A recurring theme for the New York Rangers this season has been the team’s struggles in the third period; I wrote about this issue in the regular season back on March 22nd and now three games into the postseason the team is still struggling in the final frame. So far two games have been put to rest on third-period gaffes followed by some lethargic play, and if New York can’t find a way to right the ship they may be heading home earlier than they’d like.
Silly mistakes always seem to end up in the back of the net in the postseason and in Game 3 we had a terrific example with Rangers’ defenders Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle running into one another to allow what would become a game winning goal for Matt Cullen.
To me this play is Yandles’ error, he tries to jump up and slap the puck away when he could easily just be passive and take away the center of the ice. But remember folks, hockey is a game of mistakes; every team makes mistakes every game, a much bigger issue was the Rangers inability to generate anything after the breakdown. Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the Rangers had four shots on goal in the entire period, and not one of those bids was from closer than 30 feet out.
Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault told the media following practice on Wednesday about the team’s response after the goal, “When they made it 2-1 on what I feel is an unfortunate bounce or whatever where we have two of our players running into one another, I didn’t like how we responded after that. We should’ve had a push, and we should have challenged them a lot more than we did and we didn’t have that.”
Not Enough Skating
Rangers’ center Derek Stepan cited the team’s lack of simplicity through the neutral zone following Game 3, “It’s got to be a real simple play, it’s got to be the red line and chip it in and go get it.” Of course, this isn’t the first time this series the team has been caught not digging hard enough. If we go back to Game 1, there was a pivotal shorthanded goal scored by Tom Khunhackl that featured two Rangers (Boyle, J.T. Miller) not skating hard back to the play.
Following the goal the Rangers again failed to respond with bite and jump. Instead, the team wandered around the ice waiting for something to happen and eventually allowed the Penguins to make it 5-2.
The Rangers haven’t been terrible in the series; it’s just been the third periods where they’ve gotten into trouble. If you look at Games 1 and 3 and compare them to Game 2, the key difference is the relentless style throughout the entire game. The team forced the issue inside Pittsburgh’s zone and were able to win some battles on the wall and after allowing a goal the team didn’t just stop doing what was working. When this team is at it’s best, they’re playing with their speed making room for their skill, not the other way around.
The end of Game 3 was strange for the Rangers and in truth it wouldn’t have mattered if the Penguins had a high school goalie in net because the team just refused to adjust. Now that New York has had a day to see what they looked like from the television I expect to see change for Game 4.