NEW YORK – Words that have been uttered more often than none is “former Ranger”. That is exactly what happened at the 4:16 mark of period three when former Ranger Matt Cullen put the Pittsburgh Penguins up 2-1 in the game and propelled them to a two games to one series lead over the New York Rangers.
Everything seemed to be going great for the Rangers for 39 minutes. They played a real solid defensive game in that stretch, they didn’t give the Penguins much room in the neutral zone. Things looked great in the energetic Madison Square Garden. Despite a coaches challenge of offsides by Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan that revered what would have been a 1-0 Rangers lead, things still looked good for the boys in blue.
The second period started off with the Rangers taking a penalty but saw Rick Nash, yes the Rick Nash score on a breakaway shorthanded. So the Rangers were up 1-0. There have been many themes in this series thus far such as the Penguins scoring most of their goals on the power play and the Rangers physical play but the one theme we saw in the regular season came back to haunt the Rangers – giving up a goal within the last minute of a period. With 42 seconds left in period two, Sidney Crosby of the Penguins knotted the game at one of the power play.
It seemed to have gone down hill from there because the Rangers third period was not great. Both teams really weren’t able to generate much because after two periods of play the shots were 19-13 in favor of Pittsburgh. You read that right 13 shots on a rookie goaltender in Matt Murray in his first ever Stanley Cup playoff game. The Rangers registered just four total shots in the third period which is clearly unacceptable. So Cullen delivered that game-winning goal on a bad defensive play where Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle collided and opened the ice for Cullen. Defensemen for the Penguins Kris Letang sealed it with an empty netter and a 3-1 victory for the Penguins.
It just seemed difficult for the Rangers to make simple plays to create chances all night and head coach Alain Vigneault seemed to agree by saying, “Our biggest issue was we couldn’t make any plays with the puck. Whether it be breaking out of our end, going through the neutral zone, or once we got in their end we just didn’t make enough plays. We have to give them credit – that was a real solid defensive performance. We didn’t get a lot done, and we have to get back to work.”
Captain Ryan McDonagh was back in the line-up after missing the final handful of regular season games and games one and two of this series and the frustration of not getting the job done was clearly there. “We kept saying it, we kept trying to tell ourselves – we have to lay in and shoot it. I’m sure we’ll look at some things when we watch the game and wish we put more pucks on net especially because it was his (Murray) first game in a while. It was a big emphasis, but I think there was some more looks where we could have put some on him and seen what happened.”
As for where he believes his team stands down two games to one, “You’re still in a good spot. We’re at home here. Obviously we know these are going to be tight games. We were pretty positive going out for that period there and had some energy from the crowd. It’s a little disappointing we can’t find a way to get a goal and they get a road win and are up in the series, so we have to respond here.”
Derek Stepan had talked leading up to the playoffs about trying to break through a teams trap in the third period as it becomes a big part of the playoffs to try and secure a victory. He spoke about looking to break through this Pittsburgh team’s trap. “That’s the biggest thing I think we need to learn from tonight, more so than anything, is we did a terrible job of getting through the neutral zone. That exactly is the reason why we didn’t get a single look the whole third period is that we did a terrible job of coming through the neutral zone.”
The Rangers will look to battle back when Game 4 takes place Thursday night and if there is any chance they want to prevent themselves from going back to Pittsburgh down three to one they need to take more shots and find ways to bury the puck in the net otherwise it will be a quick exit for a team with high expectations.
The Blueshirts were credited with 41 hits in tonight’s contest, as 15 different skaters recorded at least one hit. New York has registered at least 40 hits in each of its first three playoff games in 2016.
Lundqvist appeared in his 114th career playoff game with the Rangers in tonight’s contest, tying Patrick Roy for the fourth-most career playoff appearances by a goaltender with one franchise in NHL history (Roy appeared in 114 career playoff games with Montreal).