Coming off a poor effort in Columbus in which Alexandar Georgiev undeniably stole two points for the Rangers, one might have expected the Rangers to come out on the second leg of a back-to-back with tired legs and post a similar lackluster showing. Instead, they played a fairly respectable game for the first 59 minutes more or less matching Montreal in tempo. However, the Rangers struggled to create many shots on net against a rigid Montreal team and were punished severely for a few isolated mistakes, including one late in the third period.
The Rangers had a solid period, recording 20 shot attempts to the Habs’ 16. However, The Canadiens did a good job of clogging up shooting lanes. The Rangers made a few major errors, one of which ended up in the back of their net.
Halfway through the period, a tired fourth line got caught lagging on a Montreal transition. Greg McKegg made an untimely lackadaisical change, leaving Philip Danault wide open on the rush. Tony DeAngelo, left in an extremely difficult situation where he has to defend two players by himself, got caught in No Man’s Land, and Danault slipped it across to Brendan Gallagher for the opening goal.
The period ended with Montreal leading, 1-0.
The two teams played another fairly even period, with both doing a great job of suppressing shooting opportunities. This time, the Rangers were the ones to capitalize on a mistake. Brendan Smith applied pressure to the point and forced forward Artturi Lehkonen to fumble the puck. Smith, already having generated speed, took advantage of the turnover and sped through the neutral zone for a breakaway. The typically inconspicuous forward unleashed a dazzling deke on Carey Price, drawing the goaltender into the butterfly before moving the puck to his backhand and roofing it off the crossbar and into the net.
The Rangers controlled play for majority of the period but continued to struggle to generate many quality scoring chances against the Canadiens, perhaps passing at instances where a shot through traffic or to create a rebound might have sufficed. The Blueshirts’ legs started to fail them in the final five minutes, but they appeared to have everything under control as the game approached overtime. The Rangers were set to earn at least one point.
As the clock approached the final minute, Ryan Lindgren made a pass through the neutral zone to Brendan Lemieux. The winger attempted a crafty redirection to an in-stride Filip Chytil. However, Lemieux did not make clean contact with the puck and created a neutral zone turnover. Lindgren overcommitted to puck carrier Nick Cousins, whom Adam Fox already had covered, leaving a streaking Nate Thompson wide open on the far side. After Fox blocked the initial shot, Cousins found Thompson backdoor for the crushing game-winning goal.
The Rangers did have one last push in the last 60 seconds but spent most of that effort passing around the perimeter of the offensive zone.
The ending is a sour one for the Rangers and the fans, but when the team looks at film together at the next practice they will probably feel okay with how they played over most of the 60 minutes. Head Coach David Quinn more or less relayed that sentiment in his post-game press conference. A couple of massive mistakes cost them, as well as some offensive zone inefficiency. However, that provides a much better foundation for long-term improvement than the 60-minute defensive zone fire drill the Rangers performed on Thursday against Columbus. The standings won’t care, but coaches and management certainly will.
The Rangers now travel west for the next few games, starting with a Sunday night matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights.