Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

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Rangers Continue to Roll December 31, 2007

Are All Montreal Fans Brain Damaged?

Last night (Sunday, Dec. 30) the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 on a breakaway overtime goal by Brendan Shanahan. The real highlight of the game, however, was the hundreds of Montreal fans who paid two and three times the face value of a ticket and then proceeded to act like idiots in the stands. More on that later.

After taking a 2-1 first period lead on goals by Dan Girardi and Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers played a lackluster second period. It was most likely a letdown following a very emotional 6-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

The league-leading Montreal power play took advantage of the referee’s generosity to score two second period goals and lead 3-2 to start the third period. Montreal scored on three of their four power play opportunities but were a marginal offensive team at even strength. One of Montreal’s goals came after a hit on Dan Girardi that should have been called boarding but was not.

After early success against the highly-touted Canadien defense, the Rangers reverted back to their “excessive passing” game and stopped skating. While the Canadien defense looked like traffic cones on the ice, the Rangers seemed to have lost their offensive drive.

When the referee signaled a goal on a shot by Fedor Tyutin with 7:10 left, the video replay clearly showed that the puck was never in the net and had deflected off the crossbar and post. This seemed to wake up the Rangers and their fans, and Madison Square Garden erupted when Chris Drury banged in a rebound at 14:09 of the third to even the score 3-3. Sean Avery had tied up a Montreal traffic cone in front of the net and screened goalie Cristobal Huet.

About one minute into the overtime period, with three Canadiens steaming into Rangers’ zone, Dan Girardi deflected a Montreal pass to Chris Drury along the boards. Drury laid the puck out nicely to a speedy Shanahan who snapped the puck by Huet before the Montreal goalie could even react to the shot.

It was an exciting win for the Rangers and their third in a row approaching the half-way point in the season. Despite a dismal start, the Rangers find themselves in second place in the Patrick Division and fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Jaromir Jagr has effectively changed his game to play with Scott Gomez, and even the most casual hockey observer has to be impressed with the talent and dedication of the Ranger captain.

Normally, most of my post-game observations would include my usual irreverent commentary about referees. As bad as they were, excluding the video reversal of phantom Ranger goal (they were right to reverse it), the game was not a shining moment for Kevin Pollock and Rob Martell. Like the night before, when the refs missed the slash by Toronto goon Nikolai Antropov, Dan Girardi was fortunate to escape serious injury on a hit from behind into the boards.

A number of interference penalties by Montreal went uncalled. There were at least two times that Ranger players who were well away from the puck were checked into the boards. While that is reminiscent of “old” hockey, it is a strategy used by teams too slow to keep up with their opposition.

Regardless, in light of the game misconduct call by Dean Warren and Mark Joannette against Colton Orr for his clean check on Matt Cullen (a penalty that was remarkably reversed by the league), an ugly pattern of prejudice by refs against the Rangers is emerging again. Is Colin “Soupy” Campbell up to his old games? Are the Rangers being punished for suing the NHL? Are the refs reacting to the reversal of Orr’s penalty? Stay tuned and watch closely with an objective eye.

It is also a good time to look back at the Ranger fans who were ready to jump off the nearest NYC bridge when the team was a dismal 4-6-1 in 11 games in October for a pathetic 9 points. The Rangers’ discussion forum was full of posts condemning Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Brendan Shanahan was called over the hill and some thought it was time to trade Jaromir Jagr. Why did we trade Matt Cullen and Michael Nylander? And, of course, there were the “Pavlov’s dogs” knee-jerk reactions calling for Tom Renney’s termination.

Again, this type of fanatical, impulsive and irrational reaction brings a dark side to all sports. It is also indicative of a society that loves to affix blame. Ranger fans were sick to death over the start by a team favored to be a Stanley Cup contender. Rather than manage their own lack of emotional control and accept responsibility for a total loss of priorities, their hearts, minds and souls became full of a need for retribution. Blame the players. Blame the coach. Blame the GM. Blame the owner. Blame the league.

The hockey geniuses from the Rangers’ discussion forum are now eating crow (but are still likely upset that the Rangers did not go 82-0). Since October, the Rangers are 16-9-3 in 28 games for 35 points. Somehow, if Ranger fans are any indication, America is losing its grip on reality. That is a another discussion for another time.

But, after last night’s game, my hope is that all the Montreal Canadien fans are not as stupid, obnoxious, ignorant and rude as the ones who attended last night’s game in New York at Madison Square Garden … well, at least the Montreal fans who were sitting at the Seventh Avenue end of MSG.

Only an idiot would presume that all New Yorkers are not bilingual. Yelling out curses and insults in French might seem cute, but some of us understood what was being said. When seven of Canada’s finest hoseheads finally crossed the line by insulting a female fan, several Ranger fans turned to them and spoke very proper French. The only printable comment made to “les ventilateurs du les Habitants” was “Se tais-toi! Fermer votre bouche!” which means, “Shut up! Shut your mouth!”

Not being one to pass up an opportunity to join in the fun, I added, “Votre mere s**ks et votre père mange moose turd pie!” It wasn’t much, but it got a few laughs. I guess you had to be there.

I have often talked with my child prodigy about the need for him to avoid taunting the fans of other teams. “Trash talk” has somehow become an accepted part of sports, and the fans feel the need to participate. It has been my personal experience that trash talk rarely serves any purpose other than to do two bad things. First, it gets the other guy mad. Secondly, it sets the trash talker up for an incredible embarrassment.

When I was playing high school football as a senior, a junior from another team who would go on to receive a scholarship from Notre Dame threw a really good block on me as I blitzed the quarterback. However, he stupidly said something to me that really got me mad. On the next series of downs, as he was lining up in the backfield, he made the mistake of looking at the hole he was headed for. We met in the hole at full speed and, when the lights came back on, he was on his back moaning and I was on top of him. He sat out the second half and we won the game.

I also learned the lesson the hard way. I once swore that I would kill myself if the New York Islanders ever won the Stanley Cup. From 1980 to 1983, every May and June resulted in the delivery of packages full of various poisons and even a visit from Dr. Kevorkian. My child prodigy is still learning the lesson as he is reeling from another Red Sox World Series and the Patriots undefeated season.

Many of the Montreal fans at MSG on Sunday night obviously have not learned the lesson. Some portly dude stuffed into an Alex Kovalev t-shirt that was at least three sizes too small decided it would be fun to taunt the Ranger fans. Other vegetables decided that it would be quite courteous to stand up during play to wave signs and banners, blocking the view of the spectators sitting behind them.

The self-control exhibited by Ranger fans in attendance was actually impressive. I’ve seen fans from the Islanders, Sabres, Devils and Flyers do the same stuff in MSG, only to be sprayed with beer and soda or get beaten to a pulp by Ranger fans. The Montreal fans may have been the unwitting recipients of some mitigating factors: there were a number of children at the game because of the school holiday, people were still in the Christmas spirit and the behavior of these Montreal fans was truly pathetic (evoking deep pathos).

But, once again, there was a payback. Every one of those Montreal fans had to watch Chris Drury tie the game, and then watch the celebration as Shanahan won it. And they certainly got a full payback of trash talk as they exited the Garden. Some of it was embarrassing, but (as mama told me) you get what you give. So, after paying a fortune for tickets and making the long drive from Montreal to New York and back, les ventilateurs du les Habitants are left with nothing.

Can you possibly deny that there is a God? Happy New Year to all, especially all the Montreal fans who had to slink back home along the Northway late last night. Thanks for the amusement.


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