The Ottawa Senators can be beaten in the playoffs as proven by two first-round losses to Boston.
It’s just that the Rangers haven’t found the formula so far. Although, as the late, great Yogi Berra would have observed, “It’s getting late early.”
Compounding the despair is the fact that the New Yorkers owned a two-goal lead with only 3:19 remaining in the third period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau then fired two more behind Henrik Lundqvist. The game-tying counter then came at 18:58 with goalie Craig Anderson pulled for an extra skater.
The prime culprit was Pageau with a four-goal night, including the second overtime game-winner.
By losing on Saturday afternoon-early-evening at Canadian Tire Centre, the New Yorkers are now down 2-0 and must figure a game plan that will solve the Senators’ speed, resiliency and, obviously, Pageau.
Defusing the Senators’ offense is a must, now that the double overtime sudden-death defeat is in the books. Furthermore, coach Alain Vigneault must figure out how to stop the bleeding.
OVERVIEW: This is getting serious. Confident with two straight wins at home, the Senators are riding a bounce-back sequence. The Rangers face the double-dip challenge of stopping the versatile two-way threat, Erik Karlsson and sizzling hot Pageau. Granted, The Garden should be hospitable for New York but the Rangers have to prove that their defense can tighten — back checkers included — while their scorers can maintain a pace regained in Game 2. Both teams will have the benefit of a two-day recuperative period, although it’s debatable which team will benefit most at this point in the second playoff round
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- LACK OF KILLER INSTINCT: Nursing a two-goal lead late in the third period, the Rangers failed on a power play and then failed to hold the two-goal lead.
- RECKLESS DECISIONS: Bad clears and passes helped the Senators to set up for key goals.
- BAD PINCH: In the second overtime, Rangers defenseman Nick Holden gambled with a pinch along the right boards in the Ottawa zone, but failed to keep the rubber inside the blue line. That enabled Pageau to giddyap on a two-on-one. With the hottest stick — and three goals already on the board — he whipped the winner high over Lundqvist’s left glove.
- LACK OF EARLY DISCIPLINE: The Blueshirts took three straight — at least two avoidable — penalties in the first period alone. Although Ottawa failed to score on them, it fatigued the visiting team despite the shorthanded goal by Michael Grabner.
- LACK OF POSSESSION: After giving up the 1-0 lead and throughout the first period, Ottawa maintained puck control with very little offense generated by the Rangers. But the Blueshirts rallied and began pumping goals up to the 5-3 lead only to blow it in the fading moments of regulation time. The Rangers’ downfall was possession and that was exploited by the Sens.
- LACK OF KARLSSON CONTROL: Too often, Erik Karlsson was allowed to cross into Senators ice with virtual impunity. “The Rangers,” said ex-NHL coach and GM Mike Milbury, “we’re giving Karlsson too much respect.” As the game unfolded, the Rangers punished him with checks but could not completely erase his effectiveness.
- FAILED POWER PLAY IN FIRST OVERTIME: The Rangers had a chance to win the game in the first overtime period when ex-Blueshirt Derick Brassard was hit with a two-minute penalty. New York failed to generate any real dangerous thrusts.
- LACK OF PAGEAU CONTROL: The French-Canadian sharpshooter scored four goals. All season long he only tallied a dozen red lights in 82 games. ‘Nuff said.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- RE-AWAKENED SCORERS: Reliable forwards who previously were foiled — Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan — lit red lights.
- BRADY SKJEI: The rookie defenseman scored two goals and excelled behind his blue line as well.
- PENALTY KILLERS EXCELLED: The Rangers killed all four of their penalties.
- GRABNER GOOD BOTH WAYS: Kid Lightning put New York ahead 1-0 in the first period on a penalty kill at 4:16.
OVERVIEW: Once again, from the opening face-off, the Senators crossed into enemy ice with unusual ease. Lundqvist was tested from the start and appeared a bit off his game on the first dangerous Ottawa shot, although he did make the save. Burdened with protecting the first-period lead, Lundqvist was fooled on the Sens’ tying goal by Pageau; an eminently stoppable shot. The play began by an errant Rangers pass by Dan Girardi. It was the portent of things to come as King Henrik had an off-night. Meanwhile, after two games, Guy Boucher’s club has been playing with unstoppable confidence.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “It was a tough way to lose a game, but the series is not over. It stings, but it’s good that we have two days off because we’ll need a day to get over it. Then we take it one step at a time and not give up.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “Henrik got beat twice on clean chances on Pageau’s first and fourth goals. McDonagh and Dan Girardi were both on the ice for Ottawa’s third and fourth goal; which shouldn’t happen. Rangers had plenty of scoring opportunities in the two overtimes. The Rangers have been down before and recovered.”
- DEREK STEPAN: “I don’t think we sat back; just a little hesitant. I just think we were a half-a-step behind on their two late goals in regulation. We can adjust.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “On the winning (Pageau) goal, you have to give credit to the shooter because that was a good shot; right by Hank’s ear. There were a lot of broken plays. It was a game where anything could happen. The Rangers have to believe that they are better than Ottawa.”
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “I never felt the game was slipping. We were playing a real good game; doing what we needed to do and they made the most of their opportunities. We didn’t back up; we spent a lot of time in their end, had a couple of good looks but just came up short. We’ll regroup and get ready for the next one. They capitalized on the opportunities but we didn’t give them much. (Regarding Lundqvist’s game) Like the rest of our team, he (Lundqvist) tried real hard.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST JOHN GIANNONE: “Rangers pushed the pace and pushed their luck.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “We played well enough to win this game and clearly they got the bounces in the first two games. This is really tough, giving up those last two goals (in regulation). I wasn’t good enough to come up with the extra save. It will be tough but we’ll move on and focus on Game 3. We sort of had it under control but they got two deflections. I wasn’t moving as well as I would have liked. Now I have to re-charge.”
- J.G. PAGEAU: “Our team shows a lot of character. We have to keep working and keeping it simple as I did (in Game 2).”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Game 3 of the series is slated for Tuesday night at The Garden. Starting time, 7 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: After blowing a two-goal lead so late in the game — and coming home down by two games — the Blueshirts have no choice but to make the most of Garden ice. They have rebounded before — as in the Canadiens series — but will require tighter goaltending from Lundqvist. This is a major challenge for the general staff as well as the Rangers’ veteran leadership to inspire the club to get back on track.