Towards the end of the regular season, it was evident that the Rangers were struggling to win at home. A win against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 2nd ended a 41 day drought at Madison Square Garden. That is why not many people minded having to start the postseason on the road. In recent years, the Rangers have been pitiful on home ice in the playoffs. From Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, to Game Three of this series, the Rangers scored three goals on home ice and had given up twenty. For a team that wants to win the Stanley Cup, this cannot happen.
On Easter Sunday, the Rangers were on home ice for the first time of this postseason. It was a dreadful performance, and that is being polite. The Rangers just flat out did not show up for the game. The final score was 3-1, but could have easily been 10-1 if Henrik Lundqvist was not bailing them out nonstop. A key to success for the Rangers to regain the lead of the series was to provide Lundqvist with more help. That clearly did not happen at all in Game Three.
Lundqvist was on his own from the opening puck drop. Alain Vigneault seemed to not tweak or change anything strategically between the two losses and that was frustrating. The Rangers continued the “dump and chase” strategy that has not been productive so far. A majority of the time after the puck is dumped, Montreal is the team to come away with possession.
At certain points it was as if you could hear a pin drop in the Garden. The building became totally lifeless towards the end of the game. Now, this is not a knock on the fans in attendance because realistically, can you blame them? These people spent hundreds of dollars (Good old MSG ticket prices) to come to a very meaningful game in which their team just did not show up. There is only so much you can cheer and try to rally in these situations.
Thankfully, Game Four was worlds different from Game Three. The Rangers played a complete sixty minutes of hockey. The crowd was behind them from the beginning and they gave them plenty of reasons to stay there. The Rangers controlled the pace of the game and did not let up. It was not a flashy game with a bunch of goals scored, but they played a tough, physical game from start to finish and grinded out a win. The final score was 2-1, with the goals coming from Jesper Fast and Rick Nash. On the Habs only goal of the night, a two-on-one quickly turned into a two-on-none, when Nick Holden attempted to take away the passing lane, but failed miserably. He basically just flailed down on the ice and played dead while the Habs wound up with an empty net tap in.
Ranger’s fans, as well as the rest of NHL fans, always tend to rag on Rick Nash.
“He is only good during the regular season”
“He never shows up during the playoffs”
The list of negativity goes on and on. Nash is doing a pretty great job of proving all of these people wrong. Nash is one of the few Rangers who have consistently shown up this entire series so far. This includes him scoring the game winning goal in Game Four. Nash should not be taking the blame here when it is pretty evident that some other forwards have been nonexistent. Fans would like to see plenty more production from players like Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. The entire fourth line has scored at some point in this series (Excluding Buchnevich who has only played in one game), yet some of the Ranger star forwards cannot even record a single point.
With the series knotted up at 2-2, it turns into a best of three matchup and it starts on the road in Montreal. Rangers fans should not be overly intimidated about heading back out onto the road. The Rangers arguably outplayed the Canadiens through both games in Montreal, even though they went 1-1. We will see what Alain Vigneault decides to do with the lineup for Game Five.
Heading into Game Four, Vigneault decided to sit Tanner Glass in favor of the rookie Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich looked comfortable out there while recording three shots on goal in 12:23 of ice time in his first career playoff game. It will be interesting to see if AV sticks with what worked in Game Four or switches back to Tanner Glass for the upcoming game. Buchnevich’s speed and skill set can certainly be beneficial when trying to break down the tough defense of the Canadiens.
The Rangers need to keep Game Four’s performance going into Game Five in order to be successful. Game Four is set for Thursday night at the Bell Centre. It is crucial for the Rangers to show up ready to play because the Montreal fans are going to be pumped and have the arena rocking. If the Rangers get off to a slow start and fall behind in that building, it might be too difficult to overcome.
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