Rangers unable to finish off Habs when they had the chance

Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens defends against Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens defends against Brian Boyle of the Rangers during game three of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football. ...

The Rangers can say they did all they could, throwing puck after puck on the Canadiens goal and the inexperienced rookie guarding it. They can say they were the better team for nearly all of Game 3, and they would be right.

Too bad it doesn't matter.

When it comes to the playoffs, especially as far along as the Rangers are, all that matters is shutting the door. Anything else brings trouble.

The Rangers had a chance to shut the door on the Canadiens on Thursday night, outplaying and outhustling a Montreal team that certainly lacked in the desperation department despite being down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.

But the Rangers, with some unfortunate bounces and a few good stops by young Dustin Tokarski, left the door ajar. Now it's a series again after the Canadiens scored 1:12 into overtime for a 3-2 win and cut the Rangers' lead in the series to 2-1.

Now the Rangers have to reset themselves against that door on Sunday and try to slam it shut again, lest the Canadiens steal another game at the Garden and throw this thing back to square one.

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"We're sitting here a little shocked right now," Ryan McDonagh said, a natural reaction to the big swings of the final 3:02 of regulation and the 1:12 of overtime before Alex Galchenyuk's goal ended it.

It's not surprising that the Rangers were shocked, thinking they could have won Game 3 at any number of intervals. But they should not be too shocked that they could not seize that 3-0 series lead.

Playoff history doesn't always mean much, but two years ago is not that far removed. The Rangers were in the Eastern Conference finals in 2012 and took 1-0 and 2-1 series leads on the Devils, needing to push that door closed and lock up a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

They won Game 3 in Newark and didn't take another step forward after that. Half of the current team was around in 2012. A few of those players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist, have spoken about not having left everything they had on the ice in that series and the regrets that come from knowing that.

They still are up 2-1 in this series, still far and away the better of the two teams through three games. Tokarski had a nice game, as did a handful of Canadiens, but during the first 40 minutes, they looked nothing like a team that needed to win to avoid a 3-0 series hole.

But the door stayed open just enough for Daniel Briere's go-ahead goal late in the third and Galchenyuk's winner in OT. Two lucky bounces, to be sure, but it doesn't matter how they go in.

The Rangers certainly know this. Perhaps the memories of losing that 2-1 series lead and then the series in 2012 to a Devils team the Rangers felt superior to will drive them to regain a two-game lead in this series again after Sunday.

But the Canadiens and their young goaltender have some confidence now. Who knows where that could lead?

The Rangers had a chance to shut the door, go up 3-0 and prepare to lock it tight and get to the Stanley Cup Final.

They left it open, though. And now there may be trouble ahead.

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