The Montreal Canadiens have taken a two game to one series lead over the New York Rangers after Sunday’s 3-1 victory. The series was tied at one game apiece, and with the Rangers heading back home for game three, things were looking positive. It was time to get back on home ice at Madison Square Garden and put a show on for the Blueshirt faithful. However, that theory turned irrelevant as the Rangers lost the game, and all momentum they had, if any.
New York Rangers Game Four Effort Must Be Better
Friday’s game two match-up was a battle. The Rangers were 17.3 seconds away from a 2-0 series lead. However, Montreal notched a game-tying goal and the Bell Centre erupted. In overtime, the Habs were firing on all cylinders, keeping the pressure on Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers defense, until finally with about three minutes to go, Alexander Radulov scored the game winner. That is when the tides turned, and Montreal gained momentum. Sunday’s game was supposed to be a dogfight, and it was…for the first period of play. Artturi Lehkonen‘s power-play goal in the dying minutes of the second changed all that. From that point forward, the game was all Montreal- literally. Aside from Brady Skjei‘s goal in the final minutes of the game with the net empty, the Rangers were nowhere to be found.
The first problem that needs to be fixed is the Rangers’ sense of urgency. They are battling the top Atlantic Division team in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course its going to be rough. Montreal has a great team. They are fast, have an excellent goaltender, and play physical. The Rangers also have all of those attributes as well. But, after game three, things are looking sour for the Blueshirts. Going into the third period of Sunday’s game, something was off. Well, actually a few things were.
The first notable thing was how quiet Madison Square Garden got. The playoff atmosphere disappeared. Why? There was hardly anything to cheer about, the fans are not to blame here. The Rangers were stagnant and had no desire it seemed to keep fighting. There was no offensive presence, and the defense was lackadaisical. Simply put, the Rangers need to wake up and fast. Game four is Tuesday night, and can be labeled a must win for the Rangers. If they fall to Montreal again, and with the series heading back to the Bell Centre, their playoff hopes are in jeopardy.
Discipline, turnovers, and a ghostly offense all contributed to the Rangers loss. There were three penalties called against New York, one of which was a double-minor called against Mats Zuccarello, the most penalized player this series. The first call was a delay of game, faceoff violation on J.T. Miller, when he swiped the puck with his hand. A silly penalty at best, but that is what led to the Habs first goal. In total, Montreal went two-for-three on the power-play while the Rangers went zero-for-three, making their series total a hideous zero-for-ten. The Blueshirts power-play was a standstill, often struggling to get things going, diving after pucks trying to keep them in the zone. The blueline presence was not there and it made the Rangers suffer.
The turnover stat can be considered the most significant of the game. The Rangers committed 21 turnovers to Montreal’s eight. It is a known fact that to win a hockey game, a team must limit their giveaways as much as possible. It is also known that giveaways always happen, but 21? That number is steep. Kevin Klein, who was scratched the first two games of the series, debuted last night and in his first two shifts, had a icing call and two turnovers. It comes down to the little details in games like these, and in New York’s case, the execution was not there. “I think every little detail matters in this game,” Henrik Lundqvist, who has by far been the Rangers best player told the New York Daily News. “Every play. We did it really well in the first game and I think we need to come back to that. We work hard at times. But we talked about going into this game that they are a good team. We are going to need our best from everyone and from myself. That’s the only way for us to win the next game. We need our best from 20 guys.”
And that leads us now to the Rangers offense, which was missing in game three. The Rangers need their top forwards to contribute now more than ever. Talking about Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Derek Stepan. Those players are veterans of the game and were go to guys this season when it came to finding offensive sparks. The Rangers offense this season was remarkable, averaging four, almost five goals a game in the early months of the season. But, around January, that changed. Offensive production decreased and it was scary to think that it might be that way in the playoffs as well. And here it is, the problem has resurfaced.
The best Rangers line has been the fourth one, made up of Tanner Glass, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. That line has been fast, physical, and looking for chances, whereas the first three have been quite disappointing. Mika Zibanejad and Michael Grabner saw limited time in the third period. And it was noted that head coach Alain Vigneault was upset with Zibanejad’s play. The Rangers offense as a whole got 21 shots on net, six in both the first two periods, and then nine in the final frame. The problem is that New York is struggling to get the puck into the zone, slow things down and cycle it, looking for openings. Granted Montreal’s defense has been stellar so far this series, Shea Weber, Jordie Benn, and Jeff Petry are to thank there. But that is no excuse; the Rangers have faced tough teams before and found a way to score. They must do that again and find their game before it is too late. It is gut-check time.
“First of all, you’ve got to make the passes,” Rick Nash said in an interview with CBS New York. “There’s too many passes in guys’ skates and on their backhand when they want it on their forehand. The execution just wasn’t there. Next, you need to get a shot through. I think everything starts off a shot. If you keep it going to the outside, you’re not going to have any success.”
Sunday’s loss marked the Rangers sixth consecutive home playoff loss, dating back several years ago to the Conference Finals. A stat to think about- the last Rangers player to score a five-on-five goal at Madison Square Garden in the post-season was Dominic Moore in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014 against the Canadiens. Yikes.
Hope is not lost for the Rangers, there is still time to get back on track, not much, but it is there. Game four is huge for New York, expect the team to be ready to go on Tuesday. Coach Vigneault knows his team needs to be better, and surely the Rangers do too. The Rangers have practice Monday and will be working hard, that’s for sure. This is nothing new to New York, but they need to get it together and wake up before another embarrassing consecutive first round exit.