Dating back to their second-round series, the New York Rangers have alternated wins and losses. After Saturday's 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference final, that trend continued as the No. 1 seed took a 2-1 series lead.
Based purely on chances and offensive zone time, the Rangers were outplayed significantly over the game's first half. It was a near-miracle that the game was scoreless over that time period as the Rangers, again, were a step slow and generating feeble chances that were kept to the outside. Of course, it helps when Henrik Lundqvist, who flat-out stole this game, is in net.
Just like they have for most of the season, the Rangers relied on their netminder, stayed patient with their game, found it and capitalized on their chances, scoring three times in the third period (Ryan Callahan's was an empty-netter) beginning with Dan Girardi's blast and Chris Kreider's deflection goal.
Game 4 is Monday back at Prudential Center at 8 p.m., and the Rangers will be looking to reverse their win-loss trend. First, though, let's take a look at the good and bad from this victory.
What Went Right
Henrik Lundqvist: The Rangers didn't have their legs for the first half of this game, getting totally outplayed in every facet of the game. But that didn't matter because Lundqvist was brilliant, making 36 saves. He simply stole the game for the Rangers, even with them scoring thrice in the third period. It's his second shutout of the series, third of the playoffs and sixth career postseason one. The Devils ran all over New York early on, outshooting them 11-5 in the first and 15-9 in the second period. Sometimes shot totals aren't indicative of the play, but in this one, they were. Breakaways, odd-man rushes, traffic in front: you name it, Lundqvist was there to make the save. His presence in net is a calming influence for this group and allowed them to get their jump and seize some of their own chances in the final frame.
Second-Period Timeout: Coach John Tortorella called a timeout at 1:51 of the second period. It isn't reflected in the box score, as the Rangers were still outshot 15-9 in the second period, but it was a huge call by the coach. Without Lundqvist, New York would've been run out of the building early in this game. The Devils had momentum and top-notch chances on their side in the first. That continued early on in the second , and the Rangers' coach recognized that. After that point, New York regained its legs, found its game, stuck with it and made it competitive again. The biggest difference was that the Rangers actually started to create some zone pressure, instead of constantly being on defense, like they were for the entire first period.
Penalty Kill: It's going to go unnoticed with Lundqvist stealing the limelight, Girardi's second game-winning goal in three games and Kreider's fiffth of the postseason, but I believe it was just as crucial to this win as anything else. The Devils had five power plays and chances to really knocked the Rangers out, and they couldn't convert. The two penalty kills New York had in the second period were huge, as was the one with the ice tilted toward the Devils' end in the first. The Devils controlled the pace of this game for nearly two-thirds of it, and getting a goal in that second period really could've made things go south in a hurry for the Rangers. Even with the Rangers up 2-0, they took two more penalties and this was a chance for New Jersey to get back in it. The penalty kill was aggressive, blocked a ton of shots and kept shooting lanes free for Lundqvist.
Fourth line: Let's go a bit off-the-wall with this 'what went right' nod, because this line -- John Mitchell, Artem Anisimov and Mike Rupp essentially created Kreider's goal. They hemmed the puck in the zone, cycled it and wore down the defense, before heading out on a line change. John Mitchell didn't change immediately but what he did was extremely valuable: he charged into the zone with his new "linemates," went back toward the blue line and dumped the puck in. Callahan retrieved it and his errant shot went out to Ryan McDonagh, who played another stellar game, and he fired with Kreider deflecting it home.
What Went Wrong
Slow Start ... Again: Much has been made of the Rangers' style and two prior series lasting seven games. They were called a tired and exhausted team in Game 2. Tortorella didn't want to hear about any questions relating to it early on in the series, with the Devils being the more rested squad. But early on in Game 3, they were falling into that generalization. They were slow to pucks. Couldn't win a single puck battle. The times the puck went into the Devils' end in the first period were because the Rangers needed to change. Lundqvist is one of the best for a reason, but the Blueshirts can't keep coming out without energy and expect to win. They haven't really set the pace early in a game yet this series.
Brandon Prust: Right after Tortorella took the timeout in the second period, the Rangers' banging line went to work, and Prust got a little too reckless, getting a high elbow up to the back of Anton Volchenkov's head. There was no penalty called on the play, but Volchenkov clearly was affected in the minutes after the hit. It's likely that the league takes a look at this play and hands Prust a one-game ban. Prust hasn't done all that much in five-on-five situations, but he's a heart-and-soul player and he's continued to be a reliable penalty killer, so his absence will mean someone else fills in in that situation. Prust had 3:58 of penalty-kill time in Game 3.