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Handy Dandy Playoff Notebook: Take A Deep Breath

  • The New York Rangers are still two wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, and will look to rebound from their first loss this series, and season for that matter, against the Tampa Bay Lightning before the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden.
  • Prior to Game 3’s loss, the Rangers had won four games in a row (two vs. Carolina and Games 1 and 2 vs. Tampa Bay), six of their last eight, and every previous game played against the Lightning this season.
  • Ondrej Palat’s late third-period goal gave Tampa Bay their first lead of the series, and saw the two-time defending champions claim victory in a game where they put 52 shots on net, and scored twice on the power play.
  • So just to review quickly... the two-time defending champions were in an 0-2 series hole. They took 52 shots on goal and scored just three times. Only one of the goals came at 5v5, and it came in a game in which the Rangers lost Ryan Strome and briefly Barclay Goodrow.
  • The game-winning goal was scored in the final minute of regulation, and it was the Rangers’ first loss in four games, and their second in eight. The reason I say all of this, in the manner I just laid it out, is because following the game there was a tremendous amount of doom and gloom which would make you think the Rangers were the ones trailing the series.
  • Let me be clear, it is totally fine for people to be angry, pissed off, anxious, and/or any other emotion. I personally was frustrated with how the game went. I wasn’t a fan of officiating and how the pace of the game went, and how at times certain things were or weren’t called.
  • Jacob Trouba got a lot of flack on Twitter, and I was disappointed with him too, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say two of the penalties called against him were a bit ticky-tacky in the context of the game.
  • The holding call is something that happens a million times a game. It is a really weird call to make early in the period. The “interference” call was made because he lost his stick, even though he was playing the puck with his skates before he made contact.
  • The tripping on Alex Killorn is the one that was absolutely going to get called, but the contact was pretty weak and saw the veteran Lightning forward sell out after feeling the touch.
  • All of that said, the penalties wouldn’t have mattered had the Rangers taken advantage of the four-minute power play toward the end of the game, and it was their inability to do so which created a situation for Trouba to take the penalty to begin with.
  • The Lightning swung back hard with their season on the line and showed a lot of emotion. They did what was expected of them, and anyone who thought putting down the two-time defending champions was going to be easy was given a taste of reality on Sunday afternoon.
  • Heading into tonight’s game, one of the primary questions on my mind is if Tampa Bay will be able to swing as hard again. Obviously tonight is just as big of a game, but there’s a big difference in going down 3-0 vs. 3-1. Depending on your perspective, I think Game 4 comes down to a question of what is more likely.
  • Is it more likely that Tampa Bay will be as good as they were in Game 3 (relative to Games 1 and 2), or will New York look as flat as they did in the second half of the game, specifically the third period?
  • In my opinion, I think Tampa Bay executed where they had to, and did a good job wasting time and capitalizing on New York’s ability to generate chances at the end of the game. The abundance of special teams situations broke of the flow of play, and resulted in Alexis Lafrenière skating 12:38, and Kaapo Kakko skating 10:23. Filip Chytil got a bump in ice time when Strome left the game, and ended with 16:21.
  • That line has been crucial in recent weeks, because even when they don’t score they eat up zone time and make the opposition skate. That element of the game was non-existent in the second half, and it is what allowed the Lightning to pin the Rangers in their own zone as long as they did.
  • If the Rangers can better control the flow of the game, they will get their opportunities to score, and keep on the offensive instead of letting Tampa Bay making push after push.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy rebounded in Game 3, but was still vulnerable to shots high blocker, and was almost beaten a few other times 5v5. The fourth line of Tyler Motte, Barclay Goodrow, and Ryan Reaves had some prime chances, and I feel that had some more skilled forwards been given the same opportunities the puck would have ended up in the back of the net.
  • With all of that said, tonight is Game 4. Upon conclusion of the game, the Rangers will either lead 3-1, or the series will be tied 2-2. The optimum outcome for New York is a win so that they then have three opportunities to close out the defending champs.
  • In the event the series goes back tied, they will have three games to get two wins, with two of the potential remaining games being played at Madison Square Garden.
  • The Rangers have been in the position the Lightning were before, and Game 3 has the opportunity to be a teachable moment for this group. New York doesn’t have an famous streak when it comes to rebounding in the playoffs, but we’ve seen the team bounce back all season long, and there’s no reason to expect them to fold now.
  • It obviously was a different series with different teams, but I thought it was interesting to look at the last time the Rangers won in the Eastern Conference Final, and compare it to how the first few games went.
Hockey-Reference
  • I think that the 2021-22 Rangers are more talented than the 2013-14 Rangers, and the 2021-22 Lightning are better than the 2013-14 Canadiens, but I point it out for perspective of how things played out.
  • In 2014-15, the Rangers were tied 2-2 after four games, trailed 3-2 after a 2-0 shutout loss in Game 5, and tied the series 3-3 after winning 7-3 on the road in Game 6. We all know what happened in Game 7.
  • I think the fact remains that this Tampa Bay team isn’t as good as the previous two that won the Stanley Cup. Even with the injury to Ryan Strome, the Rangers have a ton of talent and should be able to win two out of the next four games.
  • Tonight is another big opportunity for this group, and I think they recognize the opportunity winning Game 4 would provide them, and that’s heading back to MSG for Game 5 with a chance to end the series and get some rest before the start of the Stanley Cup Final.
  • We’re going to learn a lot about this team tonight, and I think based on what we’ve seen this entire season... they’ll be ready to play. That said, take a deep breath.