NYR-MTL Game 4 Analysis Period by Period

Hank doing what he does best (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

First Period

There was a very palpable and nervous energy at Madison Square Garden preceding game 4. The fans hoping to see a home playoff win, which hadn’t happened at MSG since May 16, 2015. The puck is dropped. The Rangers seem to want to prove to their fans and themselves that they came to play. They immediately get some forecheck pressure and a quick and harmless shot. The crowd roars its’ approval. The Blueshirts are able to sustain pressure for the first several minutes. Pavel Buchnevich makes his first appearance in the playoffs, replacing Tanner Glass, and showed no rust playing with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. After Brady Skjei blasted the puck into the offensive zone, Habs defenseman Andrei Markov misplays it, allowing Jesper Fast to swoop in for the steal. Fast makes a quick, strong move to the net, and slips the puck through Carey Price’s legs, to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. The crowd, dying for something to cheer about, is at full throttle. Jesper Fast has been fantastic all over the ice, with infectious hustle, and big time grit.

Andrew Shaw takes the game’s first penalty moments later at 13:25, sending the Rangers onto the power play with momentum. About a minute into the man advantage Rick Nash took the puck hard to the net, from Price’s right. After a slight collision, Kevin Hayes banged home the rebound. Unfortunately, Nash got called for goalie interference, which nullified the goal. It seemed very obvious that Price took a bit of a dive on the play. Nonetheless, momentum started to swing the other way. Henrik Lundqvist was called upon to make two huge saves on breakaways by Shaw and Torrey Mitchell. Montreal’s pressure mounts as do their shots on goal. With just over two minutes left in the first, Alex Radulov and Brady Skjei engaged in a spirited battle for the puck in front of the Rangers bench. Radulov got the puck to squirt free as both teams were changing lines. Shea Weber and Torrey Mitchell capitalized on the confusion and stormed in on a 2 on 1, that Mitchell finished to even the score. Both teams should have been called for too many men on the ice, with Montreal being the more blatant of the two guilty parties. This missed infraction wasn’t the only one missed by the officials on this night. On a night that five penalties were called, at least five more should have been called. The period ended with Ryan McDonagh getting tagged with a slashing penalty, with 4 seconds left. Montreal ends the period with a 12 – 10 shot on goal advantage.

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Second Period

The 2nd period starts with the Canadiens on an almost 2-minute man advantage. With the MSG crowd collectively holding its breath, the Blueshirts are able to hold the fort. Shortly after the successful kill, McDonagh made an incredible play keeping the puck in the offensive zone on an attempted clear by Jeff Petry. In one motion, the Rangers captain reached high over his head and knocked the puck to the ice with his hand. Then did some quick stick-handling to avoid the onrushing Max Pacioretty, and fire a deadly accurate pass to Rick Nash, who was headed to the net, unimpeded. Nash then backhanded the puck past a startled Price to give New York a 2-1 lead. Not enough can be said about the play by Ryan McDonagh. Just a truly amazing display of skill, smarts, and speed. McDonagh had a remarkable game on both sides of the puck. Using Brian Leetch-like anticipation to pick off passes in the neutral zone, and being very physical on attacking Montreal forwards, McDonagh led by example all over the ice. The team, meanwhile, had a strong second period in stifling the Canadiens attack, allowing just 6 shots on goal, to the Rangers 12.

Third Period

Twenty minutes away from tying the series, and actually winning a home playoff game, the Rangers start off playing smart hockey. They aren’t allowing any long possessions in their own zone, thus easing their fans anxiety. But, just before the 5-minute mark, Derek Stepan gets called for hooking in the Rangers offensive zone. Rangers fans are infuriated. First, because it was a terrible call. The “hook” was no more than a stick lift, and actually a very good play by Stepan. And second, this call (besides being wrong) was nothing compared to the egregious penalties that were let go before and after this particular one. Whether it was Steve Ott kicking at Mats Zuccarello (and just missing a linesman), or Paul Byron elbowing Brendan Smith up high, or Alex Radulov with the Paul Bunyon slash on Smith’s wrist, the number of missed infractions was a head shaking embarrassment. As the rest of the third period unfolded, the Rangers were able to force the Canadiens into a large number of icings. The Blueshirts rolled all four lines up front but struggling defenseman Nick Holden was used sparingly on the back end, especially in the third period. With under two minutes left and Carey Price on the bench, the Habs started to turn up the pressure. Lundqvist was forced to make several close-in saves, and got some help from his best friend, the post, stopping a Shea Weber drive from the point. The final seconds ticked off in the Rangers zone. There would be no empty-net tally to make the fans and players breathe easier. Montreal only managed six third period shots, while icing the puck often, and the Rangers had 10.

In The End

The Rangers played well enough, but not as well as game 1. They still haven’t played a complete game in this series. Forwards J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Chris Kreider still haven’t gotten their names on the score sheet. For several weeks now, this threesome has been ice cold (Hayes-3 assists in his last 15 games, Kreider 2 goals 3 assist in 15 games and Miller 3 goals and 3 assists in his last 16 games). These players have not played anywhere close to their abilities. And the team sure needs a whole lot more from centers Derek Stepan and Mika Zibanejad. Once again Henrik Lundqvist is by far the Rangers best player. And, as in past years, he gets absolutely no room for error. If the aforementioned forwards played anywhere close to their regular season stats, this series would be on the verge of ending in New York’s favor. The ponderous part to me is that the bottom 4 defensemen on Montreal are on the weak side, to say the least, and should be dominated by young skilled forwards. Miller and Hayes have become extremely pass-happy, and seem to only shoot if they are looking at 20 square feet of net. Meanwhile, and thankfully, Rick Nash is actually becoming a playoff performer. He’s taking the puck to the net instead of being satisfied with long shots, and quantity of shots.

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