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Rangers play the crying game

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wait, wasn't Sidney Crosby supposed to be the chronic complainer?

That's what the New York Rangers went out of their way to imply before this second-round playoff series began.

Look who's whining now.

The Whiners -- sorry, Rangers -- couldn't help themselves Friday after a 5-4 loss in Game 1. They were irate that Crosby had drawn an interference call on Martin Straka with 3:20 left in regulation, leading to the winning goal.

"I think Sidney embellished," winger Brendan Shanahan said.

Straka said Crosby was "diving," and coach Tom Renney implied through a protracted silence that he was disgusted with the call.

The faction of New York media so oddly obsessed with the Crosby-as-flopper angle went wild.

" Crosby's diving works to perfection in Game 1 ," screamed a "Newsday" headline.

Crosby all but shed his bogus reputation as an embellisher last season, but the Rangers came into the series determined to make it an issue.

They succeeded. Problem is, if you give something enough energy -- if you talk about it long enough -- you're liable to bring it to life.

I believe the term is self-fulfilling prophecy.

Crosby didn't dive, but the Rangers believe he did. Their fear was realized.

Coming off the New Jersey series, the Rangers apparently believed they were masters of psychological warfare. They'd gotten into Martin Brodeur's head and obviously were looking to do the same with Crosby.

Before Game 1, Renney let it be known he was going to meet with the NHL's supervisor of officials to "point out a number of things."

He implied Crosby would be a central topic.

After Crosby reacted strongly, Renney said, "If he takes offense to my innuendo, that is his prerogative."

Shanahan, also before Game 1, told the New York Post, "It's unfortunate for us that our best player (Jaromir Jagr) is so strong and so determined to stay on his feet, that a lot of infractions against him go unseen or uncalled."

Insinuation: The Penguins' best player (Crosby) doesn't try to stay on his feet.

How incredible is it that such charges would emerge from a dressing room that houses Sean Avery, whose mug shot belongs in the rule book under the term "unsportsmanlike conduct?"

Anyway, with the score tied 4-4, Marian Hossa had a chance for a breakaway or maybe a 2-on-0 if Crosby could beat Straka to open ice.

Erroneous reports have suggested that referee Kelly Sutherland raised his arm after Scott Gomez made a great play to knock the puck away.

Replays clearly show that Sutherland's arm was up before Gomez touched the puck.

Versus analyst Darren Eliot offered a reasonable take, in an interview Saturday on ESPN Radio. He was asked if he thought Crosby had embellished.

"First of all, I don't see Sidney Crosby as that type of player," Eliot said. "What separates him from everyone else, aside from his skill level, is his determination and will to work in the high-traffic areas.

"Straka was a quarter of a step behind. Crosby was bursting into the open ice. The way I saw it is exactly the way the league wanted things to be called when they were coming out of the lockout. And that is that the guy without the puck cannot be impeded. He has to be allowed to get into the open ice and create offense."

Penguins coach Michel Therrien yesterday ripped Renney for his weak attempts at gamesmanship.

"Enough is enough," Therrien said.

Good for Renney that he seems ready to move on. The Rangers really do have other things to worry about.

Start with their surprisingly shoddy defensive play.

Ryan Malone walked around Shanahan and Fedor Tyutin like a pair of pylons before Hossa's third-period goal. Renney kept the same unit of five on for the center-ice faceoff, only to see Gomez, Shanahan and Avery immediately get caught below the circles in the offensive zone.

The Penguins raced back on a 3-on-2 that ended with a Tyutin tumble and a Petr Sykora goal.

Forget Crosby. If the Rangers don't tighten up defensively, they'll be diving into their backyard swimming pools before you know it.




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