There are certain things in hockey that are nice; and others that are very nice.
As far as the Rangers are concerned in their first round playoff with Montreal, it would have been very nice to return home with two wins out of two tries.
Then again, one out of two ain’t bad since Games 3 and 4 are at The Garden tomorrow and Tuesday night.
Since a four-game sweep was not on anyone’s prediction list, Montreal’s 4-3 overtime victory at Bell Centre does not come under the category of Worst Thing In The World, although — for Rangers fans — it sure felt like it at the time, and, really, feels that way even now.
The sudden-death loss hurts, especially since Habs goalie Carey Price had thrice been beaten and a Rangers victory was just 17.3 seconds away.
This much is certain; if the first two games are any barometer, this tourney could go the whole seven games. Certainly, the excitement level could not be any higher.
What catapulted the Habs last night was their comeback-ability, not to mention the fact that they scored first — and after the Blueshirts tied the count Montreal counter-attacked once more and went up 2-1 after the first period.
Even after New York took a 3-2 lead into the third period, the nonplussed Canadiens sustained the intensity.
Over and over the Habs pressed, often coming close to tying the count until the final seconds with Price out for an extra attacker. Tomas Plekanec bounced a shot off Rangers defenseman Nick Holden, who had previously broken and therefore lost his stick.
Although the Rangers had chances in overtime, the sudden-death session mostly belonged to the home team.
The Habs seemed to be energized by the wildly enthused Bell Centre crowd. Even after Shea Weber’s shot hit the post and bounced harmlessly away, the Canadiens kept coming back for more. At times they seemed to have a mortgage on the puck and, finally it paid off with Alexander Radulov’s goal.
OVERVIEW: We’re seeing a war of attrition with intense brute force; hits galore and supersonic speed on the ice. The difference in Game 2 was Montreal’s ability to solve Henrik Lundqvist while softening up the New Yorkers with endless body checks.
The Canadiens succeeded in muzzling Rangers big guns such as Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. With the chips down in overtime, Montreal forced the play over and over and, eventually, the Law of Averages worked in their favor. They scored from a scramble. Once again, charging the net worked.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- CLOSE, BUT NO VICTORY: The Canadiens had pulled Price in the final minute, yet the Rangers seemed able to sustain the full-ice press. But Holden broke his stick and was unable to blunt an attack as the tying goal went off his leg.
- LOST PUCK, LOST GAME: Just when it appeared that the game would drift into a second overtime, Rick Nash launched a rush at center ice, but lost the rubber. The Habs seized the initiative, poured into the Rangers zone and won it on a goalmouth scramble.
- EMPTY RANGERS TANK: The Canadiens had plenty of gas when overtime began and it showed from the opening puck drop of the extra session. For most of the sudden-death session, the Blueshirts appeared to be playing with a half-empty tank.
- NOT ENOUGH ATTACK: Kreider, Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes were not the kind of offensive factors needed to put the Rangers over the top. Montreal outshot New York, 58-38. In this case, that advantage was meaningful in relation to the final result.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “It stings, but it’s one-one going back to our building. I trust everybody in here. It’s first to four and it’s going to be fun.”
- MSG NETWORKS HOST AL TRAUTWIG: “The Rangers have proven in the past that they’re good in a game after a loss and they’ll get that chance at The Garden.”
- MSG NETWORKS ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “Montreal had more quickness and more fight. Everybody was willing to take a hit to make a play.”
- MSG NETWORKS ANALYST DAVE MALONEY: “It was a tremendous hockey game. J.T. Miller had a tailor-made game for his style. Shea Weber was tremendous for Montreal.”
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “Hank played a great game; he gave us a chance to win. We’ll take a couple of hours to feel sorry for ourselves; then get back to business. Both teams battled real hard and had some good looks. We’ll rejuvenate and be ready on Sunday. Playing in front of our fans will be good. When the puck drops, we’ll focus on what to do against a very good hockey team.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “It was tough; they tie it with a broken stick. We had a good chance to win. They did a good job of keeping the pucks in and getting second and third chances. It’s tough, but it happens. It’s the playoffs and at times it will be tough to see pucks. We had stretches where we played well. The next challenge is to get over this and re-charge in front of our own fans. That will be exciting.”
- MSG NETWORKS ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “The Rangers were a tired hockey club at the end.”
- RICK NASH: “We were so close to winning the game; it was tough. We gave up too much in our own zone. Our line was good. Jimmy (Vesey) had a good chance in overtime.”
- MSG NETWORKS ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “The Rangers were exhausted from all their hitting.”
- DAN GIRARDI: “It was tough but we have to regroup, move on from here. We’d have liked to take two, but it’s one-one going into our building with a short-term memory.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Game 3 is pegged for 7 p.m. on Sunday at The Garden. TV: MSG Network.
BOTTOM LINE: The question now centers on the Rangers ability to rebound from this stunning double-dip — blowing the late lead and losing in sudden-death — defeat. New York needs more from the scorers who delivered during the season. Kreider’s shot, among others, must be ignited.