Monday, April 27, 2009

Donald Brashear suspended for 6 games for Game 6 incidents

The National Hockey League sent a clear message to Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear. Don't mess with opposing players during pregame warmups and don't deliver cheap shots to their heads during games.

Earlier this afternoon, the league announced Brashear has been suspended for six games after initating contact with New York Rangers forward Colton Orr prior to Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series at Madison Square Garden. During the game, he leveled Blair Betts with a shoulder to the head nearly halfway through the first period of Washington's 5-3 victory.

"Brashear delivered a shoulder hit to an unsuspecting player," NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said. "It is also my opinion that the hit was delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury."

Brashear will be ineligible to play in tomorrow night's Game 7 at the Verizon Center in Washington. This first game will be punishment for his prohibited contact with Orr during pregame warmups. Should the Capitals lose to the Rangers in Game 7, Brashear will serve the first five 2009-2010 regular season games for his head-hunting blow to Betts' head. If Washington advances to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Brashear will sit out at least four games and then one additional game should their next series go to a Game 5.

Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau has not announced who would replace Brashear in their lineup for Game 7 and possibly beyond. Chris Clark and Michael Nylander are the most likely candidates.

Should there even be a goalie controversy in New York?

When I saw this poll question posted on a New York Rangers message board yesterday, it was a stunner. I never thought to this day that such an idea would be discussed.

This 14-year-old kid from Rochester, New York (who is a Buffalo Sabres fan, I may add) was the one who brought the topic up for discussion. It is understandable that this poll question was raised and it is fine that it was. It gets people talking. But in all truthfulness here, there isn't any goalie controversy in New York City.

The Rangers are in a major dogfight to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and can only get there if they defeat the Washington Capitals tomorrow night at the Verizon Center in Game 7 of their first round series. Their team play has basically followed the trend of their regular season as one of the most consistently inconsistent teams in the entire league. That said, Rangers fans are frustrated with their team's play a lot more often than not.

In the aftermath of the Rangers having lost the last two playoff games of the series to the Capitals, backup goaltender Stephen Valiquette has played the last two third periods in place of Henrik Lundqvist who had looked at best as average. Valiquette held the fort together and has not allowed a goal in 9 shots he's faced. I know, not even a double figure shot total, but still, he did his job in a mop-up role.

Against Washington, the Rangers all but stole the first two games of the series on the road where the Verizon Center has been a house of horrors in recent memory in terms of them simply winning there. New York withstood a Washington rally in Game 1 on April 15th in which they had 3-1 lead, blown it, but still won 4-3 on the heroics of Brandon Dubinsky's game-winning goal in the third period. Lundqvist was excellent in net, but not as spectacular as he was in Game 2 on April 18th before a national audience on NBC. He would make 35 saves in his first career playoff shutout, a 1-0 victory. At the time, the Rangers had a 2-0 series lead and plenty of optimism as they headed home.

But New York would then lay an egg in Game 3 last Monday night at Madison Square Garden with a 4-0 loss. Twenty-year-old Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov turned the tables on the Rangers with his own first career playoff shutout with a 33-save effort. He has been in the Washington net since Game 1 after Jose Theodore was not his best.

Varlamov was good enough to have kept his starting job in this series where he had a shutout streak of 126:11 before Paul Mara and Chris Drury's offensive output would just be enough for a 2-1 Game 4 win. Lundqvist appeared to be back on track with one of the most impressive outings of his four-year National Hockey League career with 38 saves on 39 shots, including some brilliant stops in the process.

Along came Game 5 and from the onset, the Rangers looked unprepared, undisciplined and downright abysmal in a number of areas to their game. No offense, no consistent offensive threat and special teams were atrocious. As soon as Matt Bradley scored a shorthanded goal nearly five minutes into the game and later added another goal in which Lundqvist played it very poorly where Washington grabbed a 2-0 lead, many observers knew this wasn't New York's night. It was proven right in another 4-0 loss in which Lundqvist was pulled and Valiquette finished up.

Yesterday, the Rangers lost for the second time in three home games of this series as Lundqvist was again overwhelmed and off his game in a 5-3 loss in Game 6 where he allowed 5 goals on 20 shots before Valiquette once again played a flawless third period.

So do the Rangers throw in Valiquette for Game 7 as Washington did following Game 1?

Why would head coach John Tortorella bench Lundqvist for the most important game of the entire season when he is your MVP that got you into the playoffs to begin with? If it wasn't for Lundqvist, the Rangers would've already been playing golf by now.

I know, Lundqvist was pulled at the second intermission in each of the last two games and Valiquette did not allow a goal in both third periods. But the game was out of reach in each one, so it is not like Valiquette had to save the day for New York. It only proved that Valiquette is plenty capable of stopping pucks in playoff games.

If Valiquette starts tomorrow night over Lundqvist, not only does it mean the Rangers lost confidence in him, but they put out the white flag in surrendering the series and season to the Capitals. No offense to Valiquette, but Lundqvist is the big money goalie here and needs to be between the pipes if the Rangers stand any chance to move on to the second round.

So to anyone that even suggests there is a goaltender controversy is out of his mind. Time to see Lundqvist step up and prove once again why he is among the elite goaltenders in all of hockey. Win a Game 7 against a superior team like Washington, it'll help erase the bad memories of the last two contests and restore some confidence in the team they still have a shot to come out of the Eastern Conference this postseason.