“Expect the unexpected”.
Those were the first words Tanner Glass said to the media following the Rangers impressive 2-0 Game One victory over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night.
Likely, no other words spoken post game by Glass or his teammates or his coach summed things up better because the Rangers bucked recent — and not so recent — trends, and perhaps conventional wisdom, in skating to a 1-0 series lead on the road Wednesday.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) April 13, 2017
By no means was this victory easy — and this series is far from over after one exciting contest — but the Rangers most definitely fired the first resounding salvo of the 2017 post-season.
Clearly, these are not the same Rangers who lost in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. The Blueshirts performance in Game One was much more reminiscent of their playoff successes in 2014 and 2015, starting from their goaltender on out.
It wasn’t perfect, few victories are — especially those earned in the playoffs against high-quality opposition — but there was so much to like about the New York Rangers start to the playoffs.
The King Regains His Throne
Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant. Plain and simple. Lundqvist was the best player on the ice and the biggest difference-maker, besting Montreal’s Carey Price in a tight goaltending showdown.
It’s well chronicled the struggles Lundqvist has against the Canadiens, and, in particular at the Bell Centre. And it is true Lundqvist had the most inconsistent regular season of his career in 2016-17. But to his credit, Lundqvist dialed up a retro performance in the series opener.
Right from the start, Lundqvist had that laser focus and competitive fire that separates him from most of his goalie brethren. That translated into his splendid on-ice play, especially in the first period when he made 16 saves, stifling Montreal’s strong opening surge to the series.
Perhaps even more impressive was his work in the second period. Lundqvist’s concentration and focus did not dip with the Rangers dominating and the puck in the Canadiens’ end of the ice nearly the entire first half of the period. So, when Montreal finally turned the tide and generated quality scoring chances in the second half of the middle stanza, Lundqvist was there, as sharp as he was to start the game.
In fact, his second-period highway robbery on Shea Weber likely was his best save of the night.
He may be 4-8-1 with a goals against approaching four per game his last how many regular season visits to Montreal, but Lundqvist is also 3-0 with a 2.01 GAA, .938 save percentage, and one shutout in four career playoff starts at the Bell Centre, great numbers even when including the fact he was pulled from Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final in 2014.
With more great performances moving forward in this series, Lundqvist flips the narrative from “Henrik can’t beat the Canadiens” to “The Canadiens can’t beat Henrik in the playoffs”.
Lotta’ hockey still to be played, but Wednesday was a hugely important night for Henrik Lundqvist.
Give Me 60!
The Rangers went 8-9-4 the final quarter of the season. The biggest issue in their collective game was an inability to compete for a complete 60 minutes each game.
There were usually some excellent, exciting stretches of hockey each night; but those were offset by prolonged dips in play, structural breakdowns, and a lacking compete level.
Wednesday night, there were mistakes, things the Rangers will need to improve on as the series progresses — Nick Holden, for instance, may want to cover his eyes in watching the game tape — but the effort and engagement the team put forth was exemplary.
There was passion and hunger in the Rangers game. They fought for every inch of the ice, checked hard, battled after the whistle, and stood toe to toe with a Canadiens team that also competed at a wicked level in Game One.
The one-on-one battle all night between New York’s Mats Zuccarello and Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher? Entertaining for the fans. Uplifting for their respective teams. And Exhibit A of the compete level displayed in spades Wednesday night.
Hits are an objective statistic; but the final stat sheet credited New York with 45 hits and Montreal with 53. By my eyes, that seems about right. It was a war out there.
What stands out most is that the Rangers, known as the fancy fast-skating team, not only stood nose-to-nose with the Canadiens, they initiated much of the physical play, and did so largely in smart fashion.
You simply can’t lose a playoff game when fourth-liner Tanner Glass scores a clutch goal, right? That would be terrible form, and a terrible waste of a special moment. And the Rangers did not let Tanner’s goal, nor the fine effort of the entire fourth line go to waste in Game One.
No decision made by coach Alain Vigneault elicited more vitriol from the Rangers Faithful than Glass getting the nod over skilled rookie Pavel Buchnevich in the series opener.
Yet Glass, who is immensely popular for his professionalism, effort, and leadership within the Rangers locker room, continued to ignore the fans ire, and played a strong north-south game with linemates Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast.
Oh, and Glass stunned Price with a perfect shot in the first period to give Lundqvist and the Rangers a hugely important 1-0 lead.
Not only the game-winning goal, but the only goal scored in this battle, notwithstanding an empty netter from Michael Grabner late in regulation.
So, the Rangers top guns need to find a way to break through against Price in Game Two and beyond; but Glass, and Lundqvist, provide the cushion of a 1-0 series lead.
It is partly why the Stanley Cup playoffs so great, so special.
And look it up, teams that make deep post-season runs get big plays from the likes of Glass, Lindberg and Fast along the way. It always happens. Perhaps, this is a sign that something special is in the air for New York this spring.
Glass played eight minutes. Lindberg ten. And Fast, who plays up late in games to help protect the lead, nearly 14.
They all were tone-setters, and not just on the goal. Smart defensively, solid on the forecheck, playing physically, the Rangers fourth line helped make a difference in Wednesday night’s win.
And did we mention Tanner Glass scored a goal?
Now the Rangers get to do it all over again, Friday night, Game Two, at the Bell Centre. And it will be even more difficult of a task to earn another road victory. That’s just the way it is.
And just another reason the Stanley Cup playoffs are so great.