However, it’s not simple — nor worthwhile — to dismiss losses at The Garden during the postseason because they could be playoff-fatal.
When the Canadiens exited The World’s Most Famous Arena ice last night chortling over their 3-1 victory and a two-games-to-one tourney lead, it compelled analysts to wonder what ever happened to that thing called “Home Ice Advantage.”
Alain Vigneault now has a day to figure out the formula for eradicating what so far has been harder to figure than a Martian crossword puzzle.
Surely all signs in theory point to Garden ice being a hospitable place for the Blueshirts. After all, the Rangers are totally familiar with the rink and the building. Plus, home is supposed to be a happy place.
Not so far for the Rangers.
Any hopes of the sellout crowd providing a win catalyst were dashed at 17:37 of the second period by Artturi Lehkonen on the visitors first power-play.
J.T. Miller was the Ranger in the sin bin for a face-off violation, playing the puck with his glove. It was a case of Canadiens opportunism, fortified by their aggressive play.
Actually, the game’s overall tone was set in the first period when the Habs dominated play while killing two Rangers penalties. Montreal also got a break when New York’s Oscar Lindberg hit the post in the mid-first period.
Despite the crowd’s urgings, the Blueshirts couldn’t seem to gain traction, which only emboldened the visitors. However, in the first period, Henrik Lundqvist held the fort for New York.
By the end of the second period, Montreal led 1-0 and had outshot New York 22-12, a reasonable reflection of the first 40 minutes.
Without a doubt, the Habs had more puck possession and moved ahead on a well-executed power play as opposed to the Blueshirts confusion with a man advantage.
After two periods, Canadiens goalie Carey Price had only a handful of tough saves to make while his defenders kept the Rangers attackers at bay.
More stats tell the story: After a pair of periods, the Rangers had 16 giveaways to Montreal’s three. The Habs had won 68-percent of face-offs.
Meanwhile, penalties continued to harass the Blueshirts and stall their third-period comeback attempts. A four-minute high-sticking penalty to Mats Zuccarello turned out to be the fatal infraction.
New York’s penalty-killers erased the first two minutes threat and most of the second-half of the infraction. But before Zuccarello could escape the sin bin, Shea Weber had scored what proved to be the winning goal at 7:42 of the final frame.
Alexander Radulov put the final stamp on his club’s triumph, beating Lundqvist with a neat deke at 15:35 of the third. By that time the game was out of the Rangers’ reach.
After A.V. pulled Lundqvist for an extra skater, Brady Skjei beat Price at 17:04 of the third, but the goal proved academic in the end. Further Rangers thrusts proved ineffective.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- SCORELESS STICKS: From the opening face-off, the Rangers lacked puck possession, confidence and crisp attack of the visitors. Top regular season Rangers’ attackers, such as Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Michael Grabner and Rick Nash, among others, constantly were neutralized.
- POWERLESS POWER PLAY: Gifted with two power plays before the Habs even had one, the Rangers first PP was disorganized and the second was more of a threat, but failed to score. Montreal went one-for-one on power plays after two periods; then one-for-two scoring on the PP again in the third. New York had a third power play in the third period but it failed once more. Oh-for-three with a man advantage won’t cut it the way the Habs are flying.
- PRICE WAS RIGHT: Although he had precious little work, Price was there with the saves when needed.
- FAILED PENALTY KILL: The Rangers went oh-for-two in shorthanded situations, which actually could be the story of the game.
- OUT-FORECHECKED: Montreal proved more effective forechecking in the Rangers zone than the vice being versa.
BEST SAVE: After the Rangers scored late in the third period, the Blueshirts tried again with an extra skater but Price stopped a one-timer by Jesper Fast that looked goal-labelled.
TURNING POINT: Miller’s handling of the puck on face-off penalty set up the Canadiens second-period power play that connected and put the visitors ahead to stay. If a final nail needed to be pounded it was Weber’s power-play counter in the third on the second half of a Rangers penalty.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “The Rangers didn’t have many chances against Carey Price. Not much Henrik Lundqvist could have done in this one. Montreal slowed them down. The Rangers will have to come up with a different game plan.”
- RICK NASH: “Anytime you are not having success, getting chances, getting opportunities, there is some frustration. It’s the playoffs, you have to figure out what you are doing wrong, get over it quick, and get ready for the next one.”
- DAN GIRARDI: “We need to throw pucks on net, that’s how goals are scored in the playoffs. Put people in front and make things hard for Carey Price out there.”
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “Our fourth line was our best line. The Canadiens are doing a real good job defensively. We had a lot of turnovers and have to manage the puck better. Early on we had some real good opportunities. No doubt in my mind that this group wants to do well in front of its fans.”
- DEREK STEPAN: “I didn’t think the puck was friendly for us tonight. We struggled — everybody — to execute. Certainly, it wasn’t a lack of effort — we were almost at times trying too hard.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “We have to give more at home, in the playoffs, or we aren’t going to win. We need more; it’s as simple as that. Obviously, special teams were a big part of the game. I didn’t come up with the saves on the penalty kill. Our power play did not get going and get any momentum for us. We all need to be better in the next one.”
- CAREY PRICE: “We played with a lot of confidence. As we progress we gain momentum. We’re exactly in the spot we want to be in.”
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “We didn’t get a lot of shots. A lot of one and done. Not making passes in the offensive zone, making hope plays. We can’t do that at this point in the year. It’s not going to work out. Teams are too tight defensively. We’re definitely fighting it a little bit; to say the least. If it’s not going well, we really need to simplify; make one or two passes and look to get it to the net. We are maybe looking to extend our plays a little bit too much and it’s costing us scoring opportunities.”
BOTTOM LINE: Neither energized by the crowd nor able to generate a formidable attack, the Rangers suffered once more from what, ironically, has become their nemesis — home ice. Another possible tactical mistake has been the Blueshirts overdoing physicality at the expense of artistry. Tomorrow they’ll have to dig themselves out of a hole created by a very determined and confident foe.