SUNDAY NIGHT STREET FIGHT at MSG
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Series tied 2-2
I - NYR 2; TBL 1
II - TBL 6; NYR 2
III - TBL 6; NYR 5
IV - NYR 5; TBL 1
Tampa Bay Lightning
NEW YORK RANGERS
33rd Street @ 8th Avenue
NEW YORK RANGERS: Revenge of the Goonies! See what happens when you bring your backbone to work?
Big Guns Power Rangers
Not only was Friday's game a complete, and necessary devolution from the spineless Smurf misadventures of games Two and Three (I'm happy to report), it fundamentally regressed into something much more primal than even Game One, or any game Tex's Rangers played during this post-season, or in two seasons under Alain Vigneault for that matter.
Game Four (or worse, a potential series loss) was, and effectively remains a fan referendum after last year's L.A. Kings series.
Prior to Game Four, I left off saying physicality starts behind the bench. Simply put, Alain Vigneault was getting beat at his own game by Tampa, and so the onus was on him to make an adjustment. After failing to keep up with Tampa's speed, a much more primitive approach was clearly in order. Therefore, it came time to sound a call to arms, and demand his players follow through, or else face what would have arguably been an insurmountable 3-1 series deficit.
The coach deserves a lot of credit. He is very adept at making quick, and timely adjustments. He is far more adaptable when a change of style is warranted than his predecessor John Tortorella was. The Rangers former coach was far more rigid in his approach, and terribly unyielding in his precepts and style. Tortorella's strategy against adversity was more defense and intensity, but not much in the way of offensive logistics.
Rick Nash did for Alain Vigneault what he could not do for John Tortorella - bailed him out of a tight spot.
For the 1st period of Friday's game, the Rangers upped their intensity, and shocked the Bolts with some considerable physicality. Late in the period, Carl Hagelin caused a turnover in the defensive zone and kicked it to Kevin Hayes, whom fed Rick Nash steaming down center ice with speed. He utilized his size, brushing off Cedric Paquette like a toy clown buoy, and with 2:42 left on the clock, slid the puck passed Ben Bishop. It was the bull in a china shop type performance the Rangers have lacked from Nash all post-season.
In the 2nd period, the Rangers lost their bearing, and regressed into a softer mode of play. They were grossly out-shot in the session, and midway through, Steven Stamkos' goal had the Rangers looking miffed. A few minutes later, however, Chris Kreider cleaned up a Kevin Hayes shot and rebound, whom shortly thereafter set up Keith Yandle for a 3-1 Rangers lead.
In the 3rd, the Rangers stuck it the Bolts again. Tampa committed a pair of penalties, and the Rangers made them pay. At the 5:08 mark, Martin St. Louis finally scored his first goal of the playoffs, and midway through the period Rick Nash was credited for his second goal of the game, thanks in part to the traffic he created in front.
The game effectively ended there, because, with less than 3-minutes left in the final period, the game truly deteriorated into an orgy of high sticking, cross-checking, and roughing penalties, a goalie interference, and some unsportsmanlike and misconducts for others.
Way to go Boys! I'm so proud.
The goalie interference was perpetrated by Tampa's Brenden Morrow, which finally did not sit well with the Rangers - or lest we forget Sidney Crosby's indiscretion against Lundqvist in round one, that went ignored....?
The numbers say Tampa hit slightly more often than did the Rangers, but there's no arguing the Rangers hit harder, and strategically smarter than did the Lightning.
Now, all was not necessarily peaches and creme. The Rangers were out-shot in that 2nd period by a 19-6 margin. Tampa totaled 28 shot attempts. Only Henrik Lundqvist prevented a complete meltdown by making 18 saves in the period, and 38 for the game. The Bolts out-shot the Rangers 39-24 overall, but it was Ben Bishop whom allowed 5 pucks into his net.
Henrik Lundqvist was indeed brilliant, pitching a quasi-shutout after allowing back-to-back 6-goal games. If not for a slight Dan Girardi deflection, Henrik most likely makes a save on Stamkos.
Most importantly, all the King's horses, and all the King's men actually showed up.
With a 2 for 4 performance, the Rangers PP is now 6 for 15 (40%) in the series. I knew the power play could be an advantage for the Rangers - and will be if they only let it! They are still committing too many themselves (then again, that's what Tampa's speed is designed to do). The Bolts went 0 for 4 in Game Four, but are 11 of 16 for the series.
Here's the other side of that: The Rangers and Lightning are now tied at 14 goals apiece.
The Rangers have the edge in the series, but, they've always had it. They just decided to shelve it for a pair of games. After a job well done, they have home ice back in their hands with Game Five at MSG.
Now that we know Vigneault and the Rangers have this kind of fight in them, they had better keep it up.