Game 6 Rangers look to advance versus Canadiens

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The Rangers prepare for Game 6 on home ice with a chance to close out the Canadiens tonight. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

Tonight is one of those nights where the fans will be into it before face-off. The Rangers look to advance versus the Canadiens in Game 6 at what should be a loud MSG at 8 PM. This is the game they have to have. At home with a chance to move on to the second round. They don’t want to go back to Montreal for Game 7.

The Rangers are in this position thanks to consecutive wins in Games 4 and 5. Following a complete effort in a 2-1 home win on Rick Nash’s game-winner, they fought back valiantly from two one-goal deficits to force overtime in Game 5 at Bell Centre. The turning point was Nash taking the puck hard to the net and forcing Carey Price to give up a rebound which poised rookie defenseman Brady Skjei deposited with 1:32 left in the second period.

Afterwards, it was the Blueshirts who got their game together. They still needed a huge save from Henrik Lundqvist robbing Max Pacioretty on a breakaway with 7:11 remaining in regulation. Without it, we’re probably not talking about a potential close out game tonight. He made 34 saves and has stopped 20 more shots than Price in the series. Both netminders have allowed 10 goals but it’s Lundqvist who’s faced more pressure and been the better goalie. Now, he and his teammates get the chance to finish off a desperate Canadiens team on home ice. They better take it.

They’re here despite only one point from Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. None from Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller. There was a Chris Kreider sighting in Game 5. It came at the right time. After fanning on a great set up from Mika Zibanejad, he used his speed to gain the Montreal zone and take a shot that deflected off nemesis Alexei Emelin right to Zibanejad for the uplifting overtime winner. His first of the series coming in a big moment in what was the 24-year old center’s best game. He also made the defensive play and pass leading to Jesper Fast’s shorthanded goal.

Ever since Alain Vigneault inserted Pavel Buchnevich to reunite with Zibanejad and Kreider, they have been a dangerous line. Using their speed and skating, they’ve been tough on the forecheck generating chances and good shots. The lineup has better balance with Stepan working with Nash and impressive first-year player Jimmy Vesey, who has had a impact. He has two assists but has come close to scoring. Maybe he gets one later.

The power play has yet to score in 14 chances. It says here that they will need a power play goal in this game. At some point, it needs to come through. If I see Hayes pass up on another shot for another forced pass, I’m gonna lose it. He is a waste if he doesn’t look shot.

The Habs will be desperate. They are still looking for Pacioretty’s first goal. He leads them in shots in the series. So, he’s taking them. They’re not going in. Lundqvist is a big reason why. Claude Julien basically called out his captain indicating that they need key players to show up. You know who.

Montreal will be without pest Andrew Shaw, who took a tough hit from Dan Girardi that sent him into the boards. Brian Flynn comes in. Julien also is making one more change. Michael McCarron will play. Brandon Davidson will also play over Nathan Beaulieu on the back end.

So, the Habs will have a different look. It should be interesting. Can the Rangers close out their hated rival at MSG? We’ll find out.

 

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Zibanejad wins it in overtime!!!!! NYR lead MTL 3-2

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Nick Holden raises his arms and gets ready to celebrate Mika Zibanejad’s clutch overtime winner to give the Rangers a well deserved 3-2 win in Game 5 over the Canadiens. They lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 at MSG Saturday. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

I still cannot contain my excitement over this game. The Rangers got it done. They dominated overtime in one of the toughest buildings to pull out a huge 3-2 overtime win over the Canadiens at Bell Centre. Mika Zibanejad’s goal at 14:22 of the first OT was the heroic game-winner stunning a packed crowd of over 21,000 in Montreal.

The Blueshirts now lead the emotional and intense best-of-seven first round series 3-2 with Game 6 in their building on Saturday night with a chance to advance. Game time is 8 PM at what should be a very enthusiastic MSG.

They are up because they earned it. Twice, they fought back from one-goal deficits against a very stingy Canadiens team. In what was a wild emotional roller coaster of a first period, the Rangers fell behind twice.

The first time, it was dangerous Habs rookie Artturi Lehkonen who took advantage of a Marc Staal turnover and beat Henrik Lundqvist on a wrap around or his second of the series. One he would’ve liked back for sure. But a good play by Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu and Lehkonen did the rest for his second of the series.

Almost every game has been hard fought with physical battles all over the ice. This was no exception. Before Lehkonen’s goal that opened the scoring, Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith had seen enough of Andrew Shaw. With Steve Ott getting two whacks at Lundqvist during a scrum, Smith took matters into his own hands and fought Shaw. Both went off for five-minute fighting majors. Advantage Montreal.

In one of the craziest series I’ve seen in a long time, the refs and linesmen continue to let everything go. But there have also been some mistakes. Take for example the penalty Max Pacioretty drew on Kevin Hayes. He was two feet offside when Hayes got called for holding the stick. Something MSG’s Joe Micheletti picked up right away. It was a bogus call that went in the Habs’ favor.

What transpired next was insanity. First, the Rangers tied the game thanks to one of their best forwards in the series Jesper Fast. On a real good defensive play by Zibanejad, he was able to create a two-on-one getting leading Fast in on Carey Price. Fast surprised him by going five-hole for a shorthanded goal at 15:56. A well executed play by both forwards with Fast so deserving. He’s getting rewarded for all his hustle.

But as only they can do, the Rangers gave it right back. Only 24 seconds later, the little ball of hate Brendan Gallagher took a Andrei Markov pass and skated into the slot and fired a wrist shot through traffic past Lundqvist with Tomas Plekanec in front. Amazingly, it was Gallagher’s first of the series. He’s been a dominant player for the Habs by creating all kinds of chaos. Legal or illegal, he plays the game hard. On the same power play, he got away with a high-stick to Ryan McDonagh following a clean check. That’s how it’s been called. But that came prior to Fast’s shorty.

Despite being out-shot 14-9, the Rangers trailed by one. They can thank Lundqvist for the second period. Most of it was exclusively Montreal due to consecutive power plays. Both McDonagh (slashing) and Mats Zuccarello (high-sticking) lost their discipline to hand the dangerous Habs man-advantage two golden chances to break the game open. It never happened. Lundqvist (10 second period saves) played a big part as did the penalty killers with superb efforts from McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Brendan Smith and even Nick Holden.

They wouldn’t have got it done without help from the forwards. Particularly Rick Nash, who had was dominant throughout in what’s been his best series as a Ranger. He was outstanding. Not surprisingly, Nash found a way to set up Brady Skjei’s second of the series coming with 1:32 remaining in the period. Make no mistake about it. They were in that position due to Lundqvist, who really has shined in the big match-up with Price. He’s faced more shots and chances but has come through like the star he’s been on Broadway.

Late in the second, the Rangers were able to somehow tie it. They did it through hard work. On a very good cycle from Jimmy Vesey, he drew two Habs to him up high including Markov to push the puck down low to Nash. Nash came out and got a tough shot on Price that leaked out to an open Skjei, who deposited the momentum shifting goal that tied the score before intermission. It was a terrific play by both Nash and Vesey, who have really worked well together since being moved to the first line with Derek Stepan.

The third was tight as a drum. It had to be. Neither team wanted to make a mistake. In a period where each killed off a penalty, it was Lundqvist who made the save of the game robbing Pacioretty on a breakaway with over seven minutes left. Pacioretty was able to get free on a Markov bouncing pass behind Smith and came in. He shot low but Lundqvist kicked it out to preserve a 2-2 tie.

Miller took a bad slashing minor with 5:47 remaining. But a determined bunch of Blueshirts never gave a inch. As time wound down, it was apparent to everyone in the building Game 5 was destined for overtime. Much like Game 2 which the Habs came back and won, the nervousness and anxiety kicked in as the buzzer sounded.

In sudden death, it was unlike Game 2. In that one, it was all Habs and they got the win deservedly so. This time, it was a more calm and confident Rangers who came out ready. They used their speed and took away the neutral zone from the Canadiens. Kind of a role reversal.

The OT was so lopsided that if the Rangers didn’t find a way to score, eventually you know the Canadiens would’ve come back the other way and won it. They were outstanding. Strong defensive performances from top tandem McDonagh and Girardi really stood out. Whether it was Girardi throwing a ferocious hit or McDonagh laying out for a huge block, they were terrific. They also had better breakouts and pinched effectively creating issues for the Habs.

Girardi had a open one-timer off a good forecheck forcing Price to make a glove save a few minutes in. Rookie Pavel Buchnevich was dangerous on a couple of shifts. But he couldn’t get one past Price, who made so many big stops in sudden death including a nice pad stop on a tough low shot by Nash, leaving no rebound for Stepan.

Zibanejad created the best opportunity. On a relentless cycle, he came out with the puck and had Chris Kreider wide open in front. He made the pass across but Kreider fanned on the shot. He was too anxious. That’s the kind of series it’s been for him. Minutes later, Vesey came flying into the Habs zone and skated around Markov inside and missed wide on a pointblank chance with Price dead to rights.

Even Holden got a couple of shots through and showed more confidence in his game. But if he hadn’t recovered on a hiccups, we might not be talking about a win. Thankfully, he recovered. He also drove the net and collided with Price drawing boos from the home crowd who wanted goalie interference. The Habs only got three shots on Lundqvist. None dangerous. They were completely bottled up.

As fate had it, Kreider and Zibanejad got another chance. Off an Alexei Emelin turnover in the neutral zone, Kreider gained the zone and threw a pass that deflected off Emelin’s stick right to Zibanejad in front where he finished into an open side for a stunning 3-2 win in sudden death.

Out poured excited teammates to celebrate Zibanejad’s clutch OT winner. It was by far his best game. He wasn’t too bad in Game 4 either. It was nice to see a good guy get the winner. And he did out of hard work. It was also nice to have Kreider back. He set it up. He needed to be a factor and was.

When it comes down to it, this is how the Rangers must play. Vigneault rolled his four balanced lines and reaped the rewards. That included Fast with Oscar Lindberg and Michael Grabner. Lindberg was again a factor on some shifts in the OT. Vigneault gets a ton of credit for making the lineup change by reinserting Buchnevich for Tanner Glass. Glass did nothing wrong. But putting Buchnevich in and redoing the four lines has given his team the right mix of speed and balance.

Lundqvist made 34 saves for a well deserved victory. Price stopped 33 of 36 in defeat. Now, the Rangers try to finish it off at home Saturday. We’ll see if they have the cajones.

Overtime hero Mika Zibanejad wears the Broadway Hat in the winners locker room. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan McDonagh, Rangers (3 shots in 8 attempts, 6 hits, 3 blocks, takeaway, +1, dominant in 45 big shifts-30:41)

2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (34 saves including his biggest on Pacioretty with the game hanging in the balance)

1st Star-Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (overtime winner at 14:22-1st of series, assisted on Fast’s SHG, 3 shots, 7 attempts, 4 hits, 2 takeaways, 4 blocks, +2 in 31 shifts-17:53)

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Overtime in Game 5

So they’re starting overtime at Bell Centre. It’s tied 2-2. I am anxiety driven and nervous as can be. Next goal wins. And maybe it decides the series. This has been a very tight and intense Game 5 as expected.

The Rangers have never led. But have tied it twice. Here we go. My score pick was 3-2 Blueshirts. Let’s see if they can come through!

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Ducks Quack the Flames

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The Ducks quacked their way to a sweep over the Flames to advance to Round 2. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Anaheim Ducks.

One team has advanced. The Ducks quacked their way past the Flames by winning 3-1 at the Calgary Saddledome in Game 4 to complete a four-game sweep. So, my Stanley Cup pick is looking Mighty good right now.

The difference in the series was the elite goaltending of John Gibson along with Anaheim’s amazing determination coming back from a three-goal third period deficit to stun Calgary in Game 3 by a score of 5-4. Dominant performances from Ryan Getzlaf (empty net goal for 3rd of series) along with great support from Rickard Rakell along with breakout star Shea Theodore and former Bolt Nate Thompson were too much for the Flames to overcome.

That the Ducks could go to Jonathan Bernier with Gibson pulled in Game 3 and he shut the door allowing for the big comeback with Corey Perry’s OT winner shows just how focused this team is. With the Sharks putting up a touchdown and extra point with Jerry Rice cheering them on in a 7-0 rout of the Oilers in Game 4 to even that series, the Ducks have to feel pretty good about their chances. That one is going at least six if not seven. Anaheim will be well rested for the second round.

The Caps found a way to even their much tougher first round match-up against those young and very skilled Leafs hanging on for a 5-4 win at the Air Canada Centre. They can thank T.J. Oshie, who scored his second of the game after Auston Matthews cut the deficit to 4-3. If Oshie doesn’t beat ex-Duck Frederik Andersen from a bad angle 59 seconds later, who knows what happens. Washington hasn’t exactly been able to hold off the Leafs’ offense. They nearly blew another big lead.

Game 3 hero Tyler Bozak made things interesting by scoring with 27 seconds left in regulation. But the Caps did enough to win preventing another meltdown. Braden Holtby needs to be a lot better moving forward. It’s also interesting to note that the Caps dominated most of the first two periods. Boosted by a four-goal first in which they held a 15-6 edge in shots and huge territorial advantage, they looked like they would cruise. But a James van Riemsdyk power play goal gave Toronto hope. They outshot the Caps 19-3 in the third. If not for Oshie’s huge goal on an awful Andersen, we could be talking about another Leaf comeback and another overtime deciding it.

Game 5 is Friday in D.C. The Caps have all the pressure while the Leafs have none. It’s only their playoff livelihood at stake this Spring.

The Wild used goals from Charlie Coyle and Martin Hanzal and Gretel to stave off elimination with a 2-0 shutout over the Blues in St. Louis. It was Devan Dubnyk’s turn to pitch a shutout stopping all 28 shots including a cool dozen in a pressure packed third. Jake Allen had to cool off eventually after stopping a remarkable 102 of 105 shots the first three games of a very tightly contested series. These teams are evenly matched. Following the always entertaining Bruce Boudreau’s brief post-game following a Game 3 they deserved a better fate in, I figured they would win Game 4 and take it back to St. Paul.

I fully expect the Wild to win at home and force the series back to St. Loo for Game 6. How about this huge clean hit by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo on Zach Parise at the end of tonight’s game!

Classic playoff hockey intensity. Pietrangelo is a true defenseman. He just doesn’t receive the credit of other brighter stars. Maybe if the Blues make a run, he finally will. Especially with Kevin Shattenkirk gone and playing so little for the Caps with the awful Brooks Orpik.

Game 3: 23 shifts 16:27 -2

Game 4: 18 shifts 12:54 -1 assist

Buyer beware. Though being paired with Orpik isn’t ideal for Shattenkirk, who should still receive plenty of cash this summer. <inserts Rangers> He’s not perfect but is a great skating D who can run a power play with a big shot. Yeah. They’re gonna try to buy him on July 1. But hopefully not at the expense of the bruising and gritty Brendan Smith. He needs to be kept.

So, the Senators are now up 3-1 after sweeping Games 3 and 4 in Boston. Sure. They benefited from a bad call to take Game 3 on what should’ve been matching minors. Ironically, a resurgent Bobby Ryan got the overtime winner on a neat deflection. He again was at it getting the only goal in a 1-0 Game 4 shutout win. Craig Anderson only had to make five of his 22 saves in the third. In fact, he faced just 10 shots the last two periods. Wow.

Of course, #BigGameBrass is back in a big way for the Sens. Now that it’s the playoffs, here comes the real Derick Brassard. You know. The one who led the Blueshirts in scoring during those big runs in 2014 and 2015. Not the first round Brass from a forgettable series against the Pens last year. Brassard has two goals and three assists in four games so far. Of course, he set up Erik Karlsson’s awesome shot pass to Ryan in front for the only goal Wednesday night. Big Game Brass! Gotta love it.

Truth is Boston doesn’t have enough on D right now. So, my sleeper pick to make the Conference Final looks on the way out. No Torey Krug and no Brandon Carlo has really hurt them. But Charlie McAvoy is a future star on the back end. He played over 25 minutes leading the B’s in ice-time while paired with captain Chara. They had a goal wiped out on a Carlo shot that was redirected by Noel Acciari due to a successful coach’s challenge from Boucher for offside. It was indeed offside. I still hate the challenge system because it takes so much flow away from the game. It’s just too long a process.

Here’s a key stat. Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak each with only one goal. If Boston wants to extend the series when it shifts to Ottawa, they need their best scorers to do it. Ottawa remains one of those teams you don’t want to face due to their grinding defensive style. Plus they have the skaters who can expose you on turnovers such as Mike Hoffman, Karlsson, Brassard along with eerily quiet Kyle Turris and Mark Stone. Yet they’re in a winning position due to Ryan.

It’s Game 5 in Montreal later tonight at Bell Centre. Rangers and Canadiens in what’s been the most fun series. Between the whistle stuff. Legal. Illegal. Lot of dirty too from those Habs. But it’s definitely not dull. These teams hate each other. Les Canadiens want to win desperately. They face the pressure with the series tied 2-2. Price and Lundqvist giving a great show. It should be a good one! 😀

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Getting Nashty! Nash’s game-winner boosts Rangers in 2-1 Game 4 win over Canadiens, Series tied 2-2

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Nashty: Rick Nash celebrates his backhand game-winner in the second period of a huge Rangers’ 2-1 win to take Game 4 over the Canadiens and send the series back to Montreal tied 2-2. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

The Rangers answered the bell. Facing the prospect of a 3-1 series deficit, they refused to lose. The home playoff losing streak is over at six. Rick Nash’s goal in the second period broke a 1-1 tie to give them a hard fought 2-1 win over the Canadiens to take Game 4 at a more enthusiastic MSG. The first round series is now tied 2-2 with a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night at Bell Centre. If it’s anything like tonight, it should be a good one.

Responding to adversity following a disappointing Game 3 in which they were disjointed and booed, the Blueshirts went the extra mile to square the best-of-seven match-up. There were battles all over the ice. Clean, borderline or dirty, the Original Six rivals pushed the envelope. Refs Francis Charron and Steve Kozari let everything go. It was old style playoff hockey. Essentially, kill or be killed.

That’s how the Canadiens played it. At times, they were malicious and vicious with their sticks. The Rangers played through it giving some of it back. This was not for the faint of heart. It was get your dirty jersey night at the oldest NHL building in the league. While there were beefs with how it was called, the officiating was consistent. They let the teams decide it.

Unlike Game 3, the Blueshirts were ready to go from the outset. Vigneault started the game with the newly minted third line of J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. Even though they didn’t score, they set the tone with some good offensive zone time. It was the team in classic blue with red and white that was the aggressor. A different game than the one played on Sunday. It translated to three shots on Carey Price early and 12 overall in a entertaining first period that also saw the Habs come back late.

All four lines Vigneault used were effective including the trio that consisted of rookie Pavel Buchnevich in his first NHL playoff game. Inserted for Tanner Glass, the just turned 22-year old Russian was reunited with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on a line the Rangers tried out early in the season. Buchnevich’s skating and skill got Zibanejad going. He was much more involved throughout getting three shots while attempting seven- even throwing a huge hit in the third that drew cheers. It was by far his best game. Kreider still was tentative to shoot the puck winding up with two shots but did have one big hit protecting a one-goal lead.

For his first taste of NHL playoff action, Buchnevich was largely effective on the forecheck creating chances for himself and teammates. He wound up with three shots and two hits in 17 shifts (12:23). That included 1:58 on the power play. There weren’t many. Only two with the first abbreviated due to Nash taking the puck hard to the net and colliding with Price, who drew a goalie interference penalty that wiped out a power play goal.

By that point, the Blueshirts led thanks to another big contribution from the fourth line. This time, it was the always hustling Jesper Fast who got rewarded with his first goal of the series. Closing in on Andrei Markov behind the net off a Brady Skjei dump in, Fast took full advantage of a Markov turnover. He took the puck to the net and stuffed a backhand past Price for an unassisted tally with 8:21 left in the period.

It was important for the Rangers to get a lead. It helped energize the building who knew what this game meant. Realistically, they couldn’t go down 3-1 with two of the next three in Montreal. If they wanted to give themselves a chance, they had to get this game. They did what it took.

Of course, that included some clutch stops from Henrik Lundqvist. He had to deal with two Canadiens breakaways. Prior to Fast’s tally, he stoned Andrew Shaw by just getting enough of his shot with the glove. He made several tough saves from in tight including a couple on pest Brendan Gallagher. Lundqvist also made a timely stop on Artturi Lehkonen on Montreal’s last power play late in the second.

The goaltending in this series has been phenomenal. Both Lundqvist and Price have taken turns coming up big. It’s no surprise. It’s a battle of two of the game’s best. Aside from Game 2 when the Habs rallied for a 4-3 overtime win, goals have been hard to come by. In Games 1, 3 and 4, the teams have combined for nine. Only Game 3 was decidedly one-sided. Game 1 went down to the wire before Michael Grabner scored an empty netter. Game 2 saw Tomas Plekanec tie it with 17.3 seconds left with Alex Radulov getting the OT winner.

Game 4 saw the Rangers protect a one-goal lead with some nervy play and a bit of luck. Mainly the goalpost next to Lundqvist on a Shea Weber bomb with 1:18 left. Nothing comes easy for this team. It didn’t to post their first playoff victory at MSG since Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay on 5/16/15. Also by a 2-1 margin. How’s that for irony?

Trailing by one, the Habs didn’t back off. They drew even due to a bad line change from the Rangers. With Skjei battling Alex Radulov by the bench, the skilled Russian veteran caught Nick Holden out of position by sending a nice touch backhand pass to a cutting Shea Weber for a two-on-one. With Holden flat on his back, Weber dished across for an easy Torrey Mitchell one-time and a bang tying the score with 1:23 remaining.

What made it even nuttier is that both teams had six skaters out. Each could’ve been whistled for a bench minor. Instead, the four officials managed to miss it. The end result was a great play started by Radulov, who picked up his series-leading sixth point. It got even worse. The ending to a solid period also saw Ryan McDonagh pick up a slashing minor with five seconds remaining. A frustrating conclusion.

Encouraging is that the Rangers were able to kill off the remaining 1:55 at the start of the second. If the first was back and forth with the teams splitting goals with the Rangers holding a 12-10 edge in shots, that wasn’t the case in the middle stanza. It was largely dominated by the home team. Using their speed and forecheck, they controlled play. The balance of four lines which also included rookie Jimmy Vesey with Derek Stepan and Nash worked in their favor. They still finished checks but were hard on the puck and pinned the Habs in.

A great keep and terrific pass by McDonagh all the way through to Nash in front resulted in Nash beating Price with a beautiful backhand finish for his second of the series at 4:28. The goal came thanks to relentless pressure from the top line. But without McDonagh’s dynamic play at the left point, it never happens. He had been quiet during the first three games. However, the Rangers captain was a force in Game 4. He not only got his first point but played with an edge throwing the weight around. In a heated third, he delivered a couple of big checks while defending well. He led by example with 2 takeaways, 2 blocked shots and four hits with a plus-one rating in 26 big shifts (22:22).

He wasn’t the only one. Brendan Smith had a whale of a game. Banged around by the Habs legally and illegally including a missed Radulov chop to him late in the third, he took his lumps. It was the key acquisition from the Red Wings who led the Blueshirts in ice-time with 22:44 in 29 shifts. He really took a beating. But never missed a shift. He’s tough. Something this team has needed. Vigneault did a good job using him more.

The coach also limited Holden to 14:25 following his awful coverage on the Mitchell goal. Vigneault leaned heavily on the vets with Marc Staal also putting together a solid game logging 19:38 in 29 shifts. He and Dan Girardi were a factor on the penalty kill which went three-for-three. As Girardi told MSG’s John Giannone following the victory, they have to play smarter. Something that he emphasized moving forward.

The third was one of anxiety. Even though they only got six shots on Lundqvist, Montreal threatened early. But after a couple of close calls, the Rangers tightened up. They didn’t just sit back. Instead, continuing to push forward when the opportunity presented itself. Vesey nearly had his first NHL playoff goal on a superb effort. But Price robbed him. He played a very good game attempting four shots in 22 shifts (15:29).

Nash was in beast mode all night. He skated with purpose and went hard to the net making life difficult on the Montreal D and on Price. His game-winning goal was the only one he had but not from lack of chances. He narrowly missed another just wide. He finished with eight attempts and two hits while playing the kind of hockey the Garden Faithful delighted in. Make no mistake. Number 61 is having one of his best series. His two goals are tied with Grabner for the team lead.

With Stepan continuing to struggle taking an undisciplined hooking minor with 2:32 left in the second, Nash has really carried the load. Especially with Kreider continuing to puzzle. Ditto for Miller, who remains without a point despite being active. At some point, one of those two needs a breakout game. Hayes was better in this one. Maybe playing with the ornery Zuccarello rubbed off. He didn’t score but the pint sized Norwegian with the huge heart was his feisty self exchanging barbs with Steve Ott while competing hard.

On the fourth line with Oscar Lindberg and Fast, Grabner had another effective night registering five shots, seven attempts with two blocks in 12:34 (22 shifts). His biggest contribution was staying close enough to Lehkonen on a Habs set up to not allow him to get all of a one-timer which Lundqvist stopped. That attention to detail was what decided the game.

In the third, only some big stops by Price kept the Habs in it. He made 10 altogether to finish with 30 in the game. Lundqvist only had to make 23. A better number for the King. It still came down to a Weber blast which rang off the goalpost. That’s how dangerous Weber is. It was from way out. Lundqvist talked about how they got the lucky bounce this time unlike Game 2 afterwards.

That was the last hurrah for Montreal, who had a couple of shots blocked. They also were unable to get a final shot with captain Max Pacioretty kept behind the net by diligent Rangers checkers as time expired.

This was more like it. Sure. There were plenty of missed stick fouls. There also was a cheap Ott back kick of Zuccarello’s skate which was dangerous. But we know it won’t be reviewed. The Department of Player Safety is a joke. They only review plays where players are injured.

The Rangers have to feel a lot better headed into Game 5. They played the way they needed to. With purpose. They battled for every inch and were better. Something Pacioretty alluded to in the post game. Now, it’s a best-of-three series with the huge fifth game at Bell Centre. Montreal fan will be rabid. It will be a chaotic atmosphere. One in which the Rangers have dealt with before. They are a good experienced road team.

It just got a whole lot more interesting. The fun is just beginning.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Carey Price, Canadiens (30 saves including 10/10 in busy 3rd to give team a chance)

2nd Star-Alain Vigneault, Rangers (not kidding-he made the necessary lineup changes needed to succeed and managed the bench well)

1st Star-Rick Nash, Rangers (game-winning goal-2nd of series, 8 attempts in 27 dominant shifts-16:31)

Playoff Notes: Shots were 32-24 Rangers and attempts were 60-50. They deserved this one with tremendous effort. … The Blueshirts continue to hit winding up with 43 compared to the Canadiens’ 25. Most impressively, all 18 skaters were credited with one. The pesky Fast paced them with five. A testy Radulov had four along with Brandon Davidson for Les Canadiens. Key Stat: Giveaways MTL 16 (Markov 5) NYR 15 (Smith 4). If there was a notable difference, the Rangers had 13 takeaways compared to only 4 from the Habs. … Face-offs were 37-31 Montreal. Phillip Danault went a dominant 14-and-4. Tomas Plekanec was 13-and-10. Zibanejad was the Rangers’ best going 10-and-7 including one huge draw in which he went forward with the puck for a big clear to start a penalty kill. Lindberg went 5-and-4. … The Rangers didn’t have to block as many shots winding up with 13 (Miller 3) while the Canadiens had 18 (Jeff Petry 4).

… In other playoff action, the Blue Jackets staved off elimination by posting a 5-4 home win over the Penguins. Boone Jenner’s goal turned out to be the game-winner with the red hot Jake Guentzel making things dicey with a shorthanded goal at 19:32. The rookie’s fifth of the series. Pittsburgh will try to clinch the series at home on Thursday. … Meanwhile, it’s a Shark Attack in San Jose. The Sharks have responded in a big way to being shutout the last two games by Cam Talbot. They chased Talbot with a five spot on 24 shots in less than two periods. They then greeted backup Laurent Brossoit with a goal from Joe Pavelski making it 6-0 after two. Logan Couture has a pair for 30 career postseason goals and Pavelski has two. Patrick Marleau lit the lamp with a beauty top shelf that made it 3-0. So, it looks like that series will head back to Edmonton tied 2-2.

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Can the Rangers win a home Game 4?

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Derek Stepan checks a Canadien in Game 3. He is one of a handful of key Rangers who must step it up if the team is to win a home Game 4 tonight. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

I’ll start this off with a simple question for our team. Following Sunday’s atrocious performance as they let the Canadiens dictate play in an easy 3-1 road win at a quiet MSG, can the Rangers win a home Game 4 to tie the series up?

It’s not easily answered. Not when this team featuring plenty of core guys still around from 2015 have experienced six consecutive home defeats in the NHL playoffs. The count is now 21-4. Frankly, I’m tired of talking about it.

Is it psychological? It sure seems that way. When asked about the losing streak that the Lightning started in Game 2 of a disappointing Eastern Conference Final, J.T. Miller wouldn’t discuss it. Who wants to? But if they can’t get fully prepared for Tuesday’s game, it could be another short postseason.

The Canadiens deserve credit for how they’ve played. They’ve showed more urgency in rallying to come back in Game 2 and then taking away the Rangers’ speed in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven first round series. It’s the Habs who are standing up at the blue line forcing stubborn Blueshirts into neutral zone turnovers fueling their strong counter attack. They are the better defensive team getting sticks on passes and shots when they’re attempted. A problem that plagues Alain Vigneault’s team, who made it way too easy on Carey Price.

Montreal didn’t make it easy on Henrik Lundqvist, who had to deal with 10 shots in the first period despite two Rangers power plays which did the usual. Zilch. How can the coaching staff and players explain a miserable six shots? No wonder MSG has become the worst home ice advantage in the league. Most of the True Blue fans have been replaced by impostors who aren’t as enthusiastic about the team. This is what you get with the outrageous prices James Dolan charges. They didn’t even give out t-shirts.

The question is this. With Vigneault making changes to his four lines, will the new combinations work? It looks like rookie Pavel Buchnevich could draw in for Tanner Glass on a line that had success very early with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The gifted 21-year old Russian also practiced on the first power play unit. If he plays, can that awaken Zibanejad and Kreider?

What about moving rookie Jimmy Vesey up to play with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash? Like Buchnevich with Zibanejad and Kreider, Vesey had some early success with Stepan and Nash. That means Vigneault has added key playmaker Mats Zuccarello to a third line of Kevin Hayes and Miller. A combo which could work. If anything, it could provide more balance. Michael Grabner is slated to move down to a fourth line with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast.

If Glass comes out, it’s not for anything bad. He played as well as any Rangers forward which should tell you everything. When the 12th forward has more goals than Stepan, Kreider, Zibanejad, Hayes and Miller, there is clearly something wrong. Either the top players step up or they’ll be facing a 3-1 series deficit at the House of Horrors Thursday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the disappointing first three games for top defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Sure. He and Dan Girardi draw the tough assignment. But McDonagh is without a goal or assist. A far cry from the impact he had in 2014. He also isn’t getting enough ice-time. If you take out Game 2 which went to overtime, McDonagh isn’t being ridden enough by Vigneault.

With the state of the defense fragile, McDonagh and Brady Skjei should be utilized more. Not less. They are the best skating D who can fuel the transition game Vigneault prefers. Brendan Smith is the third best defenseman. But somehow, he was back with Skjei on the third pair in practice. Nick Holden is expected to return to the lineup. That means more of the chaotic Holden/Marc Staal pair. A pair which should be limited at even strength. There needs to be better management on the bench.

The question is this. If the Habs continue to take away the stretch pass and stand up, will the Rangers make the necessary adjustments. We’ve seen them fail miserably against Tampa Bay in Games 5 and 7 of 2015. We saw them get dominated by a much faster and superior team in the Penguins, who exposed their weaknesses. The Canadiens aren’t Pittsburgh. They are not a high scoring team. They do it with grit and hustle. That’s the Claude Julien way.

If you watch the other series, you see teams scoring goals by having players in front. The Maple Leafs lead the Capitals 2-1 winning the last two games in sudden death. They aren’t doing it by not getting dirty. They have plenty of young talent which helps. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner are not easily stopped. But when you see vets such as James van Riemsdyk and Game 3 hero Tyler Bozak doing the dirty work, it rubs off.

That is also why the Predators are on the verge of knocking off the Blackhawks. They dominated overtime after a pair of Filip Forsberg goals in the third period rallied them at home. It was a relentless forecheck with players continuing to make life difficult for Corey Crawford that eventually resulted in a Hawks turnover and Kevin Fiala’s overtime winner which put them up a commanding 3-0. They took the action to Chicago. A veteran team that looks overmatched. Even Jonathan Toews has looked out of sorts against the Preds’ aggressive attack.

What it demonstrates is that the teams who win at this time of year must do whatever it takes. So, if that means more chips and recoveries in the corner like they did to win Game 1, so be it. The Blueshirts must get back to that mentality. They can’t have 21 giveaways and expect a different result. They need to manage the puck better and not play into Montreal’s hands.

Game 4 is at 7 PM later tonight. The Garden will be waiting for something positive to happen. If they’re flat like Sunday or unprepared, they won’t win. They have to come out flying and skating with purpose. It’s their livelihood at stake. They don’t want to go back to Montreal facing elimination in a Game 5 on the road for a second consecutive Spring.

There are plenty of questions that remain unanswered. As Lundqvist echoed the other night, it’s up to the 20 players to give everything. It’s up to them.

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Canadiens humiliate Rangers 3-1 to take Game 3, lead series 2-1

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It was all Canadiens in a dominant Game 3 with Montreal taking it 3-1 over a awful Rangers who lost a sixth straight time in the playoffs on home ice dating back to 2015. The Habs lead the series 2-1. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Canadiens Montreal.

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.

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Game 3 Canadiens vs Rangers Pre Game

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. 😛

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Department of Player Safety Is Clueless

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This scrum was started by a deliberate cheap shot by Steve Ott on Mats Zuccarello. Somehow, Montreal came out with a power play. The Department of Player Safety didn’t even review it. They remain a joke as with the garbage Matt Calvert pulled. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy The Score.

So, this cheap shot by Matt Calvert near the conclusion of the Blue Jackets’ Game 2 loss at the Penguins was worth only a one-game suspension.

Goon tactics by Columbus. It’s hard to take them seriously when they pull stunts like this. Message sending I get. But you don’t go about it this way. Calvert delivered a punch an unsuspecting Tom Kuhnackl that could’ve seriously injured him. Anyone who knows me knows I have no love for the Pens. Of course, their stars (Crosby especially) have gotten away with cheap stuff before without even a sniff from the Department of NHL Safety.

However, they have stuck to hockey in the first two games severely outplaying the Blue Jackets. Crosby and Malkin are having a field day so far. If they want to get back in the series, the Jackets need to shift the focus to hockey by scoring on Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s been brilliant in place of injured starter Matt Murray.

Personally, I believe what Calvert pulled was garbage. He should’ve gotten two or three games. But not the blind Dept. of Player Safety. Never. They are clueless. How else do you explain this cheap shot delivered by Montreal goon Steve Ott on Mats Zuccarello with the puck nowhere near that led to a scrum with Shea Weber pummeling J.T. Miller?

Typical garbage that Player Safety allows by going too soft.

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Why We Love The NHL Playoffs

We’re only into Day 4 of the 2017 NHL Playoffs and already we’re seeing why we love postseason hockey. What makes it great is the unpredictability.

In just four days, we’ve gotten plenty of overtime puck. A day after the Canadiens beat the Rangers in sudden death, two more games needed it. The total is already up to six. First, the Senators had a hell of a comeback in a pressure situation to stun the Bruins. They came from two back to force OT and then took Game 2 on a Dion Phaneuf goal 1:59 into extras to even the first round series headed back to Boston.

For a second straight game, heavy underdog Toronto took big favorite Washington to sudden death. Unlike Game 1 when they blew a two-goal lead losing 3-2 on fourth liner Tom Wilson’s first career postseason goal, the young Leafs relied on their experienced veterans to tie the series. Even though they had the better of the play, the Caps needed a tying goal from top center Nicklas Backstrom on a extended shift where Dmitri Orlov was able to find him with a nice pass through traffic to tie it with 7:21 left in regulation.

Unfazed, the Leafs counted on former Ducks number one goalie Frederik Andersen to make the big saves. At critical moments, he stood on his head. That included a huge stop on Alex Ovechkin, who came out of the penalty box with 46 seconds remaining in the first overtime. With back pressure from rookie Mitch Marner, Andersen was able to get just enough of Ovechkin’s point blank shot to keep it out.  He then stopped him a second time forcing the first double overtime of this exciting playoffs.

As OT went on, the Leafs started to get momentum. They were able to generate some quality chances on a power play with Braden Holtby stopping Calder front runner Auston Matthews and denying William Nylander. It was in an evenly played second OT that the Leafs’ fourth line stepped up. Having been dangerous throughout with Matt Martin and Brian Boyle setting up rookie Kasperi Kapanen for his first career postseason goal, it was again the ex-Islander and the former Ranger who made Kapanen’s emotional game-winner happen.

Off a good cycle from Martin to Boyle behind the net, the always clutch ex-Blueshirt went to work. He had the presence to carry the puck as if going around but then sent a no look backhand feed to a wide open Kapanen for the put away at 11:53 of double overtime. How good was it? It reminded true Blueshirt fans of Boyle’s heroics in Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. A look at Boyle’s unreal pass that wrong footed every Cap including Holtby, who got caught leaning:

Boyle making that play and incredible pass for the Kapanen winner is beyond belief. That is a very skilled play by the veteran big man. Sure. He’s been a key playoff performer before doing it at MSG in deep runs for the Rangers in 2012 and 2014 while also reaching the Stanley Cup Final at our expense with the Lightning in 2015. But even I was stunned by the pass. He’s a hardworking gritty fourth line high energy guy who shows up in big moments. Whether it’s a huge cycle and set up such as this pass to Dominic Moore clinching the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years:

Or it’s a big penalty kill where Brian Boyle lays out and sacrifices to block a shot, he can be counted on in crunch time. He can also win big draws. No surprise that he went 11-and-6 while tallying two assists with a plus-two rating in 29 shifts-16:34.

The playoffs are where unlikely heroes are born. Look at the Rangers’ 2-0 win in Game 1 at Montreal. The game-winning goal didn’t come from any of their top scorers. But rather 12th forward Tanner Glass. Yes. The same Glass who has been hotly debated on social media and forums by divided fans. Some asked why is he playing on the fourth line over Pavel Buchnevich. And they weren’t wrong to question it.

Quite frankly, Glass’ physicality and grinding style is a better fit with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. So, is it a shock that the fourth line has been the Rangers’ best in the first two games? Not with how these games are being played. It doesn’t mean coach Alain Vigneault shouldn’t consider inserting the skilled Buchnevich for say an ineffective Kevin Hayes. That largely depends on what Hayes gives them in tonight’s pivotal Game 3. Why change the one line that’s working.

There’s also this:

Amazingly enough, it’s true. The Chicago Blackhawks are in deep trouble against the Nashville Predators. They lost the first two games at home without scoring a single goal in six periods against Pekka Rinne. Not even Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Artemi Panarin could figure him out. The same Rinne who was at times inconsistent this season. So, the top seeded Blackhawks are down 2-0 headed to Music City for the next two. Their season is on the line. Ditto for the Wild against the Blues, who will host a huge Game 3 in St. Louis on Sunday.

That is the playoffs in a nutshell. Only two of eight series have seen the home team sweep the first two games. The Penguins are two up on the Blue Jackets and the Ducks just completed yet another home win over the hexed Flames at The Pond to go up 2-0. The remaining six series are tied 1-1. It speaks to the parity there is in the league.

And if you’re looking for unlikely heroes from playoffs past, here you go:

I don’t watch this often. It’s a reminder of the past. But hell. Who knew Stephane Matteau would be so crucial to one of the greatest Conference Finals ever played? He was a throw in with Brian Noonan for Tony Amonte. Credit Mike Keenan even if they won in spite of him.

One last reminder. How about this guy for Calgary during their amazing run in 2004?

Martin Gelinas also eliminated the Canucks in the first round in Game 7. One I still remember because I took him in an office pool winning money. 😉

When games go to sudden death, anything’s possible. Mark Messier never scored in overtime. That man Boyle has done it twice. You need those types to win at this time of year. It’s what makes the NHL Playoffs fun and unpredictable.

Oh by the way. Guess who scored the clutch tying goal for the Senators in the third on a brilliant pass from Erik Karlsson. None other than Derick Brassard. Big Game Brass is at it again adding to his moniker. He also had an assist in the Sens’ big 4-3 OT win over the B’s.

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