By Allan Muir
By now, fans of the New York Rangers are familiar with the daunting challenge that is facing their beloved Blueshirts.
Plenty of teams have come back to win a series after being down two games to none, as the Rangers themselves did in their first-round meeting with the Washington Capitals. But not one has managed that trick twice in a row. And after dropping the first two contests in Boston, that’s the hurdle that awaits New York heading into tonight’s Game 3 against the Bruins.
Fortunately, these Bruins might be primed for another date with history.
After all, this is a team that has gained a reputation not just for lacking killer instinct, but for actively helping opponents up off the mat, brushing them off, and then rolling over for a game or two.
Three years ago, the Bruins became just the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead when they coughed up four straight to the Flyers. During their Stanley Cup season of 2011, the B’s were forced to a Game 7 three times. And in the last round, they led Toronto 3-1 before barely escaping, thanks to a thrilling last-minute comeback in Game 7.
True, Boston won four of those five Game 7s, but the Bruins opened the door every time. And for a team that just has to win one game tonight, not a series, an opening is all the Rangers are looking for.
“You don’t want to be down 2-0,” New York coach John Tortorella said on Monday. “We know what hole we’re in, but by no means is this a really bad thing. We need to win one game and try to get momentum on our side.
“Last year, we had to win a couple in a row and we were going back and forth with wins and losses. We’ve been in this situation for a long time the past couple of years. I am not worried about that. I just want to make sure we correct the things we need to correct, and I think we’ll be OK.”
One of the areas that Tortorella needs to address is the power play. The unit is an abysmal 2-for-36 thus far in the playoffs, a success rate that allows the Bruins to take physical liberties without any fear of repercussion. To be fair, the Rangers looked better with the extra man in Game 2, spending more time in Boston’s zone while moving the puck crisply, but it’s not about control. It’s not even about getting better quality chances on Tuukka Rask. It’s about finishing.
“We’re trying,” defenseman Dan Girardi told the New York Post. “Something’s got to give. We’re getting shots. It’s going to break here soon.”
Chris Kreider and Brian Boyle added some spark to the unit in Game 2 with their speed and size, respectively, but the biggest boost might come from someone who’s been there all along.
Rick Nash finally got that great ape off his back when he scored his first goal of the postseason in Game 2. The big winger can be a difference-maker, either with his shot off the rush or his body down low with possession. He can be a streaky scorer, too, so if he has the feel back, look out.
At the other end of the ice, the Rangers have to tighten up their defensive zone coverage. “We hurt ourselves in our play away from the puck, and I think that is one of the biggest strengths we have.” Tortorella said. It’ll help that he’ll have the benefit of the last change at home, meaning he’ll be able to get the matchups he wants against Boston’s skilled forwards. That may also mean switching up his D pairs to better defend against the Bruins’ depth.
Ultimately, though, the Rangers’ survival depends on the play of Henrik Lundqvist. And, possibly, his health. The Vezina Trophy finalist was roughed up for five goals by Boston in Game 2, the most he’s allowed in a game since March 9, 2011. More troubling is the possibility that he injured his shoulder late in the contest.
Lundqvist said he felt fine after practice on Monday, but he’ll have to prove it in game action. Martin Biron isn’t a viable option at this time of year.
The Rangers won all three games at home against Washington. They’ll probably need to do the same against Boston to survive this round. The quest for history starts tonight at MSG.