By Brian Monzo
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It may have been the home crowd at Madison Square Garden. It may have been the possibility of being swept creeping around in their minds. Whatever it was, the Rangers came out in Game 3 and played their style of hockey.
It took some late drama and a few anxious moments, but the Rangers finally were able to score a few goals — and cut the Capitals’ lead in their best-of-seven series to 2-1 with a 3-2 win.
From the drop of the puck, the crowd was electric. The first period was hard-hitting and full of intensity. It ended with the Rangers not being able to capitalize on a five-on-three power-play. The team was feeling the heat from the crowd, and only one could imagine what coach John Tortorella was saying in the locker room.
The second period was more of the same, but this time, the Rangers were able to convert on a power-play thanks to a tricky, bad-angled shot from Erik Christensen. The Caps would answer with a goal from Alex Ovechkin. It looked obvious the period would end tied 1-1. However, a face-off with 10 seconds left in the period in the Caps zone lead to a scramble in front of the net and puck crossing line. Replay would show there was no time left on the clock, and the goal would not count.
After both teams would score in the third, Brandon Dubinsky would drive to the net late on a 4-on-4. After a few bounces, the puck wound up behind Michal Neuvirth, and the Rangers would go on to win the game.
I don’t mean to recap, and at this point everyone knows what happened. But the importance here was to emphasize just how big the win was for the Rangers. This was the game. They needed it. Only a handful of teams have come back from a 3-0 series deficit, and truth be told, the Rangers likely had no shot of doing that.
This team is all about resiliency. The Caps would come back on the Rangers twice, forcing the Rangers put the lead behind them, and score another goal. It took some more heroics from Henrik Lundqvist, as well (but what else is new?).
What was also huge about this win was the way it was won. The Rangers were able to play the style that won them games all season. Fore-checking, driving to the net, creating space and screening the goalie. The second goal was a prime example. Dubinsky escaped with the puck from behind the net, forcing the forwards to crash his side, he was able to get the puck to Marc Staal on the point, and with Marian Gaborik in front, Vinny Propal was able find space in front of the net to bang in the rebound. That’s how to score against a team with a great defense. I am sure it is harder than it sounds, but that is how you get it done. That’s what the Rangers need to do in Game 4 to bring thing back to even.
While the norms like Dubinsky, Lundqvist and Staal all had great games, one player who I thought played his best game as a Ranger was defenseman Bryan McCabe. He had a handful of clutch ‘keep-ins’ at the point and made sure he got shots on net. It was noticeably effective. Brian Boyle, who just gets better, was able to put nine shots on goal. He was grinding his way to the net, and most importantly, hitting the net with his shot.
While Ovechkin did score a goal — and is having a good overall series — the Rangers have done an pretty decent job forcing most of his shots from the outside and making sure a body is on him at all times. Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom were also kept quiet. This trend will have to continue.
Looking ahead to Game 4, the Rangers just need a few good days of practice and continue to find new ways to get pucks on Neuvirth. It also helps that there’s an extra day between games, allowing everyone to get a day healthier. Sounds silly, but in the playoffs, that is huge. For example, Dan Girardi took a slapshot to his lower back. That bruise now has an extra day to reduce swelling.
Maybe the Rangers got into Neuvirth’s head. They found ways to score, and get into his crease. That is something else that will need to remain a constant.
I know I can’t wait.
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Will the Rangers even the series at 2-2? Let Monzo know in the comments below…