Can the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers experience the success they once did?
That’s the question on everyone’s lips. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season - fans (and non-fans) everywhere expected similar success this year. The Rangers made the Cup finals in 2014 and were the favorites to win.
Already, the Blackhawks are suffering a 3-1 deficit to the St. Louis Blues, after a 4-3 loss in Game 4. It could be over for them soon.
St. Louis is playing with the confidence and poise necessary to defeat their tormentors in a divisional semifinal series. It seems now, the tormentor has become the tormented.
Brian Elliot, the goalie who couldn't carry a team in a postseason series, stopped 39 Blackhawks shots in Game 4 and entered with a .963 save percentage. The big goals that had eluded St. Louis every postseason are now being delivered by Schwartz, Tarasenk, Backes and Steen.
Chicago is making a lot of mistakes. The team’s secondary scoring is non-existent. Their penalty kill has provided a series-long boost to the Blues. They’re lacking poise and discipline which had been their hallmark in winning three Cups. Their performance has disintegrated - from untimely turnovers, to Patrick Kane’s double-minor that led to a lost Game 3, to Andrew Shaw’s inexplicable penalty with two minutes left in Game 4.
Had it not been for two favorable coach’s challenges in Game 2, this series could already be over.
This newest loss will haunt Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival both of whom made some questionable moves. And while Alex Steen almost capped the game with an empty-netter that was overturned, the Blackhawks just couldn’t get the equalizer.
Put simply,they haven't looked like themselves this series. And if they don't improve, the Blues could very well close the book on the Blackhawks. There's only one thing to do:
Meanwhile, some are saying the Rangers were overcome by young blood, in the form of Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, making his playoff debut. They’re now behind in the series 2-1, after the Penguins won 3-1.
Murray relieved first-time playoff starter Jeff Zatkoff after he allowed four goals in Game 2. New York’s 17 shots on the inexperienced goaltender weren’t enough.
Questionable penalty call for sure but you can't have just 13 shots on a rookie goalie after two periods. Shoot the puck. #NYR— Linda Cohn (@lindacohn) April 20, 2016
Only five Rangers had more than one shot on goal and three of them were defensemen.
The Rangers’ offense couldn’t keep up with the Penguins, who threw 31 shots on Henrik Lundqvist’s goal. The Rangers looked like they'd scored the game's opening goal in the first period after Chris Kreider finished off a rebound. But a Pittsburgh challenge revealed that J.T. Miller was offside entering the Penguins' zone.
The Rangers clearly have issues they need to address.
Defense needs to step up and hold the line, instead of playing behind the face-off circle in the neutral zone. The blind passing has to stop, and it was hard not to notice the indecisiveness at the blue line. They're lacking the structure and cohesion that made them great in 2014.
The Rangers and Blackhawks need to learn from their mistakes – fast – and move forward. As the fans are saying, “Now is the time to rally!”.