The Rangers Game Log

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bring the Troops Home Now

- I’m just about recovered from the shock of reading the words “Jaromir Jagr was assisted off the ice..” the other day. The season flashed before all of our eyes, and with the competition sure to become even more intense as the tournament moves into the medal round, I don’t know if I can even bear to watch. Time to bring the boys home.

The nasty attack highlights perhaps the biggest challenge the Rangers will face as they move towards the playoffs – trying to protect their top player, whose number 68 seems to have become a more and more inviting target over the last few weeks. By gamely suiting up the next day in a game his team certainly could have won without him, Jagr may have sent a message that he won’t be easily cowed. But the Rangers need to send a message that they will not tolerate attacks on their most talented players; perhaps they can start by running Finnish goalie Antero Niittymaki if he starts in Philly on March 2.

OK, I’m kind of kidding about that, but the issue is a serious one; Ranger fans merely have to think back to the physical beating that the Blueshirts took the last time they were in the playoffs, a mere nine year ago. In the opening round, Kirk Muller slew-footed the pesky Bill Berg, breaking his leg. In the second round, John McLean broke the arm of Niklas Sundstrom with a senseless slash. Sundstrom had had his best season to this day with 24 goals, 28 assists and a plus-23, and had been one of the team’s best players in the playoffs to that point. In the semis, the Flyers targeted Brian Leetch from the opening faceoff of the series, and it took only to Game 2 until Trent Klatt wrecked his wrist with a hard check into the boards. Leetch gave it a try in Games 4 and 5, but couldn’t shoot the puck and the series was effectively over at that point. He won the Norris Trophy that season and finished with a plus/minus of +36. The injury bothered Leetch well into the next season, and I would argue that he’s never been as good as he was before; he hasn’t been close to being a plus player since that year. For good measure, Klatt nailed his brother-in-law Ken Gernander in Game 3 with one of the most vicious and mean-spirited checks I’ve ever seen; Gernander’s major league career was effectively ruined.

A willingness to strike back at the other team’s top players would make teams think twice about taking liberties and help keep Jagr safe. So would a quick end to the Czech team’s run in the Olympics.


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