Rangers pass up shot at Sid the Kid, division lead shrinks
By Filip Bondy
The Daily News
March 16, 2012
Two minutes into the game, Sidney Crosby climbed over the boards and into the mayhem. The Garden fans jeered with great enthusiasm, many wishing him the worst. Crosby cycled a bit, centered a line with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke, and helped create a chance when the puck pin-balled past Marty Biron for a goal credited to Cooke.
Crosby won faceoffs, manned the point on power plays and looked moderately dangerous. In the third period, he assisted on the clinching fourth goal by Chris Kunitz. Mostly, he stayed out of trouble, out of the corners, and the Rangers treated him downright daintily. They took no cheap shots at the young star, set no Saints-like bounty on his brain.
There was an occasion midway through the second period when Ryan McDonagh had him lined up on a backcheck and might have let Crosby really have it, hard. McDonagh passed on the opportunity, to the crowd’s disappointment. Crosby slipped down to the ice only once, on a mild collision in the third period, and Pittsburgh went on to a clean, demoralizing 5-2 victory.
“It’s not that I was trying to avoid (contact),” Crosby said, “But I wasn’t quick to initiate it like last time, when I tried to test myself more than I needed to.”
Crosby didn’t think the Rangers took mercy on him. “Were they trying to do anything extra? No,” he said. “But I don’t think they passed on anything. I don’t think there was a lot of opportunities.”
And so the Rangers acted like perfect gentlemen on their way to a third straight defeat to Pittsburgh.
For this, they ought to be both congratulated and pitied, because they really were completely outclassed. The Pens are riding a 10-game winning streak, closing in on first place in the Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference — which would dump the Rangers to an undeservedly low fourth seed in the playoffs. Pittsburgh is four points back with a game in hand, and now this fleet powerhouse has Crosby lurking about, working off rust.
His cobwebs, too, are clearing. Having survived the first test Thursday night, Crosby moves gingerly into spring. Ambushes await. The NHL, we know, can eat its young for breakfast. The sport is swift and gorgeous, but the fighting and the hits to the head have exacted a stiff toll. We’ve seen that with the likes of Eric Lindros, who suffered eight concussions and slowly faded to gray. Now we’re getting a similar, sick feeling about Crosby, who is only 24 and should be entering his most productive decade.
Crosby had been out for 40 games since December with the lingering effects of a concussion he first suffered back in January of 2011.
“You have to play the same way, whether you’d gone through this before or you didn’t,” he said. “The more you hesitate in the game, the more chance you have of really getting hit.”
Two years ago at the Vancouver Olympics, Crosby scored the winning overtime goal from a tough angle and with considerable inspiration, to capture the gold medal for Canada against Team USA. There were no concussions or malicious hits to wreck everything. The Olympics are a different game, devoid of the nonsense.
The garbage in the NHL could easily be stopped, but the league demands its red meat. Concussions are treated with far more respect once they occur. They are not being prevented effectively, however.
“The game’s in a really good place,” commissioner Gary Bettman said at the general managers’ meeting this week. “It gave us an opportunity to do what we always do — self-evaluate — but do it in a way where there was no immediate pressing issue.”
NHL players are still suffering concussions at the rate of nearly 100 per season, and yet this somehow was not considered “a pressing issue” by Bettman.
As for Crosby, his synapses finally were firing properly against the Rangers. He played 16 minutes without incident, without getting hit by a nasty blow. The Penguins won, and so did hockey. The Rangers took one for the team.