What, you thought this was going to be easy? The 2011-2012 Rangers came within two points of winning the President’s Trophy and still needed two seven-game series to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, so why would the 2013 version, which had to scratch and claw just to get into the postseason, have an easier time?
So far in this series, all that’s happened is that each team has held its home-ice advantage. New York must simply continue that pattern tomorrow night to even the series and there were plenty of reasons to believe that’s possible during last night’s thriller.
- The power play, which had been the greatest source of frustration through two games, directly led to two goals and generated all kinds of pressure. Conversely, the Rangers finally figured out that they need to stay out of the box against the NHL’s best power play. It’s no coincidence that the team that had the special teams advantage has won every game of this series.
- Marc Staal returned and was quietly effective in 17:17; you can only expect him to get more comfortable from here. Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett also looked much better in their second games back in the lineup. And it’s very likely that another key reinforcement is on the way, as Ryane Clowe will likely make his return on Wednesday, possibly in Darroll Powe’s place.
- Most importantly, the Rangers finally put some goals on the board. There’s nothing worse for a team’s confidence and hopes of coming back than a feeling that it can’t score, just ask any number of Henrik Lundqvist’s opponents over the years. After goals by Boyle and Arron Asham, Braden Holtby suddenly looks very human. On top of that secondary offense the Rangers finally got come contributions from their big guns. Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Derick Brassard all got on the board in a big way and may be ready to settle into the vastly different style of play in the postseason.
Of course, for all the problems that were rectified in Game Three, a disturbing new one arose. The Rangers, who were among the league’s best teams at even strength this season, were completely dominated five-on-five by Washington at Madison Square Garden. That wasn’t the case through the first two games of the series, but it’s a trend that certainly can’t continue.
So, what does all that mean? Not much. It’s a new series now, and all that matters is outplaying the Capitals for 60 minutes on Wednesday. If the Rangers do, they’ll have all the momentum heading back to Washington for a pivotal Game Five. If they don’t, the Capitals are right back in control and the Rangers are one game away from golfing.