The Penguins on Sunday capped off what was by far the second-worst Pittsburgh sports weekend of the year with a rapid and stunning collapse against the New York Rangers. Trust us, that won't be the headline on Monday. All anyone from Don Cherry to Larry Brooks will want to discuss is Matt Cooke's elbow to Ryan McDonagh's head, his inevitable suspension, and whether he is a reincarnation of Stalin, Ghengis Khan, or Attila the Hun. The unoriginal pundits - is there any other kind? - will gleefully eviscerate Cooke and retroactively declare Mario Lemieux an even bigger hypocrite than they just told you he was. And they'll be missing the point. Matt Cooke hurt his own team far more than he hurt anybody else today. The Pens were absolutely dominating the Rangers until Cooke took his pointless run at McDonagh, outshooting them 29-14 after two periods, and wearing down a defense corps missing its best player in Marc Staal. Suddenly, Cooke was ejected, and despite a spectacular short-handed goal by Chris Kunitz that gave them a brief 2-1 advantage, the Penguins were in trouble. McDonagh didn't miss a shift. His teammates were inspired. Matt Niskanen chopped Ryan Callahan in the nose with his stick, and in the span of about 30 seconds during the ensuing two-man advantage, the Rangers took a 3-2 lead. Just like that it was over.
Matt Cooke will be suspended. Probably for 8-10 games. As a repeat offender, he deserves it. It's not debatable, and we won't give it another thought. Nor will we be dragged into the mud when people call for Cooke's head - because, let's face it, he's essentially a war criminal - and wish for bad things to happen to the Penguins. Those people all need to just relax and listen to our Bachelor podcast. The thing that will continue to bother us is that Matt Cooke lost us a crucial game. And that's why we want to see him beheaded.
- The Penguins power play has no sense of purpose, and it has no finish. It is purpinishless. Yes, it deserves its own word. We tweeted between the second and third periods that the Pens needed to find a way to run the power play through Alexei Kovalev. They did that for the last man-advantage chance of the game - and generated decent opportunities - but it was too late. The referees may largely swallow their whistles in the playoffs, but that only makes the rare power play chance that much more significant. If the Pens don't find some rhythm, it's one and done. It's an awkward dance they're doing out there right now.
- Finesse points out that with Sid and Geno on the shelf, the Rangers and Penguins are pretty much the same team. If they meet in the playoffs, it could well be a Lundqvist/Fleury duel decided in overtime of Game 7. Ryan Callahan? What a player.
- James Neal is like a bull-rushing defensive end. The man is taking the puck to the net, and he's not apologizing for it. He's going to put his body on you, and there is a strong likelihood that you are going to fall down. And I swear he almost shot a puck through Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder early in the third period. None of this shows up in the box score. But thinking of him on Sidney Crosby's wing makes for a pretty delightful daydream.
- Neal's spectacular pass to spring Jordan Staal on a breakaway will show up in the box score. Kind of a surprisingly handsy move by Staal to tie the game at one. He's still improving. Staal has been a point-a-game guy lately (pretty sure, look it up), which is as it should be.
- I like Kunitz on Staal's line, and with Neal in the fold, we can afford to keep him there. The shorty by Kunitz in the third, tucked far side top corner where the crossbar meets the post, belongs in a museum. In an alternate universe where Matt Cooke doesn't come out of nowhere to elbow somebody no one's ever heard of and Pitt doesn't foul like 800 feet from the basket with virtually no time on the clock in a tie game? That's the game-winner.
- If you know us, you know we don't gloat when we're on top. We may bask, but we never gloat. And we don't pout when we're down. There will be no wallowing. We get Detroit on Monday, with Datsyuk, Franzen, and Hudler all on the shelf. Take it. LGP. GTOG.