Sometimes the home-ice advantage is not much of an advantage, and sometimes a team is better off getting away from their fans.
Just ask the New York Rangers, who are going to be playing in front of their home fans at least one more time this season. Getting out of Madison Square Garden was exactly what the Rangers needed after spending most of Wednesday night listening to their fans boo them on their way to falling behind the Penguins in the series, 3-1.
When they went on the power play early in Game 5 Friday night, the Rangers didn’t have to worry about 20,000 fans groaning the first time the Penguins knocked the puck out of their zone. The Rangers finally ended their 0-for-36 power-play streak. It’s amazing how the desperation level and the “battle level,” as Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma calls it, changes over the course of a long series.
And when you get to Game 6, you’re in a long series.
The Big D will still be on the Rangers’ bench in MSG and the question is, will that be enough to force Game 7, when the desperation level is the same for both teams?
I was not surprised by what happened Friday night and I have a feeling that we are going to see Game 7 at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins’ history says playing Game 7s at home is anything but an advantage.
• I’m rooting for Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns.
I know that’s heresy around these parts, but I miss the Steelers-Browns rivalry and I always root for quarterbacks like Manziel to succeed. It’s gotten to the point where you’d have to be pretty old to remember when the Browns were the Steelers’ biggest and fiercest rival. If you don’t remember, think of the Baltimore Ravens and add about 30 percent.
Will Manziel end up being worth a No. 1 draft pick? That remains to be seen. The Browns have drafted quarterbacks with a top-five pick five times since coming back into the league in 1999. They passed on Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. Manziel, because of his size and the way he plays, is an iffy prospect. He’s also one of the most exciting players in college football history. If his game doesn’t translate to the NFL, then all football fans lose.
• A kid from Upper St. Clair, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley made the boldest move in Round 1. He traded a first-round pick in 2015 to the Browns to move up from ninth to fourth and take Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Whaley said it’s time to win now after missing the playoffs for 14 years. He made a bold move last year when he took quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round. Whaley started as an intern with the Steelers and you can imagine how hard it is for him to comprehend 14 consecutive years without a playoff game.
There are great football fans in Cleveland and Buffalo. Real football fans who deserve better. The Steelers haven’t been to the playoffs for two years, and if they miss again next year there may be rioting in the streets. What kind of crowds would the Steelers be getting at Heinz Field in 2025 if they went from now through the 2024 season without going to the postseason?
• Wondering why Major League Baseball games take so long to play? In 1972, a team averaged 2.94 relief pitchers a game. In 1992, it was 4.29. Now it’s 5.96. That’s a lot of pitching changes.
• Twenty-six thousand kids will play high school quarterback this fall. Count how many quarterbacks were drafted by NFL teams the last three days.
• I dare you to try to find someone who didn’t like Bill Nunn, the Steelers’ personnel executive who died Wednesday at age 89. Nunn is known among people who know their Steelers history for being the guy who discovered players like L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth and Donnie Shell while they were playing at black colleges in the south in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Nunn, however, also was a great friend and mentor to Roberto Clemente. Nunn is the star of David Maraniss’ book, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.” Nunn took Clemente under his wing and helped him adapt to a new city and a new language. Based on my dealings with Nunn, whose brain I tried to pick at every opportunity, Clemente couldn’t have found a nicer guy to welcome him to Pittsburgh.
• There are reports the Pirates offered their top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco, a multi-year contract worth somewhere between $25 million and $60 million, even though he has not had an at-bat in the major leagues. If he were my son and had a chance to sign for anything close to $60 million in guaranteed money, then I would tell him to take it. And if you think the Pirates are crazy to throw huge amounts of money at a player who has yet to play a game in the big leagues, what is the difference between that and what NFL teams will be doing to the players they just drafted?
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.