Make no mistake about it. The Rangers lost Game 5 to the Senators due to the puzzling decisions of coach Alain Vigneault. He should look in the mirror after another repeat of Game 2. Another senseless overtime loss thanks to some mind boggling moves. The Sens can thank him for their 5-4 win which puts them up 3-2 in the seven-game second round series.
How else to explain Vigneault’s decision to have Tanner Glass out with under two minutes left in regulation protecting a one-goal lead? This isn’t on the player who unfortunately had Derick Brassard’s odd shot deflect off him and somehow past a maze that included a kneeling Marc Staal (because of course) and a stunned Henrik Lundqvist with 1:26 remaining.
It’s clearly on the coach who remains stubborn and predictable. That wasn’t his only bad move. Why the heck was Staal on with Brendan Smith for that shift? Staal was good in the two home wins but struggled throughout. He was on for two goals against and was slow all day. Where was Smith’s partner Brady Skjei, who can at least skate you ask? Where he always is. Riding the pine in crunch time.
This is what we’ve signed up for. With the Rangers extending a coach before his final year, Vigneault’s baffling decisions will continue. They like him. At times, he can make the right moves such as Glass for Game 3 which turned the series around or Pavel Buchnevich in Game 4 last round. However, the coach remains a liability despite a very good track record.
It isn’t to take away from what the veteran coach has accomplished. But for a guy who’s taken two teams to Stanley Cup Finals and came within two straight appearances in 2015 a period away, he continues to hurt the team at critical moments.
Once rookie Jimmy Vesey’s first career NHL playoff goal was confirmed by video replay overturning the call on the ice on what was a great try by Ottawa’s Craig Anderson for a 4-3 Rangers’ lead with 7:12 left, it should’ve been a win. Not anymore. Not this postseason when the team can’t close out the opposition. Game 2 of both the first round and this series and now you can add Game 5. A game they didn’t play particularly well in but were in a winning position before Vigneault cracked.
They iced the puck again leading to Ottawa offensive draws. But it wasn’t that that led to Brassard’s miraculous first goal of the series which may have altered his former team’s playoff fate. It was off an Ottawa rush when Anderson went to the bench for an extra attacker that they came unglued. Somehow, after a good shift by Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi with Kevin Hayes, Rick Nash and Vesey, Vigneault sent out Glass with Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Smith and Staal.
Why on earth wouldn’t the coach use either Jesper Fast or Michael Grabner in that spot? Those are much better defensive forwards than Glass, who gives a honest effort but has no business being out there protecting a one-goal lead that late. And why would he stick Staal out when he was two steps behind all game over Skjei? Even Nick Holden played better scoring again and playing physical. If Staal wasn’t on his knees, Brassard’s tying goal could’ve been prevented.
Instead, we’re left scratching our heads. Of course, the Senators dominated overtime until Kyle Turris beat Lundqvist through the wickets at 6:28 of sudden death to send Canadian Tire Centre into pandemonium. Guess who was out on the shift? The fourth line. It could’ve been any line. That’s how scared the Rangers played. Their top two lines were not good. The Hayes unit picked it up contributing two goals with Smith setting up Fast early and a strong Hayes forecheck leading to McDonagh’s tying goal from Grabner and Girardi with 2:11 left in the second period.
You just cannot make it up. This should’ve been a victory. Instead, Vigneault’s puzzling decisions cost them. Now, they must do it the hard way by winning the first elimination game at home on Tuesday. If they force the seventh game, the league’s best road team better figure out a way to take Game 7 in Ottawa. If they don’t, there’s gonna be a lot of second guessing.
The players didn’t play well enough consistently. There was more panic. They didn’t attack the Sens enough in the OT yet had two close calls with a J.T. Miller shot ring off the crossbar and a Grabner baseball bat swing beat Anderson but with a high stick, which was the right call.
On Turris’ winner, Girardi was defending. Turris was able to stay with it and get around for a wrist shot that Lundqvist missed. He made some good saves but also was culpable on at least two. His giveaway in the first with the Rangers already ahead 2-0 on goals from Fast and Holden swung the momentum. Ottawa converted with Mark Stone beating Girardi in front. They then took control by scoring goals 23 seconds apart in the second from Mike Hoffman (first of series) and Tom Pyatt (redirect).
Erik Karlsson was a decoy. He only hit the net once on his 12 attempts. But while playing on one leg, he racked up three assists and started the Brassard tying goal by finding Clarke MacArthur wide open. Brassard eventually scored in bizarre fashion off Glass with Staal kneeling and Lundqvist unable to get to the rolling puck.
It’s unbelievable how badly the Rangers have looked protecting leads away from home ice. How many times is it gonna happen? Well, if they don’t get it together for Game 6, they will have the rest of the summer to talk about it.
The coach should have known better. He didn’t. It cost his team the game and maybe the chance to play in another Conference Final.