‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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For three seasons, Dan Carcillo proudly wore the orange and black sweater of the Philadelphia Flyers. Nicknamed “The Car Bomb,” Carcillo became a cult hero among the Philly faithful during his colorful stint in The City of Brotherly Love.
As a natural agitator, an intimidator and a bruiser, Carcillo fit right into the fabric of the Flyers. His devilish grin, sans two front teeth, was reminiscent of Philly legend Bobby Clarke. Fans draped themselves in T-shirts bearing Carcillo’s malevolent mug and “Fear The ‘Stache” motto.
Now, wearing the “Original Six” uniform of the Rangers, Carcillo has thrust himself into position as public enemy No. 1 inside the walls of Wells Fargo Center and throughout the city he once called home.
In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Carcillo played just under nine minutes in his Rangers playoff debut. And boy, what an effective 8:57 Carcillo gave the visiting Blueshirts on Tuesday night. His spirited impact helped the Rangers complete a 4-1 win, allowing New York to take a 2-1 series advantage over their bitter Metropolitan Division rivals.
The Rangers did not dominate possession as planned. Carcillo added a needed swagger and a zealous energy to the Rangers’ lineup, having replaced inexperienced winger Jesper Fast. Head coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to throw Carcillo into the raucous Wells Fargo Center atmosphere proved to be a wise one as the disruptive winger made a considerable impact.
“I knew putting him in the lineup, he would bring energy,” Vigneault told reporters. “He got the fourth goal, which gave us the three-goal lead. (We) took it home from there.”
Carcillo’s third period goal increased the Rangers’ lead to 4-1, putting any hopes of a Flyers comeback out of reach. After serving a highly questionable hooking call, Carcillo jumped out of the penalty box with fire in his eyes. Brian Boyle lifted a lead pass in Carcillo’s direction, and Carcillo charged toward the net and shoveled the puck past Ray Emery.
After scoring, an energized Carcillo slammed his stick against the glass in the direction of a group of Flyers fans and raised his arms to rub it in on the fans who once cheered his name. As he starred down front row fans, his celebration triggered a “double-bird salute” from one fan dressed in a Claude Giroux jersey.
He then skated past the Flyers’ bench, offering a few choice words. Who could blame him? Carcillo had previously been on the receiving end of a shoulder-to-chin hit from Philadelphia winger Matt Read that didn’t result in a penalty. Carcillo was face down, motionless on the ice for a significant period before rising to his feet as Flyers fans directed vociferous boos at a player who once gave heart and soul for the Flyers’ cause.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF CARCILLO’S EXPERIENCE AND APPROACH
Carcillo finished Game 3 with a plus-two rating, recording two shots on goal and launching his body to deliver two hits to men dressed in orange and black.
The 29-year-old’s wealth of playoff experience shouldn’t be overlooked. Carcillo has seen his share of playoff battles over the years — 33 of which came in a Flyers uniform — and he played a four-game bit role in the Chicago Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup title last season.
In his younger years, Carcillo behaved like an unchained animal on the ice. He’s somewhat of a reformed character these days compared to the wildness he exhibited during his youth in Phoenix and Philadelphia. The more matured Carcillo has modified his approach.
“I think that just comes with experience,” he said ahead of Game 3. “Knowing where to draw the line and not stepping over it, especially in a series where a penalty could be the difference. With years of experience, I think you’re able to control your emotions more and feel the game out.”
When Carcillo first arrived in New York in January, a majority of Rangers fans did not welcome him with open arms. Many die-hard Blueshirts fans associated Carcillo’s name as the ex-Flyer, goon-for-hire who baited former Ranger Marian Gaborik into a fight when the rival teams met in January 2010.
If there was any remaining doubt over his popularity in New York, Carcillo fully won over Rangers fans with his Game 3 performance. Now he’s their villain instead of the villain.
CARCILLO: ‘I DON’T HAVE MANY FRIENDS OVER THERE’
Just days before traveling to Philadelphia, Carcillo shared his thoughts on facing his former team under the playoff spotlight.
“The Flyers’ hockey mentality has always been the same,” Carcillo said. “It’s big, rough and in-your-face hockey. I think we just have to play our game — fast, smart with the puck, get traffic in front of the net, move it around in the o-zone. I think we’ll be alright as long as we don’t get caught up in what they want to try to do.”
Carcillo pointed out that there’s been a lot of turnover in the Flyers’ locker room. Many of his former teammates have moved on to other NHL cities.
“Other than one or two guys, I don’t have many friends over there,” Carcillo said.
NASH-STEPAN-ST. LOUIS LINE IS CLICKING
It’s difficult to make sense of why some Rangers fans have continued to search for reasons to criticize star forwards Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis.
Three games into this series, Nash has recorded 18 shots on goal and has registered an assist in each game of the series. He’s doing exactly what’s expected of him by generating consistent offense. In Game 3, Nash notched two assists, unleashed a team-high five shots, blocked three shots and was a plus-two.
Factoring in both the regular season and playoffs, St. Louis has extended his points streak to five games in Tuesday’s victory. His first-period tipped-in effort proved to be the game-winner. St. Louis has recorded two goals and three assists in three series games for five points.
Together, the Nash-Stepan-St. Louis line is leading the way for the Rangers. Each player has recorded at least one point in each game this series. There’s plenty of natural chemistry going on, which is a really positive sign if you happen to be a Rangers fan.
ST. LOUIS IS FULLY ACCLIMATED, WILL CONTINUE TO BE WORLD-CLASS
All the criticism St. Louis received for his initial 14-game goal drought as a Ranger was both unwarranted and premature. Nearly every Ranger went through an adjustment period to acclimate themselves to Vigneault’s system. Despite St. Louis’ experience of playing different systems, he deserved time to settle and Vigneault mixed and matched St. Louis with different linemates until St. Louis finally found a comfortable fit with Stepan and Nash.
For over a decade, St. Louis has consistently been one of the league’s foremost illuminating icons. While St. Louis is at an advanced hockey age of 38, he has not slowed down in the slightest. He has not lost any of his shifty athleticism, and his crafty ability to make plays is only rivaled by a select few in this league. Those first 14 games as a Ranger was a small bump in the road for a player whose unmatched work ethic and unquestioned world-class ability projects him to continue playing at an elite level beyond the age of 40.
When former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan failed to agree an extension ahead of the March 5 trade deadline, general manager Glen Sather’s hands were tied. He had no choice but to find the best possible deal and trade away a fan favorite in Callahan. Conveniently, a disgruntled St. Louis had only one destination in mind — New York.
St. Louis’ stance forced Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman to swallow hard and accept that he would not receive ideal value for St. Louis. All Yzerman received for the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner was a possible rent-a-player in Callahan, a 2014 second-round pick and a 2015 first-round pick that will likely be close to the second-rounder given the Rangers’ probability of a high finish in 2014-15.
Sather must be grinning from ear to ear when he leans back and lights one of his trademark cigars.
HAS CALLAHAN PLAYED HIS LAST GAME FOR THE LIGHTNING?
Callahan’s offseason has started earlier than expected after the Montreal Canadiens completed a four-game sweep over the Lightning on Tuesday. Callahan did not register a point during the series and finished the playoffs as a minus-two.
This begs the intriguing question of where Callahan will sign a long-term deal. Yzerman has publicly expressed his desire to re-sign Callahan, but Callahan is understood to require a minimum six-year contract near $6.5 million in average annual value complete with a no-trade clause.
There is an incentive for Yzerman to appease Lightning fans. Re-signing Callahan would prove that he didn’t give away St. Louis for a rental player and two draft picks that aren’t guaranteed to work out. Playoffs aside, Callahan was productive for the Lightning as he tallied six goals, notched five assists and scored three power play goals in 20 regular season games since arriving in Tampa.
In all likelihood, Callahan will test the market as an unrestricted free agent. Negotiations with the Rangers proved that he’s after top-dollar. Tampa Bay remains a good spot for Callahan given the Lightning’s emerging young core — but Callahan did not offer the Rangers a discount. Same goes for the Lightning.
Wherever Callahan ends up, he will receive the financial jackpot he desires. Had Callahan scaled back him demands and signed a long-term extension with the Rangers, he would have pledged his future to an organization that will remain competitive for years to come. Testing free agency is a great unknown. Callahan’s long-time friend Dan Girardi wisely accepted a fair value, six-year extension from the Rangers.
St. Louis has benefited from Callahan pushing himself out of New York. At least for this playoffs and the next, St. Louis will remain part of a winner as his current contract with the Rangers runs through the 2014-15 season. As for Callahan’s competitive future — who knows?
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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