With a win on Wednesday, the Rangers can do something they’ve done only once since 2009, and that is take a two-game lead in a playoff series. In what has become typical Rangers fashion, they have struggled immensely over the past six years to get that win in order to gain a clear cut advantage in a playoff series.
Only against Montreal during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals were they able to do so, and things worked out pretty well if I do say so myself.
Heading into Wednesday’s game four at Consol Energy Center with the 2-1 series lead, the Blueshirts have a chance to take a strangle hold on their first round best-of-seven series against the Penguins. In a playoff tournament as long and as grueling as the NHL’s, it’s an opportunity they must seize to try and keep this series a short one.
Stay the Course
The Rangers have a lead in the series for a reason. There are some things that they’ve done extremely well and should strive to continue for the remainder of the series against the Penguins. First and foremost? The defense has been very sharp, despite the continued absence of Kevin Klein.
Through the opening three games, the Penguins have yet to put more than 25 shots on Henrik Lundqvist. Sidney Crosby does have two goals and an assist, but the Rangers have also held he and Malkin in check (with the exception of a five minute span during game two), as the duo has only managed a grand total of 10 shots over the first three games.
While Henrik Lundqvist has stood tall when needed, Dan Girardi has been a big reason for the standout play of the defense of late. After his two assist performance in game three in which he led the team in ice-time with 26:06 and six blocked shots, the 30-year-old blue liner was awarded the Broadway Hat.
Finally, the Rangers must continue to stay out of the box. In game’s one and three, New York only took three penalties, however in the middle game, one which they lost, the Rangers found themselves shorthanded four times, and paid the price as the Penguins cashed in on two of those opportunities. Any power play with Crosby and Malkin is a dangerous power play. It would undoubtedly behoove the Rangers to continue their disciplined play from game’s one and three and stay out of the penalty box.
Adapt and Adjust
As well as the Rangers have played at times during this series, they’ve also been playing with fire. Letting a team hang around in a game can be dangerous, but it’s particularly dangerous in the post-season against a team like the Penguins who have very little pressure on them.
To this point, all three games – two wins and a loss from the New York perspective – have been one goal games. In all three games, the Rangers have scored the first goal, and in two of those three they’ve had a two goal lead, however they have yet to score the “kill goal” to put a game away. In game’s one and three, New York had 2-0 leads but failed to score the third goal. Pittsburgh hung around, and made a frantic push to tie the game late. Ultimately the Rangers held on both times, but it’s a dangerous game to play. If the Rangers want to make this a short series, scoring that all important third goal is vital.
And least but not least, get the puck to the middle of the ice on the power play. Through the first three games of the series, the Rangers have lit the lamp twice in 14 chances, and especially in the latter two games, the Penguins have held the Rangers primarily to the perimeter, thus a good portion of the shots have come from the low percentage areas; far out and from bad angels. Pittsburgh has averaged nearly five penalties per-game. If the Rangers can get the puck to the high-percentage areas and make them pay for their lack of discipline, their chances at taking over this series on Wednesday evening will rise substantially.
This current New York-Pittsburgh series is far closer than many would have predicted. The Penguins have hung around in large part because of Marc-Andre Fleury, but also because the Rangers have allowed them to. If the Rangers can continue to remain tight on defense, score the put-away goal, and penetrate the middle of the ice with the man-advantage, they could be returning to New York with a chance to finish off the Penguins come Friday.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.