The New York Rangers missed a huge opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 series lead on Friday night. Thomas Plekanec tied the game late in the third period, and Alexander Radulov tallied the overtime-winning goal to even up the First Round series, 1-1.
The Blueshirts had played a strong game through the first 50 minutes of the contest, but in the second half of the third period, they sat back too much, did not attack and eventually surrendered the game-tying goal in the final minute.
Henrik Lundqvist played an ultra-aggressive game, challenging shooters often and even chased Max Pacioretty into the corner during one sequence. The biggest positive is that Lundqvist looks to be in top form and the Rangers did split the first two games on the road.
Blueshirt Bullet Points
1) Alain Vigneault’s decision to skip the Brady Skjei – Brendan Smith pairing in the final minutes twice was absolutely a huge mistake. That duo has clearly been the Rangers second best defensive pairing, yet the coach sent out Marc Staal and Nick Holden with approximately 1:15 remaining in regulation. Staal and Holden were on the ice for all three goals against in regulation.
2) Based on Holden’s performance throughout the first two games of this series, Kevin Klein must return to the lineup as the Blueshirts travel back to New York. The combination of Staal and Klein seemed to have found some chemistry in the final few regular season games and should be used as the third defensive pairing. Holden has provided value to this team over the course of the regular season, but at this point in time, he is the seventh best defenseman on the roster and should be a healthy scratch.
3) “Of course it stings, it stings a lot,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said on MSG Network. “17 seconds away from taking a 2-0 series lead. But that’s hockey, playoff hockey. Got to learn from it. Got to trust the group in here.
4) In overtime, the Rangers barely got going. Jimmy Vesey and Mika Zibanejad each had a scoring chance but other than that, the Canadiens controlled the tempo and spent a ton of time in the offensive zone. If New York was able to force a second overtime they might have eventually settled down, but it was not to be.
5) On the winning goal, Rick Nash tried to do way too much in the neutral zone and had several chances to make the smart, safe outlet pass. Eventually, Max Pacioretty picked his pocket and then, Mike Zibanjead failed to tie up Radulov in front of the net.
6) Michael Grabner scored his second goal of the series after he beat Carey Price with a nifty move on a breakaway to knot the game 1-1. His game-breaking speed can wreck a series if he is able to finish. So far, he is off to a good start.
7) Rick Nash scored an important goal to tie the game 2-2 midway through the second period. At the end of the opening frame, Nash had a golden scoring opportunity but fired the puck right into Carey Price’s chest. He did not make the same mistake twice as he placed a wrist shot in the top corner to beat Price on the glove side.
8) The Rangers fourth line was outstanding once again. We all know what Jesper Fast brings every shift but Oscar Lindberg won 9 of eleven faceoffs and Tanner Glass was one of the better Rangers forwards. That line being effective is a positive for New York, but they are still the fourth line. The top-nine forwards have to be more effective on a shift-to-shift basis.
9) It would not be the Stanley Cup Playoffs if we did not talk about the refereeing. Midway through the second period Skjei was penalized for roughing. A known instigator, Brendan Gallagher, drove to the net and Skjei tossed him to the ice after he attempted to crash into Lundqvist. In the first 20 minutes, the referees set a tone and essentially told the players ‘we are going to let you play’. After sending that message, they cannot change the course and start calling soft penalties. Was Steve Ott called for his vicious blindside hit on Mats Zuccarello? The referees also missed a blatant trip in overtime when Chris Kreider started heading to the sin bin before the whistle was blown. And, Andrew Shaw can essentially do whatever he likes because the referees pay no attention to him.
10) The series now turns into a best of five, with three games played at Madison Square Garden. Based on the Rangers home record this season and in recent postseason games, the real question is, is that a good thing?
11) Will find out during Game 3 on Easter Sunday.