New York lost in a 3-2 shootout last night, ending their five-game win streak at home. The Rangers never led in the game against the Montreal Canadiens, who jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period and had New York chasing the entire game. It was a very entertaining game, which started slowly for New York and wound up to be a goalie showcase. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price were spectacular, making save after save in the third and OT periods.
Eventually, it was Montreal’s winger Paul Byron who put the puck past Henrik Lundqvist, but the game was pretty evenly matched and could have gone either way. The Rangers, who struggled on the power play all night, started the game slowly and then surged as the game went on. As Head Coach Alain Vigneault admitted, “ [t]here’s no doubt that in the first period we didn’t manage the puck well…We needed to make more plays with the puck, which I thought we did in the second period.”
Both of New York’s goals were scored at even strength. The first was a beautiful combination of Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg. The two have been playing together at times over the years since their junior days in Sweden, and it showed last night. Playing on the fourth line with rookie future star Pavel Buchnevich, Fast and Lindberg combined for an outstanding cross-crease pass and redirection goal to beat Price. The second goal, scored by Rick Nash, was a hard working goal. Nash commented after the game that, “I feel like I’ve been around the net, getting a lot of chances, making a lot of plays, and it paid off tonight.”
The problem for the Rangers last night, and for all the other NHL teams over the rest of the season, is Price. There were times last night when he literally looked like he was standing on his head. This is a problem because, although all NHL number one goalies can do that some of the time, Price can do it night after night. And looking forward to the playoffs, it is possible that the Rangers will have to play the Habs in the first round. Not that the Canadiens are unbeatable (they have only won two games and lost seven this month), but if Price gets into a groove, look out.
New York is having a great month, and despite only getting one point last night, the team has been on a role. Except for the 4-2 loss to the Islanders last week, until the Rangers had won every single game since February began. That’s seven out of nine games, including five out of six at home. The team will play the offensively gifted Maple Leafs tomorrow night and then the Devils on Saturday. Two very different organizations, which will require New York to highlight two very different types of play. To me, the bigger test is Toronto, where a very tight defense will be key. Let’s see where the Rangers are with that tomorrow night, because a high-energy tight D is key to playoff success.
And the playoffs are just around the corner–really. The Rangers only have 23 games left before the post-season begins.