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This wasn’t a fair fight. This wasn’t even a fight at all. The last Battle of New York at the Coliseum was by all measure the least in the history of the building. It had a preseason atmosphere, but without the brawls that once upon a time marked the rivalry. This was bloodless. This was passionless.
So this was not particularly painful for the Blueshirts, whose tragic number for playoff elimination has dwindled to a single point following Saturday night’s 3-0 loss, in which Semyon Varlamov became the first goaltender to shut out the Rangers four times in a season in 67 years, since the Red Wings’ Terry Sawchuk in 1954-55.
This was not Thursday. This was not a duplication of the Rangers’ unpalatable effort in the 4-0 loss at the Garden to these same tormentors. This, instead, was inevitable.
This was a product of the Rangers dressing a defense in which Libor Hajek was the third most experienced guy on the blue line, behind Brendan Smith and Adam Fox, against a ravenous veteran-laden team seeking the two points necessary to clinch its third straight trip to the postseason under the leadership of general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz.
This was a function of the Rangers playing without Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren, just the two guys on the squad who might cause opponents to keep their heads up. Both defensemen were injured within the past 10 days against the Islanders.
Trouba is believed to have sustained a concussion on a hit from Matt Martin on April 20. Lindgren also may have been concussed when he bounced off Cal Clutterbuck into the curved glass adjacent to the bench on Thursday. There is no reason whatsoever to play Trouba or Lindgren and put them in harm’s way over these final four games, which include two against the Capitals at MSG and two in Boston. One would hope management sees it that way.
Well, at least Mika Zibanejad wasn’t injured when Martin elbowed him smack in the face in a puck battle on the rear boards behind the Rangers’ net on Saturday’s very first shift. Maybe that’s progress.
Zibanejad might have cracked his stick across Martin’s ankles, might have sent Martin into the boards with a well-placed cross check, but that is not in the Swede’s repertoire. So instead, he went to the bench in pain at the conclusion of the shift, rubbing his face.
There was certainly no one else who was going to confront Martin. Who? Morgan Barron in his first NHL game? Tarmo Reunanen in his second? Vitali Kravtsov or Colin Blackwell? Artemi Panarin or Ryan Strome? Kaapo Kakko or Alexis Lafreniere? Julien Gauthier?
The Rangers did talk to Martin over the offseason when he was a free agent. The sides never came close to an agreement. Martin went back to the Island on a four-year deal, to resume his spot to the left of Casey Cizikas and Clutterbuck on his team’s Identity Line and to wreak havoc.
Pointing out a Rangers’ Identity Line at this point would only invite derision. Seriously, if Artemi Panarin is not dealing with a compromising physical issue, then there is no explanation for the way he disappeared through these two games. Panain did not have shot in either. Indeed, he went shotless in four of the eight games against the Islanders. This isn’t the way he played against them last year. Not at all.
There was nothing from Panarin and nothing from Ryan Strome, who appeared to make a coverage blunder on Anthony Beauvillier’s game-opening goal at 4:39 of the first period. Strome has had a good year. He has not had a good past couple of weeks, going the past seven games without a goal while recording two in his past 14 matches.
So if the Rangers got nothing from Panarin and not much from Strome, what would you expect them to have gotten from young Kravtsov, who joined the line for 9:22, even while sitting for about a 12-minute stretch during the second period? Correct. Not very much. If they got nothing from Zibanejad and Buchnevich, what would you have expected them to get from Alexis Lafreniere? Correct, again.
Nothing on the board again from the top guys. Not much magic from Fox, who is diminished with Hajek as his partner. Trotz game-planned against Fox the way Fred Shero game-planned against Denis Potvin from behind the Blueshirts’ bench in the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal.
By the way, Hajek has been overmatched since he was moved into a matchup role upon Trouba’s injury. But does this surprise anyone?
Thursday was a sharp slap in the face. This was gentler. This was a mismatch of personnel that played itself out as if preordained. The Rangers did not have it in them to flip the script. There was a weariness to it all.
So now it is down to a final week of meaningless games after the final Coliseum installment of the Battle of New York. The Old Barn deserved better.
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