Well, I think we’ve witnessed the advantage of earning home ice in the playoffs, wouldn’t you say? After falling into an 0-2 hole against Washington in the first round, the Rangers dropped the first game of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Bruins in overtime. After a lengthy feeling out period, the play opened up late in the second and into the third frame. The teams were relatively even until overtime, when the Bruins got chance after chance until Brad Marchand finally notched the game-winner at 15:40. Some positives and negatives from Game One:
- As we noted in the keys to the series, Boston was the league’s best faceoff team in the regular season for the second year in a row, but New York did a good job of keeping things relatively even in Game One. Derek Stepan had a miserable night on draws, going 5-14, but the rest of the Rangers were a combined 25-23. Not terrible, and the Rangers did get a few scoring opportunities off faceoff wins.
- Perhaps whatever issues were plaguing Rick Nash in the first round are now behind him? This was easily Nash’s best performance since Game One against Washington. The Rangers’ offensive leader set up Ryan McDonagh’s goal, drew a penalty on Zdeno Chara and generally skated much better and seemed to have a bit more mustard on his shot. We expected him to have a tough time with Chara in this series, but Nash did very well in Game One.
- Claude Julien happily rolls four lines, so it is critical that John Tortorella be able to do the same. Luckily, Tortorella found some balanced line combinations late in the first round that give him the flexibility to spread ice-time evenly. The Rangers have received scoring from unusual sources throughout the playoffs and though none of the bottom-six got on the board last night, they were very involved in the game.
- Before his overtime heroics, I considered putting Henrik Lundqvist in the “negatives” category. There simply won’t be much margin for error in this series for either team and the first goal Lundqvist allowed to Chara was brutal. It would be nice if the Rangers’ offense could help Lundqvist out a little more often, but that just isn’t the case with this team. It will be very difficult for New York to score against a team as defensively sound as Boston, so Lundqvist has to make every routine save, every difficult save and a bunch ridiculous saves for the Blueshirts to have a chance. The Rangers bailed him out in regulation and then Lundqvist, with a little help from the posts, stood on his head to extend the game far deeper into overtime than it probably should have been.
- Unfortunately, the Rangers were unable to take advantage of injuries that kept three key Boston blueliners out of the lineup. It’s unlikely the Rangers will get so lucky again during this series, but to be fair, Boston’s replacements were terrific. Torey Krug notched Boston’s second goal and was outstanding all night, Dougie Hamilton thwarted Nash a couple of times and was effective alongside Chara and Mark Bartkowski played a simple, physical game that didn’t look out of place. Still, if the Blueshirts had that much trouble with non-regulars, then how will New York generate any offense if/when Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference return to Boston’s lineup?
- So much for that notion that Boston’s power play might be as bad as New York’s. The Bruins cashed in on one of their four man advantages, while the Rangers looked as anemic as ever with the extra skater. New York had a chance to steal the game late in regulation after Selke nominee Patrice Bergeron took an uncharacteristic hooking penalty, but instead the Blueshirts generated nothing and handed the Bruins a power play of their own. What else is there to say about the Rangers’ pathetic PP at this point?
- The Blueshirts were outshot 16-5 in overtime and lost in the extra frame for the third time this postseason. This debacle was partially due to an early penalty that swung the momentum in the Bruins favor as Boston racked up eight shots on the ensuing PP, but again the Blueshirts were hemmed into their zone until they finally lost the game. For as good as New York has been at even strength this season, it’s somewhat mystifying they’re such a mess in OT. Boston fell all the way back to its own blueline, making it extremely difficult for the Rangers to enter the offensive zone, but that doesn’t explain what a disaster New York was in front of its own net.
It will be critical for New York to even the series on Sunday; it’d be asking an awful lot for the team to have to battle back from 0-2 deficits twice in a row. This wasn’t a great game for either team, but we certainly know that the Rangers can play better than they did last night. It wasn’t a terrible start to the series and the Rangers aren’t at all outmatched, but they’ll have to get it together in time for Game Two.