It happened again. And it's happening so frequently, it should no longer come as a surprise.
Entering Tuesday night's pivotal Game 3 against the Flyers, Alain Vigneault had a choice: Trot out the status quo, which was tied 1-1 as the Rangers' first round playoff series shifted to Philadelphia, or tweak the lineup.
As has been the case all season when he's made a move, Vigneault's latest tactical decision paid big dividends.
Again, this is nothing new to the Rangers. Every button Vigneault seems to push has seemingly lead to positive results. Cam Talbot has been a superb backup to Henrik Lundqvist, and his usage has both motivated the Rangers incumbent and given him necessary respite. After lackluster starts, healthy-scratching both Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello, and then flanking them on a line with Derick Brassard is one of the Ragners' saving graces this season. Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider have made huge strides under Vigneault's tutelage. And the late additions of Kevin Klein and Raphael Diaz bolstered the bottom half of the Rangers' d-corps.
So far be it from anyone to second-guess a Daniel Carcillo-for-Jesper Fast swap when the puck dropped Tuesday night, and the series' lead on the line. It's reflex to deride a coach for lineup changes, especially after an era of John Tortorella that consistently featured the likes of Stu Bickel, juggled depth charts, and a lack of overall consistency.
Heck, I'm guilty of it.
Fast got limited minutes at the end of Game 2. This makes zero sense. RT @AGrossRecord: Carcillo with Richards and Hagelin— Evan Sporer (@ev_sporer) April 22, 2014
struggles to score consistently // puts Carcillo on a line with two of the better Rangers' forwards // what could go wrong??— Evan Sporer (@ev_sporer) April 22, 2014
But not only did Carcillo not hinder the Rangers' offense, he contributed to it. Facing an old friend-turned-foe—a storyline very much played up as he entered the fray—Carcillo scored a crucial goal, play inspired hockey, and deserves top marks for his performance.
Seeing Carcillo played inspired hockey was expected. He had said he was itching to get a crack at his former club, and make an impact. He toed the Sean Avery line of being a nuisance, but at the end of the day, his deployment was a major factor in the Rangers reclaiming a 2-1 series lead.
Snap judgements of these lineup decisions are premature, but again, inherently inevitable because of the nature of sports. Just like it's too early to completely evaluate Vigneault, calling Carcillo's insertion into the lineup prior to him even hitting the ice was speculation at best. Vigneault's New York track record should buy him the benefit of the doubt by now, and Game 3 is just another bullet on the resume.