When the New York Rangers played their best game of the season and defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on May 29th, many fans were picturing Henrik Lundqvist lifting the Stanley Cup in front of thousands of cheering fans. Now, the Rangers find themselves on the brink of elimination after losing the first three games of the finals. Fans booed New York off of their home ice after getting shutout by Jonathan Quick, and the Rangers faithful are simply asking for just one win. So what happened to get us here? Let's take a look with another 12 thoughts. (I couldn't come up with a whole 15 this time)
1. While it is certainly easy to count the Rangers out of this series, there is little to no point in doing so as a fan. My personal approach will be to try to enjoy every second of game four, as the Rangers could lose and be eliminated from the Cup finals, and there is no way of knowing how soon they will be back. The hope here is that the Rangers will at least win a game or two, and if the Rangers do happen to win the next two it will feel like a series again.
2. Speaking to the topic of the Rangers potentially playing their last home game of the season on Wednesday. That means it could be Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot, and even some surprise players last home games with the Rangers. Even if the Rangers lose 444-0, I hope if you attend the game you cheer the team at the end. Twenty years between Cup appearances is a long time, and this team fought for every single win. To use a cliche here, this season has been a rollercoaster. It may end with a drop down, but there were enough ups where this team only deserves praise.
3. Now onto game 3 itself. Fans may be upset with Jonathan Quick getting praise for games one and two, but he was absolutely terrific in game three. Sure Mats Zuccarello's opportunity in the first may have hit the post and Rick Nash would have scored if he was not tripped up, but Quick was positioned perfectly all night and played like he did against the Devils in 2012. Midway through the game I tweeted that if Jonathan Quick plays like that the Rangers won't win a game. I honestly believe that.
4. As for Henrik Lundqvist, it's hard to be thrilled that he gave up three goals on only fifteen shots, but the three goals surrendered were hardly his fault. It's understood that fans try to make excuses for players like Lundqvist, but when the goals are scored on a blown coverage play, a deflection off of his own player, and a terrible bounce on a two on one, it's tough to see how Lundqvist could have played better. The first goal was the worst of the night allowed, and that was on a Jeff Carter wrister that never should have even happened. The fault on the three goals belongs to Rick Nash and John Moore on the first one, Marc Staal for taking a penalty on the second, and no one but luck on the third.
5. Now let's talk about luck. Ryan McDonagh made a perfect play on the third goal, but the puck happened to bounce in the direction of Mike Richards, who simply slid it into an empty net. Henrik Lundqvist could not be super-human and predict that the pass on the two on one would come right back to the passer, so the Rangers deficit was three. Then there's countless posts hit by the Rangers, including Chris Kreider's in overtime of game two, and odd bounces favoring the Kings. The luck may favor the Kings, but the Rangers need to play that much better if that's the case. Excuses don't work in the Stanley Cup Finals.
6. In game three the Rangers outplayed the Kings for the majority of the night, but at the same time there were few players that looked solid. Ryan McDonagh made a few noticeable gaffes, Dan Girardi looked shaky as ever, Martin St. Louis looked lost all night, and Brad Richards....well I will get to Brad Richards. The player that stood out to me and many others as a positive force in the game was Mats Zuccarello. As usual, Zucc was all over the ice, trying to score in tight areas, and throwing his body around. If the Rangers want to win the series, they should play like Mats Zuccarello.
7. Brad Richards has been the worst player in the series by a wide margin. Brad Richards has been so bad, I'm fairly certain a team in the ECHL would not want to sign him if they looked at the game tapes from this series. While I was hesitant to say Richards should be benched going into game three, I am now firmly with those saying Richards should be benched for game four. That being said, there's a slim to none chance Alain Vigneault actually benches the alternate captain. The best solution is to limit his ice time, double shift players like Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore, and take Richards off of the power play altogether. Richards is completely toxic on the power play, as he falls down or makes terrible decisions more often than completing passes. It's tough to watch, but this is what he's bringing to the table.
8. Other adjustments I would suggest are Rick Nash taking Richards' spot on the power play, even potentially Brian Boyle on the power play with the instruction to only stand in front of the net and try to screen Jonathan Quick. Screens could be huge against Quick considering his aggressive goaltending style, as the puck could be passed him before the time he sees it. Anton Stralman deserves a bit more ice time than Dan Girardi, but like Richards being benched, that seems unlikely.
9. For all of the talk about how badly the Rangers are being outplayed, the series could be 2-1 Rangers if New York didn't blow leads in the first two games. While the Rangers certainly dug their own hole by surrendering the leads, that the Kings led for zero seconds going into game three indicates that the teams are more evenly matched than the 3-0 series lead indicates. The Rangers even outplayed and out-shot the Kings in game three, only to lose thanks to Jonathan Quick. At the same time, however, it needs to be understood that regardless of how close the Rangers were in games 1-3, they didn't win any of them. The whole "Kings are much better" argument may be nothing more than a narrative, but as long as the Rangers aren't winning the narrative will stick. Just win.
10. Rick Nash will be blasted unless the Rangers comeback and win the series, but his two way play continues to be terrific. The issue I have with Nash is that on offense, rather than standing in front of the net he attempts to weave his way through the middle and overpower the defensemen. What Nash does not understand is that the Kings defencemen are able to hold him back when he does that, and it nearly always results in a Kings play the other way or a clear. Nash would be best served playing a hybrid style of Martin St. Louis and Chris Kreider's styles. Nash can attempt to ready himself for snipes, look for breakaway opportunities, and most importantly get in front and screen Quick. The Rangers don't get nearly enough dirty goals, and Nash is definitely partially responsible for that.
11. The main difference between the Kings and the Rangers is that the Kings top liners are actually getting the puck in the net. The Rangers top two lines have combined for two goals, only one of which was scored 5 on 5. The top two lines will need to step up, and if the fourth line can contribute a goal or two it certainly would help.
12. Again, it's worth reiterating that all this analysis and all of our comments have been about the Rangers and the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure it hurts to lose, and it would be incredibly painful to get swept, but that the Rangers got back here is a great sign for the present and the future. Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan McDonagh are all either in their prime or nearing their prime. It will be tough for Glen Sather to keep building winning rosters with the Rangers salary cap constraints and lack of draft picks, but I'm confident this team will be back in Henrik Lundqvist's reign, whether they make the comeback this series or not.