It’s a new ballgame.
I predicted 2-2 after four games because, well, I always do. But I certainly didn’t expect it to get to 2-2 the way it did.
1. I’m going to be honest. I thought and expected, based on the Rangers’ pedigree and their m.o. after all these playoff series, that they’d win Game 3. They did. I also expected it would be more difficult to win Game 4 … to feel that same desperation they felt before and during Game 3, after so handily winning that game. Then again, if they had lost Game 4, the Game 3 win would have meant nothing. Still, I wondered if they could duplicate it.
2. Well, they didn’t just duplicate it, they surpassed it. The Rangers were better in Game 4, and the Senators were actually ready to make it more difficult for them. The Senators came in and, as expected, dulled down the game and quieted the crowd with their trap. For a while. Then the Rangers took over. Then the Rangers pulled away. Very impressive.
3. I want to say this too. A lot of folks in the media are going to be going on and on today about the Rangers stealing the momentum of the series when anybody who’s watched this sport for any amount of time knows you carry no momentum into the next game in the playoffs. It starts at square one and comes down to who performs better in the next game, and also who is more desperate in the next game. I think Ottawa will get its desperation back in a hurry.
4. So don’t get crazy over two wins in a row. Stuff changes quickly, game to game, in the playoffs. Always has. The Rangers will have to forget these two games and go to work. You know the saying, “If you’re not getting better in the playoffs, you’re getting worse.” Ottawa will be better in Game 5 because the desperation level will be up. The Rangers are going to have to be better. The loser goes to the brink of elimination. So there’s instant desperation.
5. First things first. My friend John Amirante did the National Anthem, and he was sensational. And even if his pipes aren’t up to their old level, it’s awesome any time he takes the mic. The fans love seeing him, and he’s still so much better than many of the singers around the league. I get goosebumps.
6. Once the singing was over, the Rangers went to work. Kevin Hayes, who might have had his best game of the playoffs, made a backhanded pass that sprung Michael Grabner on an early breakaway, and Craig Anderson got a piece of his shot from the slot. Anderson later denied Hayes on a two-on-one from Grabner, then Derek Stepan off a turnover.
7. After a Hayes icing, Nick Holden won a wall battle and Hayes sent him in, behind the Ottawa D, for a nifty little hold, freeze and shot past Anderson. Nick Holden … the much-bashed Nick Holden.
8. Chris Kreider nearly added to the lead on a Ryan McDonagh rebound on the power play in the final minute of the first. The Rangers had two more great chances when the power play carried into the third, but Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello both missed the net.
9. Then the Tanner Glass Show began. Actually, it had begun with a few big hits. But now Big Game Glass blocked a shot and away went Grabner, who froze Anderson and fed Oscar Lindberg for a tap-in. 2-0.
10. Big Game Brassard, meanwhile, continued to be a non-factor. Brassard was hurt by a Brendan Smith crosscheck, but there’s no way that’s a penalty, based on the way these playoffs have been officiated if Smith’s stick didn’t break. I’m also not sure Marc Methot’s little punch on Zuccarello would be a penalty in most other games this postseason, but it’s incredibly needless and undisciplined.
11. Henrik Lundqvist’s ninth save, in the middle of the second period, was his best to that point, on J.G. (the Rocket) Pageau in close. Down the other end, Anderson robbed Rick Nash late second, the blocker somehow catching Nash’s shot. He kept the Senators in it, after allowing nine goals the previous two games.
12. But then Anderson messed up, after a strong forecheck by Glass when Lindberg sent a long shot on goal. Anderson reached across his body, for some reason, to try to catch it on the blocker side with his glove hand, and whiffed. 3-0, Lindberg’s third goal of the series.
13. Every shift I gain more respect for Erik Karlsson, a stupendous talent with the toughness of a Brian Leetch, plays the whole 200 feet hard, and always with a target on his back. The Rangers, like Boston before them, have finished checks on Karlsson throughout. He finally went out of the game, limping, with those two fractures in his heel, after all the hits and a collision with a sliding Kreider late in the second. And didn’t play in the third. Smart move, probably, but you have to wonder if, down just 3-0, Ottawa coach Guy (Underdog) Boucher wasn’t throwing in the towel. He also removed Anderson, which was probably a good idea, to clear his head for Game 5.
14. The physical tone was set early. Glass tossed a couple of early bombs. He squashed Chris Wideman. Then Cody Ceci. Marc Staal flattened Mike Hoffman in open ice. Glass hammered Dion Phaneuf. Oh, and Pierre McGuire said Glass was doing some Hart Trophy chirping at the Senators. He’s really good at that.
15. Daily Nash-O-Meter: The big guy is obviously dealing with something nagging – he missed two games late in the regular season and has skipped some practices during the playoffs – but I thought he had another strong, effective game. Not his best, and he didn’t score, but plenty good.
16. Dan Girardi = Monster. Seven blocked shots, plus he got mugged by Bobby Ryan. A bunch more welts, no doubt.
17. How about Lindberg trying a header on an Ottawa clearing attempt up the wall? Lundqvist, as he often does, tried a header, too. Lundqvist made another remarkable save on Mark Stone in the slot in the third. He finally lost the shutout with 6:26 left, up 4-0 at that point, a Kyle Turris wrister through Staal’s legs, short-side high, as McGuire says, the “new five-hole.”
18. Before that, though, Kreider tagged on a PPG, from McDonagh, against relief goalie Mike Condon, though I thought Phaneuf actually scored into his own net.
19. There was the usual stupidity at the end of the game – the time-tested (but never for any good reason) blowing off steam at the end of a one-sided playoff game, supposedly to set a tone or send a message for the next game. So useless. It never carries over at all, and the tone-setting team probably loses the next game at least as often as it wins.
20. Phaneuf, who has done nothing in the series – imagine having him and his $7 million annual cap hit for the next four years — challenged Smith, who was game for a fight. Bobby Ryan just jumped Dan Girardi. What the heck was that, from another guy who has done zilch in this series? With Lindberg being challenged – such bravery — Turris saw an opportunity to take a run at Big Game Glass, who was already tied up with an Ottawa player behind the net. Big Mistake. BGG got free in an instant and made a mess of Turris. Later, when asked about it, Glass said, according to Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post, “You mess with the bull, you get the horns.” Finally, career cheap-shot artist Alex Burrows chopped J.T. Miller behind the legs and then ducked Kreider when challenged.
21. I actually believe that Ottawa helped the Rangers with their shenanigans. The Rangers felt further unified by the all-for-oneness of the whole scene. There’s something we’ve learned about these Rangers over these last six years (and 15 playoff series). They’re not the most rugged of teams, and their coach Alain Vigneault preaches “whistle-to-whistle” play without the nonsense. But when they get pushed, they push back. When they are roughed up, they amp up. Look at their record against the league’s bigger teams over the years. It’s excellent. They are, in every way, a sum-greater-than-its-parts team, and they galvanize when things get rough. They will be a stronger sum having been through that absurd ending.
22. In these two wins, the Rangers have used their advantages too, their speed mostly, but also their skill, and mostly their depth. In Game 3, they got a goal from each line. In Game 4, they got two from the fourth line (both courtesy of Lindberg), one from a defenseman (Holden) from Hayes, and one on the power play (Kreider). Meanwhile, Ottawa struggles to get anything from anybody.
23. Boucher talked about missing the net with chances, and part of that is probably Lundqvist in their heads. After having a tough day in Game 2 (that 6-5 double-OT loss that should have been a 5-3 win), Lundqvist, behind a team with a renewed vow to defend, has faced less work but has also been terrific when needed. The Rangers have now won four in a row at home, and Lundqvist has allowed a total of four goals in those games.
24. The Rangers, through four games, have hardly had an issue with the Senators’ vaunted neutral-zone trap – breaking it with speed, with quick, smart passes, often East-to-West passes and when a play is not there to be had, well, the Rangers have been willing to get it deep and go to work in the Senators’ zone. Textbook stuff. But they have also found their own transition game and created odd-man breaks off of it. This Rangers team is starting to resemble the early-season team that took apart opponents with their wheels.
25. In a series that has been homers-only (Ottawa 2-0 at home, New York 2-0 at The Garden), the Rangers hope to return to being Road Warriors – they led the NHL in road wins during the season, and won two of three in Montreal in the first round. Visiting teams are 31-27 in these playoffs, despite being 0-4 in this series. But, realistically, the Rangers could have won this series 4-0, or be up 3-1 if not for the debacle on Saturday, a game they still had chances to win in the two OTs after blowing the 5-3 lead. Ottawa has led for four minutes, 11 seconds (all of it in Game 1). The Rangers have led for 149:56 and been tied for 108:47.
26. But it’s 2-2 and it’s far from over.