The best first round series thus far swings to Manhattan on a summer like 86 degree day on Easter Sunday. To those celebrating, Happy Easter. To my Jewish friends, Happy final day of Passover. 🙂
All that out of the way, Game 3 is a huge one for both teams. After the Rangers took the first game 2-0 behind 31 saves from Henrik Lundqvist and a Tanner Glass goal, they blew Game 2 losing 4-3 in overtime to the Canadiens on Alex Radulov’s clutch winner. He also set up Tomas Plekanec’s game-tying goal with 17.3 seconds left. The Habs dominated the third and sudden death out-attempting the Rangers 103-69 while forcing Lundqvist into a career high 54 saves.
The Rangers can’t have a repeat in their first home playoff game of these 2017 NHL Playoffs. What they can do is erase ghosts of recent past. I’m referring to the losing the last five home games at MSG by a combined 18-3. They can do it by getting off to a good start. Whether it’s a big hit, extended shift or an early goal, the Blueshirts must set the tone. Get the crowd into it. It might not be vintage fans of Garden past. But if they do what they’re supposed to, MSG will be rocking.
All that said, Alain Vigneault has made significant changes with the lineup. Some that I really question. He better know what he’s doing. Out comes an ineffective Nick Holden, who was victimized with Marc Staal for three goals against including Plekanec’s game-tying goal where he broke his stick and was down allowing the veteran center to redirect a Radulov feed past Lundqvist.
In comes veteran Kevin Klein. I’m glad he gets another chance. He’s always been a good character player since Glen Sather acquired him from Nashville for Michael Del Zotto. So, Klein draws in. Hopefully, his back holds up. Especially given the physicality and brutality we’ve seen. Klein will not play with Staal but rather rookie Brady Skjei. A questionable decision considering how good Skjei and Brendan Smith looked the first two games. Instead, Smith moves up to the second pair to team with Staal. He is their most versatile. So, we just have to hope it works out. Only top pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi stay intact. They’ve been good so far. A trend that must continue.
As for the forwards, I have no rational explanation. There is no logic to what Vigneault did. Here it is:
If anyone can make sense of it, be my guest. I can see keeping Vesey with Zibanejad. But Nash now is with Stepan and Grabner moves up. Maybe due to the two goals he scored. He did play a little with Stepan earlier this season. But it’s curious. Kreider slides down to Hayes and Fast, who moves up while Miller gets buried on the fourth line with Lindberg and Glass. Why would AV change the fourth line of Glass-Lindberg-Fast? It’s the one line that’s been working. It’s so puzzling. This coach makes decisions that really make you wonder what the heck he’s thinking. That said, Miller can bring more offense than Fast with Lindberg. Maybe even Glass can get on the score sheet again.
I sure hope it works. The Rangers must win this game for their psyche. So regardless of what the starting lines are, they know what their job is. Protect home ice. End the MSG hex. Take the lead in the series and put the pressure back on the Canadiens.
I’ll have a full recap later. Enjoy the game!
UPDATE: According to Justin Tasch of the Daily News, Kreider will in fact stay with Stepan and Zuccarello. Good! More on the lines. Apparently, Tasch got duped by Vigneault’s lines in warm ups. Everything stays the same. So scratch the confusing line combos. 😛