When they have played to their potential this series, the New York Rangers have looked like the most dangerous team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A 10-2 point differential in Games 1 and 2 allowed for some breathing room for the team with the series heading to Madison Square Garden.
While Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game 3 hasn’t sent any of the Rangers into a panic, it was a clear sign of something that showed all season.
New York has been their own worst enemy.
It’s not that the Rangers played poorly when the series shifted to their home arena. They outshot the Devils, won more face-offs, blocked more shots, and forced more takeaways. If anything, New York should feel confident knowing they took New Jersey’s most desperate punch and needed overtime to eventually fall.
Even with the “glass half full” approach, there were still reasons to see why the Blueshirts are the only ones who can stand in their own way. Throughout Game 3, New York seemed to try and force passes through tight holes to make the “highlight-reel” play instead of simply shooting the puck. That resulted in 19 giveaways – 10 more than the team recorded in Games 1 and 2 combined.
On several occasions, a skater for New York would have a prime chance to shoot the puck but look to force a pass that wasn’t there and it resulted in a turnover. The overzealous nature to pass the puck off instead of taking what the defense gave them was a big reason for the Rangers not holding home ice going into this series in the first place.
“We weren’t as smooth, as crisp. I thought we passed up some scoring chances, especially in the first half of the game,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant explained after Saturday’s loss.
Another big issue from Game 3’s loss was the team’s powerplay unit that, after dominating at a 40% clip through the first two games, went 0-5 at home and 1/3 on the penalty kill. To their head coach, the team’s failure to score on the man advantage was about trying to overcompensate with the highlight reel play.
“We tried to get too cute. They make their plays, and we have some talent. Sometimes a little more direction can make it hard on that young goaltender,” Gallant added.
The young goaltender described by Gallant from New Jersey has added a new wrinkle to a series that has gotten tighter since this past weekend. Akira Schmid replaced Vitek Vanecek stupendously Saturday night, saving 27 of 28 shots and keeping New York frustrated for most of the night.
New York will need to try and solve the young rookie in hopes of securing a commanding 3-1 series lead in a tough series against an arch-rival. Having secured a 2-0 series advantage with two dominant road wins, the idea of going back to Newark with a tied series having lost two straight road games would be an extremely difficult pill to swallow for fans of the Blueshirts.
Still, the Rangers’ problems seem to have pretty simple solutions. With so much talent on the roster, and with each line having the ability to score and create matchup problems, New York should be able to adjust well to New Jersey’s intensity.
But with the series moving to an important Game 4 Monday night, their most recent loss showed the team and their fans that their worst enemy happens to share the same locker room.