Recap: Rangers Drop Game 4, Series Back to New York

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. As much as we would all love this team to win every single game all the way through, nothing is ever perfect. Despite having the chance to double sweep, the Rangers slept walked their way through Game 4 and a late penalty cost the Rangers the potential comeback. In case you missed it earlier in the day, Filip Chytil missed morning skate with what is being labeled an “illness” and would end up a scratch with Jonny Brodzinski making his postseason debut. Now let’s break down what happened here in Game 5. 

1st Period:

Again, not a surprise to see Carolina have the jump early but the Rangers lack of urgency quickly cost them as Evgeny Kuznetsov surprised everyone with a quick shot from high in the Rangers zone that beat Igor Shesterkin upstairs. Not how you want to start this one at all but nevertheless, still plenty of hockey left. The hope would be that the early goal would act as a wake up call but it would be five minutes of rather uninspired hockey from the Rangers. Sure enough, the Rangers inability to take control of the puck and clear their own zone resulted in Stefan Noesen to come in amidst a line change, going straight to the net to sneak a rebound past Shesterkin. 2-0 Carolina. 

A lifeless start for the Rangers who desperately needed an answer. You’re in the middle of Round 2 with the chance to clinch the series, who do you look for to come up with an answer? Typically, your type guys are the go to answer but they’ve been leading the way up to this point. It’s never a bad time for your depth guys to step up but to get an answer from your rookie at a time like this is beyond huge. Kaapo Kakko did a great job of picking the puck up in the Rangers end and passing it up ahead to a breaking Will Cuylle. 

A perfectly timed shot beat Freddie Anderson high on the glove side to bring the Rangers within one, 2-1.

This gave the Rangers a brief burst of life as they slowly began to bring the shot differential within a closer margin. Unfortunately, it was short-lived regarding the bigger picture of the opening period. With just under five minutes to go in the first, Erik Gustafsson again fumbled around with the puck which resulted in a turnover to Jake Guentzel. Jacob Trouba was left to defend both Guentzel and Sebastian Aho who was wide open in front of the net and ended up just standing and watching as Aho made it 3-1. 

A bit of an abysmal period for that Trouba-Gustafsson pairing. Gustafsson had a bad decision to haphazardly clear the puck without a clearly defined target which led to one of the earlier goals then the giveaway to Aho directly led the Rangers giving up a two-goal lead for the second time in this one. They’d catch a break as they got the first power play of the night with two-and-a-half to go in the first as Jordan Staal took down Mika Zibanejad. 

Easily the Rangers worst power play of the playoffs so far, they couldn’t even maintain possession let alone generate a Grade-A scoring chance. PP1 barely stayed out for a full minute and PP2 couldn’t even get the zone let alone a look. That about did it for the period as the Rangers were being out-shot (10-8), out-chanced and out-worked all around. Despite being credited with ten hits, the Rangers really weren’t playing with a ton of physicality and needed to find an answer in the second if they wanted to keep this one a game. 

2nd Period:

The frustrations continued to start the second as the Rangers were still struggling to consistently show some urgency. Failing to maintain structure in the defensive zone led to the Rangers players chasing the puck around and Shesterkin having to come up with a big save on an up-close chance from Guentzel. The chances were there for the Rangers and continued to be as Alexis Lafrenière touched the post with one of his shots. As this one went on, Lafrenière was becoming quite noticeable as one of the Rangers most impressive forwards. 

About six minutes in, Zibanejad took the first Rangers penalty of the night for a very weak holding the stick call. Half an extremely lazy penalty for Zibanejad to take, half did we really need to call that one seeing as the puck was nowhere near the tangled up players? Either way, the Rangers penalty killers had work to do. Another valiant effort led to a successful kill but they needed something to turn the tide of this one. They had a couple of shorthanded looks and were continuing to build off that as the period went on but the score was still 3-1 halfway through. 

Finally, a strong shift from the fourth line got the puck to Braden Schneider at the point. A masterclass in how to walk the blue line and let a shot go, Schneider ripped a wrist shot which took a redirect off the stick of Barclay Goodrow for his second of the postseason to bring the Rangers within one again, 3-2. 

The Rangers were so due for this one and certainly needed it. For as much as things weren’t really going to plan at the start, especially with the Rangers defensive game; the chances were still there in the offensive zone. On top of Lafrenière’s chance, the Rangers had a couple other shots hit the post, Lindgren had a great opportunity that hit the shaft of Anderson’s stick, this thing was still within reach even with the Rangers playing far from their best. The offense continued to show some sparks through the final stretch of the second but the Hurricanes would hold on to the 3-2 lead through the first forty. 

A loosely managed, less intense scrum took place with about fifteen seconds left which sent both Vincent Trocheck and Brent Burns to the penalty box for matching roughing calls. At the end of two, shots were now 23-20 in favor of Carolina as the Rangers were steadily picking it up. The next goal would be crucial.

3rd Period:

One of the many sayings I always stand by in the game of hockey, especially come playoff time is no shot on goal is ever a bad shot on goal. Particularly in games like this one where things aren’t necessarily going your way with ease, don’t pass up on opportunities to throw the puck on net. Alexis Lafrenière would prove that theory to be true as he continues to shine as such an important player for this Rangers team. 

Just over two minutes in, a beautiful pass from Zibanejad found Lafrenière on his backhand. Upon cutting towards the net, Lafrenière ran out of room and threw the puck in Anderson’s direction which ended up taking a fortunate bounce off of him to sneak in, tying the game up 3-3. 

A massive goal which should have been the turning point in this game. However the Rangers again failed to build off the momentum shift and could not take a strong enough hold of this game to fully turn its tide. The Rangers would only register four shots on goal for the majority of time remaining in the game. After scoring a goal of that magnitude, you can’t sit back or let it fall back out of reach and unfortunately, that’s what happened. 

I can’t stress enough how badly the lack of urgency and physicality hurt the Rangers in this one. Carolina wasn’t having an otherworldly night by any means, the Rangers just could not seem to maintain composure in their own end and failed to take the extra step or stride to make the complete defensive play. Time was quickly escaping both teams and with about five minutes to go, the Rangers had a key offensive zone face-off. 

That should have been the moment they truly took hold of this one but after a dreadful face-off attempt, the Hurricanes ended up taking the puck out of the zone. At the risk of sounding like an angry old man, this whole “perfect clean face-off” standard is getting so old. Nothing kills the vibe of a game like having to redo a face-off, let alone having to do it twice, sometimes thrice. And that’s exactly what happened here. Also genuine question, isn’t it supposed to be a penalty now if the team continues to mess up the face-off after the center gets kicked out? It doesn’t matter, the Rangers lost this game for plenty of other reasons I’m not about to point blame elsewhere. 

As Carolina rushed the puck out, they started winning the foot race and Ryan Lidngren caught a piece of Jordan Martinook to take what became a detrimental late period penalty. This entire series it felt like the Rangers were tempting fate with how many power play chances they were giving up. Low and behold, a Brady Skjei shot from the point went through traffic, found the back of the net. 4-3 Carolina. 

There was still plenty of time for the Rangers to tie it back up but again, this all circles back to those little plays where they failed to make the simple play. Where they lost a puck battle or couldn’t take that extra stride or coughed the puck up in the neutral zone or their own end. Too many careless errors added up to a bigger problem which cost them the game. They couldn’t get anything done with Shesterkin pulled for the extra attacker and time eventually got away from them. The series will head back to New York for Game 5. 

*collective sigh*

Like I said at the top, a loss was bound to come. Would the double sweep have been nice? Absolutely. Would it have benefited the Rangers to have taken care of business as soon as they possibly could have? No question. Nevertheless, they’re still in a great position and given what we’ve seen from this team so far in the postseason, they’re more than capable of regrouping and getting it done on home ice. Game 5 will undoubtedly be an important one but for now, take this one as a lesson, let it go come tomorrow and get ready for a statement bounce back.