Monday, April 24, 2017

N.Y. Rangers: Broadway Bullies Oust Habs in Six


Rangers defeat Canadiens, 4-2
I - NYR 2; MON 0
II - MON 4; NYR 3*
III - MON 3; NYR 2
IV - NYR 2; MON 1
V - NYR 3; MON 2*
VI - NYR 3; MON 1

NEW YORK RANGERS: MatsZuccs!  Smallest Blueshirt Bearing Heaviest Load.

Tex's Rangers Prove Too Tough for Montreal Canadiens

I've used many an unkind adjective in describing these Rangers throughout Alain Vigneault's tenure in New York, with soft, cute, and smurfy, topping the list.

But in truth, the Rangers played the Montreal Canadiens tough ... real tough ... astonishingly tough ... impressively tough.

I didn't think they had it in them, and was certain they would suffer a first round elimination.  In light of Saturday's series clinching victory over the Canadiens, I'm therefore only too happy being wrong.   It's only a first round victory, and well, the Rangers have been there and done that.  But this was nevertheless the grittiest, most physical performance they've ever put forth under this head coach.

Eliminating the Habs in such fashion still does not prevent me from pondering how Alain Vigneault called off the dogs in Game Seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning (Eastern Conf. Final).
With regards to his style, I've always said you can pirouette your way through the regular season playing the mean competition, but you can't do that in a short playoff series.  This series against Montreal only confirms that (for me).  After falling in the first round last year to the Penguins, maybe, just maybe, Vigneault has finally learned his lesson.

Stubborn as I am, I can't help but wonder if the Rangers overt physicality was inspired by Vigneault himself, or was born of the players' own collective and respective personal resolve.

In any event, they got it done.

Montreal mounted 206 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist, and scored 11 times in six games.   Meanwhile, the Rangers took 25 less shots on goal (181), yet tallied 14 goals against Carey Price.

More importantly, they answered any and all questions regarding their ability to compete against a bigger, and seemingly more physically oppressive opponent.

The Rangers and Canadiens combined for 533 recognized hits, for an average of 88 body checks per game.  While Montreal registered 50+ hits in games One, Two, and Five, the Rangers levied a series high 74 hits in Game Two, and out-hit the Habs overall by a 285-248 margin.

Into the Void

If Max Pacioretty scores just one timely goal at any time during games three through six, perhaps the series takes on a completely different complexion.  The Habs top forward and regular season scoring leader led all skaters in the series with 29 shots on goal, yet managed just one assist and finished with a minus-one.

That being said, Rangers blueliners Nick Holden, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and Dan Girardi in particular, are the primary reasons why Pacioretty was rendered ineffective.

Enter Jeff Beukeboom, whom was added to Alain Vigneault's staff after last season's disappointing first round playoff loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  As a former defenseman for the Oilers and Rangers, he brings Stanley Cup playoff experience and first hand knowledge in the stay-home tradition - minimizing traffic in the crease, keeping shooting lanes clear, with less attention on stick work and more emphasis on initiating and exerting a physical presence, and above all keeping Henrik Lundqvist safe.

For the first five periods of the series, the Rangers played with speed, while matching Montreal's all out physical blitz hit for hit.  I was indeed proud how they answered the opening bell in Game One and through the second period of Game Two.  Despite overall numbers finishing overwhelmingly in Montreal's favor, those were nevertheless five periods of hockey they should be commended for.

But because the Blueshirts hadn't spent any sustained stretches during the regular season playing at such an intense and relentless level, the Canadiens overall physicality was seemingly already wearing down, and slowing down the Rangers by the third period of Game Two.  It's not so much that Montreal scored the tying goal with just 0:17 left in regulation.  That was inevitable as Montreal dictated much of the period.  In turn, the Rangers were routinely denied timely line changes.  The Rangers obviously went on to lose Game Two in overtime, then got outplayed again in Game Three at Madison Square Garden.

All the King's Horses

The Rangers then reeled off three straight victories led by Mats Zuccarello and Henrik Lundqvist to earn a second round match-up against the Ottawa Senators.

They doubled Montreal's output through the final three games, outscoring the Habs by an 8-4 mark.

Unlike Montreal captain Max Pacioretty's playoff disappearance, Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers in points during the regular season, then led them with three goals against the Habs.  The Canadiens were clearly targeting MatsZucs throughout the series.  But Mighty Mats fought right back every step of the way, even proving himself toughest of all with a pair of in-your-face second period goals in Game Six.

Rick Nash played very well.  He was second among all skaters and led the Rangers with 23 shots on goal.  He was one of the few Rangers forwards truly guilty of crashing and disrupting Carey Price's safe space with any consistency.  Good job!

Otherwise, Henrik Lundqvist saved the Rangers from their overall lack of forward line production yet again.

Center Mika Zibanejad had a fine series.  But Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, and Oscar Lindberg, are becoming real issues up the middle.  Meanwhile, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes are becoming mirror images of ineffectiveness.  In fact, all Kreider did was prove he is still a head case.  And generally speaking, the Rangers fore-check was somewhat appalling.

Before getting into special teams, how about a round of applause for the men in stripes, whom did a superb job of swallowing their whistles and letting play, and the players regulate themselves.  Suffice it to say both teams got away with various and seemingly innumerable infractions.

Montreal went 3 for 20 on the power play.  Two of those led to Montreal's Game Three victory at MSG.  The Rangers went just 1 for 15 on the power play.  On the bright side, it means the Rangers outscored Montreal 13-8 during even strength.

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