Rangers Respond at Home, Even Series

Rangers 2, Canadiens 1

With the Rangers and Canadiens jetting to Montreal for Game 5 Thursday night at Bell Centre, two evenly matched teams have created heebie-jeebies on both sides of the border.

The Blueshirts’ rebound victory last night at The Garden not only revived the spirits of Rangerville, but also restored confidence in a club that appeared to miss that vital ingredient on Sunday evening

Regaining an even split in the series was no mean feat and required sterling efforts from some of the previously drought-afflicted among the Seventh Avenue Skaters. 

The Blueshirts were able to pull out a huge Game 4 win by scoring both of their goals on Carey Price in an almost identical way.

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But the likes of goal-scorers Jesper Fast and Rick Nash became catalysts in producing the final 2-1 count. The Three Stars were: Nash, Henrik Lundqvist and the Habs’ goalie, Carey Price.

The intensity and closeness of play were evident down to the final minutes. 

With Price pulled for an extra skater and only a minute remaining in the third period, The Garden crowd feared a repeat of Game 2 when Montreal tied the contest in the final seconds and won in overtime.

The visitors certainly put the pressure on as the Rangers twice iced the puck only to have it skim wide of the empty cage, forcing yet another pulsating face-off in the New York end. 

Finally, time ran out on the Canadiens and the capacity crowd seemed to simultaneous exhale in relief.

OVERVIEW: Coach Alain Vigneault knew he had a major-league challenge on his hands — and mind — based on a very confident, skilled opponent. Exhibiting that he could rally his troops under the circumstances bodes well for the Rangers in Game 5.

A.V. made two significant lineup changes. He benched Tanner Glass and Kevin Klein, replacing them with Pavel Buchnevich and Nick Holden. Each was more positive than negative; all in all, two good moves that led to the triumph

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

1. STANCH THE BLEEDING: After the disconcerting, lead-blowing loss in Game 2 followed by a losing performance in Game 3 at The Garden, the Rangers needed something good to happen if they were to keep abreast of Montreal in the series. This time, it happened to A.V.’s outfit.

2. SCORING FIRST, AND AGAIN: Fast’s goal got the crowd into it and after Torrey Mitchell tied the count late in the first period, Nash thrusted the Rangers ahead early in the second frame with what proved to be the winning goal.

3. GOING TO THE NET: The Rangers charged the crease more than in previous games and it paid off. Both goals were scored backhand-five-hole.

4. HERO HANK: Lundqvist was sharp, especially in the first period, stopping Canadiens breaking through the defense. His game tightened in the second and third periods, and when the final buzzer had sounded, King Henrik had totaled 23 saves.

5. BETTER ATTACK: The Rangers’ offense was more evident with the hosts outshooting the guests, 32-24.

6. SOLID PENALTY KILL: New York took three penalties and killed each one. Michael Grabner and Fast did yeoman’s work on the PK.

7. FEEDING OFF THE CROWD: From the opening face-off to the very end, The Garden audience was in full voice and it was apparent that the Blueshirts fed off the decibel count.

TURNING POINTS: Instead of folding after Montreal tied the count late in the first period, the Rangers displayed resilience. Nash replied at 4:28 in the middle period and the New Yorkers held fast from there. Late in the second period, Derek Stepan was penalized for hooking at 17:28 and the Rangers successfully killed the penalty as the period wound down. It allowed the Blueshirts to enter the final frame a goal ahead.

WHAT THEY SAID: 

1. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We responded as a group and managed the puck better. We rolled four lines tonight. It was a good, quick pace for us. When we had the opportunity to finish our checks, we did. We put pressure on them. Buch [Pavel Buchnevich] played a good game; made good plays. We now have a two out of three series and get ready for the next game.  We had to play at a high pace and roll the four lines.”

2. BRADY SKJEI: “I was happy to be reunited with Brendan Smith. I thought that all of our defense played well. We seem to play better when we keep it simple.”

3. MIKA ZIBANEJAD: “We played through our system very well. We worked for each other. It was overall a solid performance by all the guys. Especially in the playoffs, we have to make sure that everyone is on the same page. When you’re under pressure, it’s a lot easier if you know where the other guys are and communicate throughout the game. Our communication was key.” 

4. RICK NASH: “My goal came from a great play by Ryan McDonagh to find me going to the net. I was trying to go to the net all night; trying to cause some chaos.

What I liked was that we came back after a tough loss. It was a bad couple of days around here, but we let it all go and put it behind us. We put on a good performance [in Game 4]. When you come down to it, we had to play with desperation. We couldn’t be down three-one heading back to Montreal. We knew we needed a good effort at home and we got it.”

5. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “We needed our best effort tonight and we got it. All 20 guys worked extremely hard. We had jump from the get-go and created more chances. Montreal had some good chances in the first but after that, we controlled the game. As long as it’s a one-goal game you never know — a bad bounce or a good play by them and it’s a tie game. The confidence and patience we showed was great to see. We had good energy in the room and believed we could do it.”

6. MAX PACIORETTY: “The Rangers played much better and we knew that would be the case. They were able to get the crowd into the game with a good couple of early shifts.”

7. DEREK STEPAN: “We didn’t have to defend as much because we were on the offense. We were able to put the puck in places where we could get it back. It wasn’t perfect, but we really did a strong job just making sure we were smart with the puck. We had guys coming through the neutral zone with speed and we were dumping pucks with five-man forechecks. Now we go to Montreal and have a three-game series.”

BEST SAVE: Protecting the one-goal lead in the third period, Lundqvist stopped Alexander Radulov’s rebound chance while sitting on the ice.

UNSUNG HERO: Fast — as usual — skates under the radar. “He does everything well,” says A.V. On this night, he scored the vital first goal and helped kill all three Rangers penalties.

COMING ATTRACTIONS:
Game 5 will be played at Bell Centre on Thursday night.
Game Time: 7 p.m.
TV: MSG Networks, 6 p.m.
Radio98.7 FM ESPN.

BOTTOM LINE: The hustle — so missing from the Rangers in Game 3 — returned with a vengeance. Scoring first was important, but bouncing back with the second goal after Montreal tied the count was even more necessary. That and the Blueshirts ability to protect a one-goal lead through the two final periods.

As Price concluded, “The Rangers were desperate and executed a good game plan. They deserve credit. Now, it’s a battle of adjustments.”