There is no reason for how the Rangers play on home ice. It’s gone on for way too long. Ever since Game 2 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay, they have failed miserably to win a playoff game at Madison Square Garden. It is now six consecutive home defeats under the teflon coach Alain Vigneault, who refuses to adjust his style when it’s not working.
What you get is an absolute ugly mess of a Game 3 with fans booing the team out of the building. They earned it. Had I been there, I would have booed too. Carey Price didn’t have a whole lot to do due to a tremendous overall performance from his team in a Canadiens 3-1 win to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven first round series.
How bad was it? The Rangers had only totaled nine shots through the first 33 minutes. They only had 11 shots in two periods and failed miserably on three power play chances. While they kept firing blanks on the man disadvantage, the Habs finally made them pay by scoring twice in three chances to break through on Henrik Lundqvist.
Taking full advantage of two awful penalties by key Rangers J.T. Miller (face-off violation) and Mats Zuccarello (4-minute hi-sticking double minor), Montreal won the battle of special teams. Power play goals late in both from Artturi Lehkonen and Shea Weber were plenty for Claude Julien’s club who stifled the Rangers speed and transition.
Game 2 hero Alex Radulov scored a highlight reel goal one-handed out-muscling Kevin Hayes to the net for a huge insurance marker with under five minutes left. He’s been the Habs best forward in the series. In the last two games, Radulov has two goals and three assists. His skill level has been on display.
Meanwhile, the Rangers again got next to nothing from their top scorers. Zuccarello had a bad game with the awful retaliation on Andrei Markov that led directly to Weber’s game-winner on a great set up from Alex Galchenyuk. Chris Kreider was more active but again didn’t do enough to make a difference. Derek Stepan had an off night getting beaten cleanly by Tomas Plekanec on a critical defensive draw which led to Brendan Gallagher setting up Lehkonen’s tie-breaking goal with 2:23 remaining in the second period of a scoreless game.
At that point, the shots were 17-9 in favor of the Canadiens. When the period concluded, it was 22-11 in favor of the more dominant guests. Montreal did a great job bottling up the neutral zone and standing up at their blue line. They repeatedly forced the Rangers into turnovers that hurt any semblance of a forecheck.
The most exasperating thing is that it took Vigneault pulling Lundqvist with three and a half minutes remaining for his team to finally score on Price. It was rookie defenseman Brady Skjei who notched his first career NHL playoff goal with 2:56 left on a one-timer from Kevin Klein and Mika Zibanejad. Outside of that offensive draw he won, Zibanejad was invisible. But at least he got a point.
What are Kreider and Miller’s excuse? Where was Hayes? Never mind. Those three in particular have failed miserably. Miller has been the only one who’s been noticeable. He nearly set up a goal on a nice pass but it was fanned on. That summed it up.
When it comes down to it, the Vigneault Rangers can’t win at MSG. It’s a thing now. They’ve now been outscored 21-4 in the last six home playoff losses. That is disgraceful. Talk about home ice disadvantage.
Even more disturbing is that it was again the fourth line of Tanner Glass, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast is the only threesome that played with consistency. They sustained pressure with Glass drawing a penalty by going to the net. Imagine that. Actually, one of the few players who got in front of Price, who could have had a nap the first two periods.
Until he robbed Fast with his team nursing a 3-1 lead with over two minutes remaining, he didn’t have to make one big save. They were routine. The Rangers failed to get any traffic due to a lack of cycle. A lot of that had to do with the Canadiens, who as MSG’s Ron Duguay pointed out, looked more prepared. If that isn’t an indictment on the coaching staff, I don’t know what is.
Think about it. The Canadiens were the aggressors from the outset at The Garden in a home playoff game. They took the crowd out of it by forcing Lundqvist into some difficult saves. He made at least four or five good ones in the 10 shots the Habs had during a sleep induced first.
Even more daunting, the Rangers had two power plays and only managed six shots. They did absolutely nothing. It’s the same old story for a Vigneault coached team. Power failure. It doesn’t matter who coaches them. It was similar under John Tortorella and under Tom Renney at the end of his tenure. Nothing ever changes. It’s like the Groundhog seeing his shadow.
They have nobody to blame but themselves. Only a half a dozen forwards were visible. Michael Grabner being one. He actually had one of the few quality chances that Price stopped. Price made 20 saves. Lundqvist did what he could to keep his team in it making 26 saves. None of which he could be blamed. That’s how bad it was.
Even more frustrating is they waited until the third to show urgency. Where was it the first 40 minutes? They almost matched their two period total with nine shots on Price. But by that point, it was too late. The Habs got the second power play goal from Weber on a great deke and move by Galchenyuk for an easy Weber one-time blast past Lundqvist. Radulov started it. He has been everywhere as has most of the Habs key performers. A sharp contrast.
When you have both Duguay and Steve Valiquette referencing the two shutouts by the Lightning in Games 5 and 7 in 2015, you know it’s bad. Joe Micheletti also was critical mentioning the lack of adjustments. How they played into Montreal’s hands. The last power play in particular was so predictable. One player trying to skate through the Montreal wall only for them to clear the puck out.
As for the refs not calling a hook on Nash shorthanded prior to Montreal’s big second power play goal, that’s debatable. It wasn’t that much. It’s also not why they got scored on. They had numbers back. Girardi and Grabner messed up the coverage. Girardi went down taking himself out of position and Grabner shifted over leaving Weber for a lay-up.
Listening to Stepan following the game, he put the blame squarely where it belonged. On the team. They weren’t good enough. They made too many mistakes and it proved costly. They got beat in every aspect. Five-on-five despite the shot attempts being a closer 52-47 in favor of the Habs. Special teams. Key face-offs. Battles. They were out-grinded by a well schooled opponent who executed their game plan to perfection.
I’m running out of words. At some point, you have to look at the coach. He is the one who is behind the bench making the calls. He stuck with his same lines for two periods before altering. It didn’t produce enough. Vigneault’s one good move was playing Klein over Nick Holden. Klein played a spunky game with an assist, four hits and three blocked shots in 18:15 (26 shifts).
It’s now onto what essentially is a do-or-die Game 4.
“We need more,” said Lundqvist in speaking to MSG’s John Giannone while referencing specialty teams. “We need to give more and be better.”
“Every little detail matters in this game.”
There you have it.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Artturi Lehkonen, Canadiens (power play goal-1st of series, 4 shots, 2 hits, even in 19 shifts-12:39)
2nd Star-Shea Weber, Canadiens (power play goal-1st of series, 4 hits, +1 in 29:08-35 shifts)
1st Star-Alex Radulov, Canadiens (goal-2nd of series, assist-2-3-5 in last 2 Habs wins)
Playoff Notes: The face-offs went in favor of Montreal 31-28 with Galchenyuk going 6-and-3 while centering the third line. Plekanec went 10-and-12 but won that huge one over Stepan leading to Lehkonen’s PPG. In the one area he’s been effective, Hayes was the Rangers’ best going 13-and-7. Stepan had an awful night losing 10-of-13. … Unlike the first two games, the hitting wasn’t as rampant. The teams combined for 72 hits with the Rangers holding a 41-31 edge. Nash and Skjei paced the Blueshirts with six each while the Canadiens were paced by Jeff Petry. … In a just awful stat, the Rangers had 21 giveaways including 4 from Klein and Stepan with Girardi having 3. The Habs played cleaner with just 8. … Game 4 is Tuesday night on MSG at 7 PM.
In listening to Vigneault, he has given most of the credit to Montreal for “playing well defensively.” And also noted how their best line has been the fourth line.
“We’re not getting anything from our top players. Nobody is making any plays.”
… In other action, the Blues made it 3-0 over the Wild thanks to Jake Allen, who was brilliant making 40 saves in a 3-1 home win. He’s only allowed three goals. Meanwhile, the Pens showed their championship caliber rallying from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a 5-4 overtime win highlighted by Jake Guentzel’s first career NHL hat trick including the game-winner from Sidney Crosby to give Pittsburgh a commanding 3-0 lead over the Blue Jackets. They were oh so close but Marc-Andre Fleury’s mask save stoned Brandon Dubinsky prior to Guentzel’s OT winner. The Oilers and Sharks are underway in San Jose for Game 3. That series is tied 1-1.