Just a few days ago, I wrote an article about how it was going to be tough for the Blueshirts to come back from a very ugly performance in Montreal. When, just a few hours later, they take to the ice and play a stellar game. New York’s 2-1 victory over the Canadiens was textbook–fast, as gritty as this team can manage, and mostly importantly, defensively sound. Many fewer giveaways and solid, safer puck movement was the order of the night.
So, which Rangers team will show up tonight? Frankly, its anyone’s guess. Like your teenage child that you know has all this potential and one night shows it and the next is inexplicably out to lunch, the Rangers have the faithful scratching their heads.
One thing that we do know–Henrik Lundqvist will play his heart (and his body) out again. Lundqvist has been amazing in this series. His positioning, his attitude, his calm puck-handling, and his kick saves have all been spectacular. Without Hank, the Rangers might be golfing by now.
But, that is where anything close to sure ends. The defense may or may not be good enough. Ryan McDonagh played an outstanding game on Tuesday night. Not only did he initiate what was Rick Nash’s game winning goal, but he quietly made excellent plays in his own zone. McDonagh is at his best when he makes other teammates look good, and he certainly did that on Tuesday. He did less of it on Sunday evening, but he was still more than adequate on Easter night. It was the rest of the defense that looked like it belonged in Hartford.
Head Coach Alain Vigneault changed things up on D on Tuesday, reinserting Nick Holden into the lineup for Game 4. The usually sure passing Holden was replaced in Game 3 after an embarrassing performance in Game 2. But what a mistake this was on Vigneault’s part. Back for Game 4 (although with the least amount of ice time of all the defenseman), Holden wound up being a key player on the blue line.
Also important in the last game was the forwards’ successful face-off percentage. Pavel Buchnevich’s insertion in the lineup seemed to jump start Mika Zibanejad’s game, which extended to his work in the face off circle. Mika’s win percentage was at 59% and he looked inspired. Buchnevich showed some rare forechecking abilities to add to his offensive threat. If he keeps it up, Buch could wind up being a factor in this series.
Although most of the other Rangers that took face offs were less than successful, Oscar Lindberg’s face off percentage was at 56%. We all know how important gaining control of the puck is after a face off, and Lindberg is excellent at it. He had a lot of practice in Hartford, and he has started to make a big difference (all over the ice). Lindberg is definitely not getting enough credit for his work on the fourth line. I have always thought that he was a fringe NHL player, but it turns out that I may be wrong. He could definitely play center on a third line, and next year he may do so in New York.
The question, however, is not what will happen next year, but what will happen tonight. The answer for me is, “beats me.” I can’t even guess. Let’s all see together which Rangers’ team shows up in Montreal for Game 5.