Well, you had to know it would likely be a fluky goal that would win a game like Game 1. Right?
1. Let’s discuss the game-deciding play. First of all, it appeared to me that the Rangers all thought it should have been icing and stopped skating for a moment. That’s on them. They have to play to the whistle. (Oddly, the linesmen blew another icing earlier when Chris Kreider was clearly ahead of the Ottawa defense and I thought goalie Craig Anderson even played the puck). Alain Vigneault said in his postgame remarks that they felt it was icing, then he watched it again, and it should have been icing. Again, that’s on the Rangers to keep playing until a whistle. They didn’t and they never recovered.
2. So the play goes to the corner. Derek Stepan has J.G. Pageau covered at the side of the net, but fronts him and doesn’t attempt to move him as the puck is in the corner; the two captains there. Erik Karlsson’s first attempt to get the puck to the net hits Ryan McDonagh’s skates, and as McDonagh turns to try and locate it, it caroms right back to Karlsson. The superb Ottawa defenseman – who reportedly practices such bad-angle shots – then fires through the screen of Stepan and Pageau, perhaps glancing off Stepan, then off the back of the noggin of Henrik Lundqvist and into the net for the game-winner.
3. That’s a big-time goal by a great player, and maybe he knows what he’s doing throwing it up top. Anyway, even if not expecting it to go in, there’s nothing wrong with putting a puck on goal with traffic there. I don’t believe for a second it was a “great play” … as in designed to go in off Lundqvist’s mask, a la Sidney Crosby late in the regular season. But it’s never a bad idea to cause chaos with a bad-angle shot – the Rangers rarely do, other than Rick Nash.
4. Years ago, a shot like that doesn’t go in because years ago, goalies stood and hugged the post. Now every single goalie plays on his knees, leaving that little soft spot open up high. Back in the day, guys like Pierre Larouche would smartly try to bank the puck off a goalie’s skates, which would create the same type of havoc. Maybe even more because if it didn’t go in, the rebound could go anywhere.
5. Tell you what, though. Take away the fluke goal and I think you’re looking differently at that game today. I thought the Rangers, for the most part, handled Ottawa’s trap fine. I thought they spent a lot of time in the offensive zone – even if it didn’t produce shots (How many posts did they hit? How many times did they miss the net? And a few times they over-passed it).
6. On one of the Rangers’ best chances, Anderson’s save on Brendan Smith from the high slot, ex-Senator Mika Zibanejad would have had a better chance, from much closer range, had he not been tackled by Kyle Turris in the low slot. Play on.
7. I thought the Rangers lost momentum during the game (yes it exists during playoff games, not from one game to the next) because of their special teams, which scored a goal and allowed one, but put the Rangers on their heels several times. Ottawa created most of its chances off three power plays in the first, which helped them pile up 21 shots on Lundqvist in the period.
8. Michael Grabner, early on, hit a post as the Rangers seemed to be handling Ottawa’s 1-3-1 without much issue and seemed to be speeding around Ottawa’s defensemen. Each goalie had to make an early save off a lousy turnover behind the icing line. Kevin Hayes’s slashing penalty was a result of a turnover in the neutral zone and didn’t prevent a chance for Derick Brassard. That’s what happens against that style of play. The 70 feet or so from just inside one blue line to just inside the other blue line are where turnovers and transitions happen.
9. Then Lundqvist flat-out robbed Mark Stone on Alex Burrows’ power play rebound. Holy shish kebab! Somehow, Stone was wide open, and only needed to lift the puck, but Lundqvist swam across the crease to stop him. Then Grabner had a short-handed breakaway and fired wide … maybe Anderson got a tiny piece. The Rangers took a too-many-men penalty yet again, and Lundqvist came up with three more saves. So the penalty kill was 2-for-2, the game still 0-0, but Ottawa was surging because of it. The Rangers had to kill one more, to Brady Skjei, and Hayes nearly took yet another one before the period ended scoreless.
10. Lundqvist stopped Pageau right off the bat to open the second, after McDonagh’s semi-successful snow angel. Pageau took a penalty. The Rangers’ power play wasted another chance.
11. But it was the Rangers’ power play (now 2-for-19) which struck first, after Grabner’s speed spun around Cody Ceci, who took him down. Mats Zuccarello, their best power play forward by far, worked the wall and got the puck to McDonagh, who blew a shot through Kreider’s screen and past Anderson for a 1-0 lead.
12. Grabner had a ton of chances, one right after Vigneault had to use his timeout following consecutive icings, from Oscar Lindberg. Grabner was again robbed by Anderson, followed by a Lundqvist pad save on ex-Ranger Viktor Stalberg flying past Nick Holden.
13. Skjei took a careless penalty behind the net, had his man wrapped up with just one hand on the stick – and yes, the Montreal series you could get away with assault, but in Game 1 here, there were some touchy-feely penalties — and the Rangers’ PK finally folded. As with the Karlsson goal later, there was some luck involved. A Turris shot hit Lundqvist in the shoulder and bounced high, over Marc Staal. Fortunately for the Sens, it also bounced over the stick of Burrows, who was skating away from the net and landed on the stick of Ryan Dzingel, who was headed toward the net. Staal, spinning and needing to cover two men, couldn’t cover either, and Dzingel shot it through him and past Lundqvist. 1-1.
14. Early in the third, Lundqvist made a glove save on Dzingel breaking in behind Skjei. At that point, the Rangers were not completing passes, not creating a forecheck. Didn’t seem bothered by the trap so much, but didn’t execute. Later in the period, the Rangers went fancy-boy over-pass mode, and accomplished nothing, then followed with a few consecutive cycle shifts in the Ottawa zone, and created a bunch of chances. Coincidence? Stop.
15. Lundqvist was marvelous, but he sure caused some problems with his puck-handling in the trapezoid. So did Anderson.
16. Brassard vs. Zibanejad. Has more ever been made of a swap of second-line centers? Brassard reminded me of how jacked he used to get to play Columbus, which only made me wonder why he didn’t play that way more often. But he was moving and effective in all three zones in Game 1.
17. For seven playoff games now, the Rangers haven’t gotten nearly – not even close to – enough offensive production or even chances from their top-nine forwards. That’s going to have to change. There were a lot of shots in Game 1, both sides (attempts 69-64, Ottawa; on goal 43-35, Ottawa) and the Rangers got one goal. Not going to get the job done with that, and you have to figure some of these games are going to be more bogged down than that.
18. God, Ottawa’s boring. Worse than John Tortorella’s Rangers teams at their shot-blocking worst.
19. Home-ice advantage update: Despite Ottawa’s home win, road teams are 26-20 in these playoffs.
20. I will repeat what I usually predict for playoff series – because most go this way, particularly those involving the Rangers: I expect it to be 1-1 after two games, 2-2 after four.