NEW YORK — Not even playing at home with a lead after two periods could save the New York Rangers from their struggling offense, this time.
With their collective backs to the wall against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night, the sixth-seeded Rangers’ inability to get shots on goal, much less find the back of the net, was their undoing, as the fourth-seeded Boston Bruins scored a pair of third period goals to rally for a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden, and take a 3-0 stranglehold on the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk (one goal, one hit, two blocks) tied the game early in the final period before a lucky Boston break resulted in left winger Daniel Paille (one goal, one assist) poking home a loose puck for the game-winning score with 3:31 remaining.
Paille’s goal came after center Gregory Campbell (one assist, four hits) fired a shot that deflected off of left winger Shawn Thornton (two assists, three hits, one block) and then off of the mask of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves). The puck flew in the air, over Lundqvist’s head, and landed behind him, as it nearly hit the goal line. It then bounced backwards, away from the net, as Lundqvist looked around in vain to find it.
Trying to clear the puck, defenseman Steve Eminger (one hit, one block) knocked his stick against Paille’s, but Paille was able to get enough of the puck to knock it off of the post to Lundqvist’s left, and behind Lundqvist, just barely into the goal, as it moved almost parallel to the goal line, after ricocheting off of the post.
“I had a perfect view on it from the corner,” Paille said. “It took a weird bounce… I think we hit it at the same time, and it went off my stick and off the post, and it went in.”
Head coach John Tortorella’s said of the play, “They just kept us in the end zone, bouncing around, and Paille beat our defenseman back to the net, and scored the goal.”
Seeing the Rangers blow a third-period lead was as unlikely as the strange sequence that provided the deciding goal, since New York had registered a point in 93 straight games when leading after the second period, going 87-0-6, dating back to the 2009-10 season. This year, the Rangers were 16-0-0 in the regular season, and 2-0 in the postseason in such instances.
New York (which has been held to just five goals in the series thus far) had also won nine straight home games, including three this postseason, and was looking to use the Garden the same way it did in the Eastern quarterfinals against the third-seeded Washington Capitals — when the Rangers rallied from a 2-0 series deficit tie the Capitals 2-2, and eventually win that matchup in seven games.
Following a scoreless first period, in which New York fired six of the game’s first eight shots and held an 11-9 shot advantage by the first intermission, it looked like the Rangers might be on the verge fighting their way back into another series, after left winger Taylor Pyatt (one goal), standing in front of the net, redirected a soft wrist shot from the blue line, by defenseman Ryan McDonagh (one assist), to give New York a 1-0 lead, 3:53 into the second period.
At that point, the Rangers had been outshooting the Bruins, 14-9. But, Boston outshot New York, 25-10, over the game’s final 36 minutes, including a 26-minute stretch in which the Bruins put 18 of the game’s 21 shots on net.
Boston finished the second period controlling the play with a strong fore check that led to the Bruins taking 11 straight shots and 14 of the last 16 shots in the frame.
Rebounding from allowing five goals (for the first time in 152 games) in a Game 2 loss in Boston, Lundqvist brilliantly kept New York in the game for as long as he could, with a variety of sparkling saves, including a couple of nice stops on a pair of one-on-none breakaways.
“He was outstanding,” acknowledged Tortorella, of Lundqvist, who was serenaded with chants of “Henrik!” on a few occasions.
Just as sharp, though, while having to turn aside fewer shots, was Lundqvist’s counterpart, Tuukka Rask (23 saves).
Although they had trouble beating Rask, the Rangers avoided an opposing team’s power play for the second straight home game, while committing just one penalty (a first-period roughing call that led to a four-on-four situation).
Likewise, the Bruins largely played a clean game as well, taking only three penalties (for holding and cross checking, during the first eight minutes, and another for hooking, within the opening two minutes of the third period).
The first and last of those calls led to the only two man-advantages of the game, but each time, New York failed to capitalize, as its woeful power play came up empty for a 21st straight time, while moving to a dreadful 2-for-38 (5.3 percent) this postseason.
Despite getting outshot and outmuscled for long periods of time, the Rangers maintained their slim one-goal lead until Boychuk (who hit the goal post from close range, with under seven minutes left in the second period) tied the game on a wrist shot from the right point, 3:10 into the third period.
For a player who scored just once in 44 regular season games this year, it was Boychuk’s fourth goal of the playoffs, to lead all defensemen in that category.
Boychuk was helped by a screen in front of the Ranger net, something that as Lundqvist noted, the Bruins have been doing well.
“I think that’s where the game has been decided,” he said. “They are really strong coming in front and getting rebounds, and screening.”
Tortorella noted another problem at the other end. “We just didn’t spend enough time in their end zone, didn’t get enough fore check,” he said. “At times, we struggled to get through, and when we got through, we just didn’t sustain our fore check… as the game went on, we were there less and less, so it mounts up on you.”
On the flip side, head coach Claude Julien said, “The less time we spend in our own end, the better it is, and when it was time to block shots or get into shooting lanes, our guys did a good job [of that], too.”
Although that part of the game is normally the Rangers’ forte, the Bruins surprisingly recorded three more blocked shots (20-17) than New York.
After being shut out through two periods, Julien admitted that his team was simply hoping to get through regulation.
“In the third period, it was just a matter of getting that one goal and giving ourselves a chance,” he said. “We didn’t care if he had to go to overtime, we just wanted to get ourselves back in the game. Our guys, from start to finish, I thought, played extremely well.”
Especially Boston’s fourth line, as noted by defenseman Zdeno Chara, the Bruins’ imposing 6-foot-9, 255-pound captain, who praised the work of Praille, Campbell, and Thornton. “It was huge for us to get a contribution from a line that is not always expected to score… they really battled hard for us.”
Already trying to make history as the NHL’s first team to win a second consecutive series after trailing 2-0, the Rangers now face the even more daunting task of having to become the fourth team in league history to win a series after falling behind 3-0.
One of those was Philadelphia, which did it to Boston in the same round, in 2010.
While the loss makes things incredibly tough on New York, it didn’t stop Lundqvist or Tortorella from giving up.
“I thought we played a really strong game, but we came up short again, and it definitely hurts,” Lundqvist said. “This one really stings right now… [but], it’s not over… you can’t look at it as you have to win four games. You just have to focus on the next one… preparation and the effort have to be there, and we will see if it’s going to be enough.”
Unwavering, Tortorella said, “It’s a very tough situation, but I have full faith in our athletes. They’ll be ready to play another game, and you try to win one, and see where you go from there.”
Whereas Tortorella’s spirit is still willing, he won’t have much time to review film and try to fix the Rangers’ offensive issues. After a day off on Wednesday, the Bruins and Rangers will again hit the ice at the Garden for Game 4, on Thursday night, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.