At last, a sincere playoff hockey game with no shenanigans to take away from it. What we saw at Scotiabank place tonight in Game 3 between the Rangers and Senators was a hard-fought, respectable postseason contest featuring two teams that did not want to give an inch, starting with the play of their respective goaltenders. This time around, the Rangers were the ones to get the late lucky bounce that they converted on, and that ended up being the difference. The playoffs are all about opportunity, and the Rangers jumped all over theirs to take a 2-1 lead in the series on this night.
In the first period of this game, the Rangers survived the early surge that was expected from the Senators in their first game in front of the home crowd in the playoffs. However, surviving, at least in my mind, was not satisfying enough after what occurred in Game 2 on Saturday. I expected the Blueshirts to come out with a much more urgent effort in the opening stanza, with plenty of offensive pressure and frequent body checks. So there was some disappointment when they only weathered the storm in the first twenty minutes.
The amount of shots the Rangers passed up in that period was frustrating enough, along with the lacking pursuit of the puck in the offensive zone and a very soft forecheck.
The second period saw New York transform into a new beast, though, as they came out with their legs going and applied that same forecheck that gave the Senators problems in Game 1 last week. This brought them a slew of opportunities, including a couple on the powerplay, that they did not find themselves with in the first period. While the Rangers pressed, Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson completely stood on his head between the pipes for the Sens. He was not going down without a fight.
That fight lasted until 7:35 of the third period, when a bounce off the side of the net came to Brian Boyle, who lifted a backhander top shelf over the shoulder of Anderson to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. If there was one player I think every Ranger fan wanted to see score the game-winner tonight, it was Brian Boyle, not only because of what he was forced to deal with in Game 2, but also because he was hearing a rain of boos from the Scotiabank crowd every time he touched the puck.
Just prior to the goal being scored, there was a play made in the defensive zone that is worthy of being pointed out. Playoff beast Anton Stralman made not one, but two diving plays to break up scoring opportunities for the Senators on Henrik Lundqvist, and then the Rangers came down and tallied on the ensuing rush the other way. Stralman, along with Boyle, has been one of the larger surprises for the Rangers in these playoffs. His impact on the lineup right now simply cannot be measured. He’s been stellar.
Head coach John Tortorella, despite what occurred in Games 1 and 2, still had his team going into ‘lead defense’ mode after going up 1-0. You may question the decision there as I am right now, but the approach was slightly different this time around. In the two previous games, the Rangers attempted to have all five players on the ice clog the neutral zone. Tonight, though, they went with the 1-2-2 approach, with one forward pressuring, two falling back in the neutral zone and then the defense back at their own blue-line. This makes the probability of the Sens cleanly entering the offensive zone much lower.
Still, Ottawa managed to enter the zone in the final minute and boy did they ever go to work. No amount of work that was too much for Henrik Lundqvist to handle, however. He made multiple sprawling stops in a major scramble around his net late there (the one on Kyle Turris was unreal), and unlike Saturday, he did not let anything go past him.
Lundqvist clearly was heated after that overtime loss in Game 2, especially considering the lucky bounces the Senators received in order to battle back and win the game. But like a true competitor, Hank came out and completely stole the show tonight in Ottawa. There are no words that can describe the importance of a 39-save shutout in the playoffs. Lundqvist was out of his mind tonight.
Star 1A right behind Hank was Brian Boyle. There’s no joking around in the theory that an individual can completely erase their regular season in the playoffs. Boyle, hands down, has been the club’s best skater through three games of the postseason. Hell, he’s scored a vital goal in each of those games, so how couldn’t he be? But it’s not only the scoring; it’s the defensive work, the effort on the forecheck, the heady decisions he is making with the puck, and the list goes on and on.
I have no choice but to take back all of what I said about Boyle during the regular season, because he’s a major reason why the Rangers are taking a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Wednesday.
Thankfully some secondary contributors such as Boyle, Fedotenko and Prust are stepping up here, because the top guys have been nearly irrelevant in the past two outings. Yes, I am looking you, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. I will say that this duo played better tonight than they did in Game 2, but they are still not where they should be. There were some solid shifts here and there from Richie and Gabby, but just three shots between the two of them? They need to be more of a threat than that if this team has hopes of going anywhere in the postseason.
As for their linemate in Carl Hagelin’s absence, Chris Kreider, overall you cannot complain about his NHL debut. Remember, these are extreme circumstances to subject a rookie to in first professional level game, and I think the 20-year-old Kreider held his own out there. He was a bit timid in the first period, but soon became more physical as the game went along, and he also showed that deadly speed of his at times as well. He was credited with one shot on the official scoresheet, but I’m pretty confident he had at least two.
One thing I will say is that Kreider did look somewhat lost/confused or whatever you may call it in the defensive zone. Again, it was his first NHL game so I won’t take much from that, but he was switched out late for Derek Stepan, who could fill more of a defensive role on that line.
Kreider was out there for a total 11:11 on the night.
Lastly, I really liked Dan Girardi’s game on defense tonight. He stood strong around the net, as did his partner in Ryan McDonagh, but was huge late in the third as well. He played a total of 26:10, which led the team by far, and also picked up an assist on Boyle’s game-winner.
The series will take a break tomorrow before returning to Scotiabank Place for Game 4 on Wednesday night. As has been proven, each remaining tilt in this series is going to being a grinding battle, but if the Rangers can go up three games to one on Wednesday, I think their chances of wrapping this up at home will be pretty darn good. It won’t be easy, though.