguins' approach, and to postseason hockey reality.
"It's playoff hockey," said Kevin Hayes, who poked the puck past the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury 3:14 into overtime. "There's not a lot of room out there. They have some elite players, elite defenders and a great goalie."
Said Marc Staal, "It's tight. There's not a lot of room out there. It's been tight all series long."
Captain Ryan McDonagh added, "We knew it would be tight checking. You look on paper and there's a lot of skill on both teams, but in the playoffs guys are so focused on making sure they're staying on their check, there's never going to be a lot of room out there."
So, to review: not a lot of room out there.
Fortunately for the Rangers, the Penguins' offense has not done much, either. At least Sidney Crosby has been active, even though his goal-scoring has been limited to two in Pittsburgh's win.
But Evgeni Malkin has not scored in 14 consecutive games and had one shot on goal in the two games here.
The Rangers also have benefited from the fact goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is in fine form after facing questions before the series about what affect missing most of February and March with an injury would have on him.
Lundqvist said before the game he feels pretty much as usual for this point in the playoffs, but he hopes the Rangers stick around long enough that his lack of regular season action will pay off in added freshness in late May and June.
He also addressed the Penguins' attempts to disrupt him in front of the net.
"It doesn't really affect me," he said. "Sometimes, actually, when I'm a little more annoyed I play better."
After the victory Lundqvist said, "In a game like this it's just a little play that's going to be the difference so you try to be smart all the time . . . It feels really good, obviously."
Whatever it is the Penguins have done to slow down the Rangers' offense surely will be studied by the Capitals or Islanders in the second round.
But the goal is simple: more goals!