Month: May 2014

Spirit of St. Louis Propels New York Rangers

Martin St. Louis celebrates his OT winner (Courtesy of Getty Images)

by Drew Sarver

Sunday night, Alex Galchenyuk came within a millimeter of evening up the NHL Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece. He had already been credited with the game winner, after the puck pin-balled off of of him and past goalie Henrik Lundqvist, in Game 3. This time, however, the puck rang off the crossbar and deflected harmlessly away. The game went to overtime, where the Rangers’ Martin St. Louis snipered a shot over the left shoulder of rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski for a 3-2 win and a three games to one lead for the Rangers in the best of seven series

It’s been well documented by now that St. Louis’ mother passed away prior to Game 5 of the conference semifinals with he Pittsburgh Penguins. From that moment on, St. Louis seemingly elevated his game as his teammates embraced him and his family as if France St. Louis was related to all of them.

After a Game 5 victory in Pittsburgh, the Rangers returned home to try to even the series with the Penguins. St. Louis was accompanied by his grieving father and sister. The Rangers’ diminutive winger with a big heart scored the game’s first goal and in doing so, ignited the Madison Square Garden crowd. The Rangers won 3-1 and St. Louis was named first star of the game.

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Alex Galchenyuk scores Game 3 winner (Courtesy of USA today)

The Rangers edged the Pens 2-1 in the finale, with St. Louis assisting on good friend Brad Richard’s go ahead goal. Acquired at the trade deadline for popular captain, Ryan Callahan, St. Louis has had six points (three goals and three assists) in the last five playoff games. His six goals this postseason  is the sixth best among all players.

Sunday night’s Game 4 was crucial for both teams in the series. The game was rough, rugged, and chippy after the thrown elbows and shoved linesman of Game 3. Montreal’s P.K. Subban scored a third period power play goal that erased a 2-1 Rangers’ lead. Then Galchenyuk found himself alone at the side of the left circle and came that close to erasing the series lead with the shot heard ’round the Garden.

Six minutes into overtime, Richards dug the puck out of the boards and flipped it Carl Hagelin. The Swedish-born winger found St. Louis all alone in the right circle. The shot  made by St. Louis could only be made by a player with his type of elite offensive skills. He got the puck on the tape of his stick blade, skated through the right circle and put the puck between the narrow opening above Tokarski’s left shoulder and the crossbar.

Game over.

Most of us have gone through what St. Louis and his family are in the midst of weathering. From personal experience, I know how difficult it is to balance the loss of a parent and going to work every day – ; trying to keep your life as balanced and normal as possible. I can’t imagine what it’s like to do that in front a packed, frenzied arena. It makes St. Louis’ play all the more remarkable.

Notes

Montreal goalie Carey Price skated for the second day in a row on Tuesday and was in full uniform. But coach Michel Therrien insisted Price would not be available in the conference finals.

Rangers center Derek Stepan skated with his squad and could return Tuesday for Game 5. Former teammate Brandon Prust caught Stepan with an elbow in Game 4, breaking the Rangers’ jaw. Prust received a two game suspension for the hit.

 

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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Canadiens and Rangers to Tangle in Original 6 Conference Final

Original 6

by Drew Sarver

The two teams in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference finals got there in different ways, but the pair have a lot in common. The Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers are two of the “Original Six” NHL squads and both have been chasing the Stanley Cup for decades. The resumes of two of the oldest franchises, however, are quite a bit different.  With the best players coming from Canada and a territorial draft in place for years, the Canadiens fielded teams chock full of future Hall of Fame members.  Those teams rang up a league record 24 Cups, though the Habs have not won one since 1993.

The team they will oppose, the New York Rangers, haven’t won the Cup or reached the league finals since 1994. The Rangers have won just four championships in their 88 seasons and had a 40-year gap between Cups three and four. Whichever team emerges as the conference winner, they won’t have an easy time in the league finals. Either the Los Angeles Kings, the 2012 Cup winners, or the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending NHL champs and the champions in 2010 as well, will meet them in the last best- of-seven series.

Both the Canadiens and Rangers made it to the conference finals with big performances on the road and after some of the media and their own fans had written them off. Montreal was down 3 games to 2 to Boston, went home and shut out the Bruins out in Game 6, 4-0. The seventh and decisive game was back in Massachusetts at the TD Bank Garden. Montreal quickly took the crowd out of play with a goal by Dale Weise just 2:18 into the game. The Canadiens clung to a 2-1 lead late in the third period when forward Daniel Briere’s pass hit the skate of Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara and deflected past goalie Tuukka Rask for the clincher with just under three minutes to play.

The Canadiens had advanced to the conference semi-finals with a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The outcome was made possible with wins on the road in Games 1 and 2.  The Rangers had to go the distance to knock off the Philadelphia Flyers in their first-round match up. Then they had to do it again against the Pittsburgh Penguins to set up a series of NHL “oldies”.

The Rangers played their worst game of the playoffs, on home ice, in Game 4 to go down 3 games to 1 to the Penguins. The Madison Square Garden throng booed their team right off the ice. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or now, the Belle Centre.   Something tragic happened as well.

The mother of Rangers forward Martin St. Louis died of a heart attack the night prior to Game 5. A shocked team rallied around their teammate and St. Louis played with a renewed passion and fire. The Rangers also got a boost from the return of injured youngster, Chris Kreider. It was Kreider’s power play goal that ignited a 5-1 win and sent the series back to New York.  With his father and sister in attendance, St. Louis scored 3:34 into the first period of Game 6 to give the Rangers the lead for good. An already raucous Garden crowd amped up the volume from there. The Rangers went on to a 3-1 win with Henrik Lundqvist stopping 36 shots.

The finale in Pittsburgh was a fight to the finish. Brad Richards’ power play goal snapped a 1-1 tie in the second period and then it was all Lundqvist. The 2014 Olympic silver medalist stopped a full-out assault in the waning minutes of regulation play and stopped 35 shots overall.

So now, the two teams will lace up the skates and “put on the foil” for a 1 p.m. Saturday face-off. The Rangers need to put aside their past, which in this case is an incredible number of losses (65-200-40-3) in Montreal, be it the old Montreal Forum or the Belle Centre. The Canadiens need to continue to play with a chip on their shoulder. Defenseman P.K. Subban has been chief among the Canadien players in saying the team hasn’t been shown any respect. Who he is referring to specifically is anyone’s guess.

Keys to the Series

The Goalies – Price beat Lundqvist in the Olympic finals this year, and was a major factor in the Canadiens’ defeat of the Bruins. Price doesn’t get the publicity that New York media darling Lundqvist does, but he’s a star goaltender.

Lundqvist was red hot for the final three games of the Penguins series and needs to remain that way. He was the Vezina Trophy winner two years ago and a finalist last season.

Slump Busters – Rick Nash was booed by his own fans, especially in the Game 4 fiasco. “Nashty” has 289 career goals, but the soon-to-be 30-year old has failed to light the lamp in 14 playoff games this year. In fact, he only has two career goals and 11 points in 30 post-season games between the Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets. While he has still been a physical presence on the ice, the Rangers need him to put pucks in the back of the net to have a chance to advance.

Briere is not the player he used to be. He has just two goals in 11 playoff games this year and one of those was the aforementioned deflected pass. Two years ago, as a member of the Flyers, Briere had eight goals and 13 points in 11 games. At 36, perhaps his skills have diminished around the net. He’ll have to prove otherwise.

The Defense – Subban has been superb on both ends of the ice. Last season’s Norris Trophy winner, for the best blueliner, put up 53 points in the regular season.  He also leads the Canadiens in postseason scoring this year with 12 points. Subban’s the quarterback of the Habs’ power play and makes an easy transition with the puck from defense to offense. He’s also a physical player (81 penalty minutes this year) and a vocal leader. He’s the one publicly spurring the team on as the under-appreciated underdog.

The Rangers’ best two-way defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, looked horrible for the first four games of the Penguins’ series. Perhaps he was still hurting from a late-season shoulder injury. Whatever the case, the “old” McDonagh seemed to be back for the final three games of the series. By his own admission, he’s played a more defensive role this postseason than he did during the regular season. But the Rangers will need him to pinch into the offensive zone more often to add some scoring punch.

Daniel Girardi, who was awarded a six-year, $33MM contract earlier this year, needs to find his game. He’s been terrible in the defensive zone and it’s cost the Rangers on the scoreboard. He and Marc Stahl are the number one defensive pairing for the Rangers,  but Girardi needs to step up his game for that to truly be the case.

Who emerges victorious?

Despite their lack of success in Montreal – including a Stanley Cup finals loss in 1979 – the Rangers should come out on top in the series, though it will take another seven games. The Rangers’ power play must be as successful as it was at the end of the Penguins series and not as poor as it was at the start. Price is great, but Lundqvist’s play at the moment trumps him.

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Pine tar – if everyone’s using it, what’s the big fuss?

By Jim Monaghan

Note – the following contains material originally published on RedSoxLife.com.

Michael Pineda 4-23-14 pine tar

Photo courtesy of NBCsports.com

In the 2nd inning of the Yankees-Red Sox game on April 23rd, Boston manager John Farrell called time and approached the home plate umpire. After a few words, Gerry Davis approached the mound where Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda was waiting. After checking Pineda’s throwing hand and glove, he asked the right hander to turn around. It was then that Davis noticed something on Pineda’s neck. After touching it with his hand, Davis announced it was pine tar and threw Pineda out of the game.

“I could see it from the dugout,” Farrell said after the game. “It was confirmed by a number of camera angles in the ballpark. And given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was a necessity to say something.”

Michael  Pineda 4-10-14 pine tar

Photo courtesy of WEEI.com

Farrell’s reference was to a game between the two teams on April 10 when Pineda was noticed to have a substance that appeared to be wet on his throwing hand, something that was caught on camera by both the Yankees and Red Sox television crews. That substance disappeared an inning later before the Red Sox could bring it to an umpire’s attention, and following the game Pineda tried to claim it was dirt.

Farrell said something in his post-game press conference that night that Pineda might want to be more discreet about putting something on his pitching hand, and Major League Baseball was said to have had a conversation with Pineda about the incident.

As the scene was unfolding with Davis & Pineda, Yankee broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman launched into a tirade about how this could eventually backfire on the Red Sox because of their own pitchers’ use of something on the ball, most notably Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. The drama played out on social media and on call-in shows in both New York and Boston over the next few days.

Jon  Lester - resinYou may recall that shortly after Lester’s dominant outing in the Red Sox 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, the allegations started flying – LESTER WAS UP TO SOME FUNNY BUSINESS WITH HIS GLOVE!

Whether prompted by the parent club or not, Cardinals minor leaguer Tyler Melling tweeted out a photo of Lester (the tweet was almost immediately deleted by Melling) that showed what appeared to be some kind of green substance on the thumb of Lester’s glove.

In response to the predicted reaction, Boston manager Farrell said, “If you know Jon Lester, he sweats like a pig and he needs resin. And you know what? He keeps it in his glove. Other guys will keep it on their arm. Other guys will keep it on their pant leg. So that’s my response to the allegations. The one thing that seemed very odd is that it shows up in a lime green color. I don’t know how that can happen.”

In looking at various video clips and gifs that were subsequently posted on the Internet, it was obvious that Lester was indeed going to his glove for something. For his part, Lester acknowledged that the green substance looked “like a giant booger” while maintaining that all he’s ever used is resin.  Before each game, one of the umpires places a resin bag on the mound for pitchers to use.  Why Lester felt he had to put the same substance in his glove is probably up for discussion.

The fact is, use of a substance such as pine tar or resin by pitchers is commonplace, especially in colder weather. And while it’s technically illegal for players to use pine tar for anything other than helping with gripping a bat, it’s usage by pitchers is also well-known throughout the game leading some to believe that there is almost tacit approval of the practice. One former MLB pitcher told me, “I usually used pine tar. Using something in the cold weather really helps with the grip.”

I also spoke with a former MLB catcher who added, “When it’s cold out, 99% of pitchers use something for a grip. Always have…always will.”

One former minor league pitcher learned about using some kind of sticky substance from a former MLB pitcher. “I used pine tar most of the time (I was pitching), hot or cold weather. Better grip creates better rotation, thus better movement.” And another former minor league pitcher added that he would use pine tar, leaving it mostly on the end of the lace off the pinkie finger of his glove. “It gave me a better grip in the cold, and (when it wasn’t cold) I felt I got a better bite on my sinker.”

Opinions on whether a little pine tar on a pitcher’s fingers adds movement to a pitch vary. Speaking on the subject a few nights ago on the MLB Network, former Braves elite pitcher John Smoltz said he didn’t feel that it did anything to help the baseball move in a way it’s not supposed to.  And know that umpires are well aware of the ball moving in an unnatural way.  Remember, they see pretty much exactly what the hitter sees.

Pitchers aren’t the only ones with a little extra in their gloves, either. A former minor league infielder once told me he used pine tar in his glove to help the ball stay in, as well as to help stiffen the glove (he liked to have a nice wide pocket). And former Red Sox utility player Lou Merloni, now a co-host on WEEI’s Mut & Merloni midday show, has repeatedly said on the air that he used pine tar on occasion for a better grip when throwing the ball; he also said that he knew of some catchers who had a little something extra in their mitts for the same reason.

As for how hitters feel about it, most of the former professional hitters I’ve spoken with said they accept it as a part of the game. Their sentiments were echoed by Farrell who added this in his post-game comments following Game One of the 2013 World Series – “I know talking to our own hitters, they want to be sure that a pitcher has got a complete grip of the baseball. Last night and in this series, there are pitchers on both sides that are going to be mid to upper 90s‑type velocity. If a hitter in the batter box has a little more comfort knowing the pitcher has a good grip, then maybe they’re a little more at ease as well.”

So it would appear that Michael Pineda broke one of baseball’s many unwritten rules – use it, but for crying out loud be a little discreet, wouldya? The common hiding places are well-known – a piece of lace hanging from the pinky finger of a glove, under the bill of a player’s cap, inside the belt…the list goes on and on. Just don’t leave a 4-inch schmear of it on your neck.

Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sundays from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.” He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.