Game 4 is tonight at 7:30 PM on NBCSN. The Rangers look to tie the second round best-of-seven series versus the Senators at MSG. They got back in it by playing much better hockey in a 4-1 win over Ottawa to take Game 3.
Both Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash scored their first goals of the series. Mika Zibanejad dominated his match-up with Derick Brassard registering a primary assist on Zuccarello’s early first period tally that set the tone. Zibanejad played his best game with six shots and a few other attempts. He easily could’ve had a hat trick but Ottawa’s Craig Anderson made some big stops to keep the game from spiraling out of control.
The Rangers defended much better limiting Ottawa to one goal. Of course, it was Jean-Gabriel Pageau who broke Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout late in period two following Oscar Lindberg’s tally on a nice pass from J.T. Miller with Tanner Glass also earning a helper in his return to the lineup.
In particular, coach Alain Vigneault heeded our cry by playing Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith more than Marc Staal and Nick Holden. It produced better results. Ryan McDonagh had another big game logging nearly 27 minutes while partner Dan Girardi bounced back from his Game 2 blunder with a strong defensive effort. He also made a nice play in the neutral zone with a bank pass to lead Zibanejad for Zuccarello’s goal.
Lundqvist was able to see the shots thanks to the D and forwards boxing out. He finished with 26 saves. Anderson was good but allowed four goals on 30 shots.
In order to win tonight, the Rangers have to expect a more desperate Senators. They know they were awful in the first last game. Something coach Guy Boucher alluded to in his post game. Expect the real Sens to show from the outset. The Rangers must match their intensity. This should be a tighter checking game with less room. So, they’ll have to do an even better job getting through the neutral zone. Don’t change too much. Use tape to tape short passes and their team speed to get pucks behind them.
I think a key will be one of Kevin Hayes or Chris Kreider. Everyone knows about their struggles. One of the talented duo must step to the forefront. With line mates Zibanejad and Zuccarello stepping up in Game 3, look for Kreider to be more involved. That doesn’t mean boneheaded penalties in the offensive zone on Dion Phaneuf that negate power plays. Kreider must use his size, strength and speed and make himself a player. He is too good to be a non-factor. Take his shot and park himself in front of Anderson. Something he did in Game 2 on both Skjei’s tallies.
As for Hayes, his issue is that he’s gun shy. He is so hesitant to shoot that it makes him predictable. At times, he’s effective on the forecheck using his big body to protect the puck. But he’s always thinking pass. Sometimes, he needs to think shot. That would make him much harder to defend. Hayes enters with only one assist in nine games. Not enough production for a talented player. Obviously, the Rangers need more from the third-year center. He does have the hard working Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast on his line. Let’s see if they rub off.
At this point, you kind of figure Vigneault will not make any lineup changes. Why should he? Glass was effective on a grinding fourth line that did the grunt work. He also played 10 minutes. More than Pavel Buchnevich, who the coach still doesn’t trust. I would love to see Buchnevich back in the series if for no other reason that he has offensive skills and should be used on the power play. But you know he won’t play tonight.
The Rangers must continue to roll all four lines and have Vigneault dictate the match-ups. That means plenty of McDonagh and Girardi. It also means more Skjei and Smith, who has been outstanding. He does need to avoid silly penalties. You don’t want to give Ottawa a power play. Even though they have only scored once, they are dangerous. Especially with Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Brassard, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone.
Lundqvist must outshine Anderson. Expect it to be tougher. The Rangers must continue to make it hard on Karlsson, who is banged up. Finishing checks when they can is good. Pick their spots. He’s fast. So, he can avoid them.
The Sens likely will be without Zack Smith. Bobby Ryan is expected to play. If Smith can’t go, Tom Pyatt is in. He’s a speedy checking winger who kills penalties. The type that gives our team problems. He also was in the famed Scott Gomez for McDonagh deal with Montreal. Keep an eye on him.
Ottawa is also inserting Chris Wideman on D for Fredrik Claesson.
I have faith in the Rangers to get it done. They must play with the same edge. If they do, there’s no doubt they’ll send the series back to Ottawa tied 2-2 with a big Game 5 coming..