If this Ranger era ends within the next week, the Blueshirts will have an old friend to thank.
Standing over the Pittsburgh bench, Mike Sullivan is making the most of his opportunity, cobbling his Penguins into a complete team that has their high powered offense, as well as a stifling defense.
Sullivan, who was John Tortorella’s right hand man during Torts’ time on Broadway, was one of the architects of the “Black and Blueshirts” of 2011-12 and now he has his Penguins believing in the same philosophy.
Like the 2012 Rangers, these Penguins block a lot of shots. They don’t give an inch and you have to fight for everything in the corners.
It’s a stark contract to recent Pittsburgh clubs, who tried to get by on talent along, often coming up short.
“It goes back to playing the game the right way,” Sullivan said “I think we did a great job with our puck management and forcing them to play goal line to goal line, so we didn’t have extended time in our defensive zone. When we did, part of that is blocking shots and we protect the scoring area.”
In Game 3’s 3-1 loss, the Rangers only managed 17 shots on goal and only four coming in the third period. Once Sidney Crosby tied the game at the end of the second the Penguins meant business. The Blueshirts fought for every inch of space in the neutral zone and couldn’t get any shots off on Matthew Murray, who saved 16.
“Our biggest issue was we wouldn’t make any plays with the puck,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We have to give them credit that was a real solid defensive performance.”
Then when Matt Cullen – another old friend – broke the tie in the third, it was pretty much game over for the Blueshirts.
There wasn’t anything the Rangers could do against the Penguins, who pulled the full Tortorella on them tonight.
“We kept saying it, we kept trying to tell ourselves – we have to lay in and shoot it,” said Ranger captain Ryan McDonagh. “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.”
The Rangers only seemed in control when things opened up. On the waived off goal, Chris Kreider caused chaos in front of the net and Rick Nash opened up the game on his shorthanded tally.
But that was about it.
So now the Rangers go back to the drawing board for Game 4. They have to see about breaking Sullivan’s Black and Blue Pens come Thursday. Tonight, the Rangers lost the home ice, they stole on Saturday.
If they go down, 3-1 with the series going back to Pittsburgh, they will probably lose their whole season.
And they will have an old friend to thank.