By Larry Brooks
April 19, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cullen, right, scores a goal on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, of Sweden, during the third period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL playoff hockey series Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 3-1. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
If you’re scoring at home … you’re doing a lot better than the Rangers, that’s for sure, whose one-goal output in Tuesday’s Game 3, 3-1 defeat to the Penguins leaves them with, well, that one goal over their last three playoff contests at the Garden going back to last year’s conference finals against the Lightning.
This performance simply was not good enough to win a playoff game. The Blueshirts weren’t necessarily outworked, but they were sure out-thought throughout a third period in which they mindlessly skated into the Penguins’ neutral zone trap time and time and time again and thus made it rather simple for their opponents to protect a 2-1 lead they had gained at 4:16 of the period.
“We were stubborn,” Derek Stepan said. “It’s playoff hockey, it’s a real simple game; you chip it in and you go get it as a five-man unit.
“They’re up by a goal, they’re packing the zone, and we kept trying to skate it through.”
The upshot of that wrong-headed strategy? Four isolated shots on net over the final 20 minutes, recorded as follows on the official play-by-play score sheet:
2:53, Stepan, 32 feet
4:10, Dan Boyle, 64 feet.
12:31, Kevin Klein, 25 feet.
12:46, Keith Yandle, 46 feet.
“The reason we didn’t get a single look the whole third period is that we did a terrible job coming though the neutral zone,” Stepan said. “It’s to the red and deep. But we didn’t do that.”
Matt Murray, second on the depth chart behind the sidelined Marc-Andre Fleury, returned to nets after missing the first two games of the series recovering from a head injury. The rookie — who replaced third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff — was cool and composed and yielded nothing in the way of second chances.
Four saves in the third period after 12 on 13 shots through the first two periods. Seventeen shots overall for the Rangers without a single rebound chance; 17 shots that included a measly three in 7:28 on the power play — and none at all on an advantage of 3:28 in the first period once an apparent Chris Kreider score at 12:56 was wiped off the board on a successful offside challenge.
“For some reason it was hard for us to create the big chances,” said Henrik Lundqvist, beaten for the winner by a Matt Cullen breakaway after Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle nearly collided at the New York blue line. “We were hoping to come home and get the building energized and get ourselves energized.”
The Garden energized? Since when?
Rick Nash was massive much of the night and was clearly the Rangers’ best forward. Big No. 61 gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded breakaway at 0:39 of the second period, beating Murray with a left wing wrist shot after having been sprung by Kevin Klein. And the Rangers protected the lead until Sidney Crosby got the tying goal on a power-play deflection at 19:18 of the second.
Deflection off Crosby’s leg/skate; deflation for the Rangers, who seemed to be fighting uphill the remainder of the match.
“It’s a big difference not going into the third with the lead,” said Lundqvist, who was less than thrilled with the hooking call on Marc Staal that gave Pittsburgh the man-advantage that No. 87 converted. “I did not agree with the call, I thought it was a battle for the puck [with Carl Hagelin], but it’s a fast game and that’s going to happen.”
Ryan McDonagh returned and played capably, if at times hesitantly, paired most of the night with Brady Skjei on the right. Boyle sat for lengthy patches after the Penguins took the lead, but Alain Vigneault had Boyle on for a shift of 1:21 before Pittsburgh iced it with an empty-netter at 19:47.
(And, if the coach is committed to reinserting Dan Girardi into the lineup when he is physically fit, it should be at the expense of Boyle, not Skjei.)
Eric Staal seemed to have more room but did not do much with it. Kevin Hayes, who did little, got only 2:44 of ice in the third, including just one seven-second shift over the final 10:04. But it would be foolhardy to cite individuals for this one.
“We have to look at the tape and talk about how we can be better to generate more chances,” Lundqvist said. “Because in my mind, that’s what we need to do here.”
What the Rangers needed to do — and need to do on Thursday — is use their minds. Because they sure didn’t deplete the brain power in this one.