New York Rangers, Mats Zuccarello
Photo by Bergen Record

New York Rangers fans around the city and nation are wondering why the hit on Dan Boyle wasn’t penalized. There’s an easy answer to that.

By Robby Sabo

For the better part of the last century, the NHL has been playing hockey in North America. Furthermore, for all of those seasons, the NHL has showcased their Stanley Cup Playoffs – a tournament that decides the champions of the league.

It is also a tournament that provides a very different brand of hockey than we witness during the regular season.

For as long as all hockey fans have been in existence. is as long as the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been physical. It’s no secret what happens. The officials choke on the whistle, and the once free-flowing game that you’d see from teams during the regular campaign suddenly becomes an all out brawl.1rangers2

Look no further than Game 7 of the first-round matchup between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals.

For anybody that peaked in on that game, the fear that one of these players would be laid out on a stretcher was a very real one. From the one-minute mark into play it became apparent that much would be allowed. Players on both teams routinely ran down guys from behind into the boards; interfered with players in open ice; and took shots up high.

It was beyond ridiculous how out of control the game was.

The Capitals, recognized this. Not only did they recognize this – and start playing even dirtier than they normally do – they realized it played right into their hands. This type of game suits them perfectly.

It’s a notion that Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers will have to overcome immediately if they’d like to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

As we all know, the Rangers lost Game 1 to the Caps in gut-wrenching fashion. Thanks to a Nicklas Backstrom hit on Dan Boyle from behind, Alex Ovechkin took a puck along the boards and set up Joel Ward for a shocking victory with just over a tick to go on the clock.

Vigneault, Rangers players, and Rangers fans alike all screamed “penalty” since, when referencing the Backstrom hit. Boyle went down on the play and has since told the media he was “dazed and confused” after the body check from behind.

While it can be argued that the hit is, in fact, a penalty, what can’t be argued is the feeling that, in Stanley Cup tournament play, this call will never be made. Boyle was so close to the boards that boarding would never be called.

The NHL has already made their statement to the entire league that “old fashioned” playoff hockey is back. No longer do the same rules apply post-2004 lockout when they decided to cut down on infractions and increase scoring. We have reverted to dirty, postseason play, and the Rangers need to recognize this, instead of complaining.

While Vigneault is an excellent coach, he falls into the category of “great regular season system” that cannot succeed in the playoffs. The reason is obvious. Because the game changes so drastically and suddenly in the playoffs, the free-flowing style he preaches is tough to execute in the Spring. Look at the evidence.

Last season, while the Rangers made a historic run, every game was a crazy, fight it out affair. So far through six-games in these playoffs, New York has only scored more than two-goals in one game.

Suddenly, they can’t score. The answer on why is simple: the other team benefits from the physical postseason style that is allowed.

This was the main reason many Rangers fans welcomed the idea of the Islanders in the second-round of the playoffs. While the fourth-line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck could be the best in the league, the Caps are by far the more physical and bigger squad.

Furthermore, how captain Ryan McDonagh didn’t wrap up Ovechkin during the waning seconds of Game 1 (instead of half-walking it), or how J.T. Miller didn’t get in front of the net to check Ward, should be the focus heading into Game 2. Actually, it needs to be the focus, instead of the non-call on Backstrom.

What Backstrom did was smart in that situation.

The other question that needs to be asked is why the 38-year old (shell of his former self) was even in the game to close out regulation. With guys like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein, how is it even possible Boyle is in the rotation at that particular time?

The other question that needs to be asked is why the 38-year old (shell of his former self) was even in the game to close out regulation.

It it’s clear to every hockey fan around the country that Boyle is the Rangers lone liability. How has Vigneault not recognized this himself? How it is possible that a good player in Matt Hunwick is sitting out in favor of this guy? How in the world has Boyle himself not gone to the team to ask that he be taken out of the lineup?

These are the playoffs, and there can be no room for error. Boyle needs to be a team player and take a seat for now. You cannot fall down and be that weak there. Make a play up the boards. If you’re going to sit on it, then you cannot go down like that.

Ovechkin was on the ice for both Caps goals on Thursday night. Boyle was on the ice for those two goals as well.

Instead of blaming the refs, become more aware of your surroundings. Do what you started to do last season once you fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5. Start realizing what you can, and can’t get away with in these particular playoffs.

Without Mats Zuccarello (who is as aware in this category as anybody) in the lineup, somebody needs to take the lead and start showing the example of what you can get away with in playoff hockey.

The only question is, who is that player going to be?

That’s when these Rangers can get back to being a truly dominant postseason team. Once they start combining their speed and skill with smart, dirty play that is allowable in the NHL Playoffs.

As Rangers fans know, back from the glory days of 1994, its takes this level of play to be truly special. Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Adam Graves, Joey Kocur, and many more – these are the guys who realized what they could get away with in playoff hockey.

It’s always a fine line, but one that needs to always be tested.

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, CEO and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor - Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. SEO: XL Media. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (Sold in 2020). SEO: XL Media. Email: robby.sabo[at]