It is one of the oldest plays in the book, which is why it still seems odd when it apparently takes the other side by surprise. Pulling the goalie for an extra skater is traditional, and one of the most exciting things that can happen in a hockey game — unless you happen to be on the Rangers this postseason.
For the third time in these playoffs and the second time in this series, the Rangers allowed the other side to score a goal on the old extra-man switch. This time it was extra difficult to take because the extra man, having charged onto the ice when the goalie left, was the one who scored the tying goal. And because it was Derick Brassard, their old friend, with 1:26 left in regulation. And because it bounced off three Rangers’ skates before it went in the net.
Also, because it paved the way to a 5-4 overtime defeat Saturday and maybe ruined the whole season.
One thing is sure. If the Rangers are up by one goal late in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, they definitely are going to do everything short of building an ice fort in front of the goal to prevent it from happening again.
“There’s definitely something structure-wise that I thought we had addressed,” Alain Vigneault said Saturday after the overtime loss put the Rangers on the brink of elimination. “Maybe the guys didn’t know their goaltender was coming [off], but it was less than two minutes and they were down by a goal so . . . we should’ve expected it.”
In fact, anyone would have expected it, Brassard said, “if they watched the Anaheim-Edmonton game” late Friday night. The former Rangers center is a hockey junkie, so he knew the Ducks had capped a three-goal comeback with three extra-skater goals in the final 3:16 of the third period and had gone on to win in double overtime.
You didn’t have to stay up until after 2 a.m. to watch it live, or see the highlights, if you have been following the Rangers. They had given up a similar goal to the Canadiens in the first round and another to the Senators one week earlier.
Before Saturday’s game, Vigneault was asked about this phenomenon and said it had been addressed in practice: “It’s the same principles as when you’re shorthanded five-on-four — the same pressure points — that you try and implement. Some nights it works, some nights it doesn’t.”
This was a rough time for one of those latter nights.
It works often enough to make it worthwhile. A Boston Globe study a few years ago cited data compiled by Andrew Thomas for the Journal of Quantitative Analysis, saying that 30 percent of the goals in empty-net situations are scored by the team that has pulled its goalie. In other words, the odds aren’t great, but why not try it?
The result is staggering for the team that gives it up: going from a victory so close that you can taste it to a gut-tightening overtime.
“Obviously, he makes a good pass across the ice there,” Ryan McDonagh said of Erik Karlsson, who passed to Clarke MacArthur, who shot it toward the net. “You’ve got to give him credit for that. Anything can happen, a puck bounce, whatever.”
Brassard saw it this way: “I was just coming from the bench with some speed. I was coming into the slot there and I just batted it out of the air and I just got lucky.”
How lucky? How about seeing the puck carom off the skates of Marc Staal, Tanner Glass and Brendan Smith? “I was like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome. We just tied the game,’ ” Brassard said. “You just try to make a difference as a player. The six guys on the ice did it and that’s the best feeling.”
Although the coach hinted that his players seemed off guard, the Rangers generally do not see this streak of extra-skater goals by opponents as a flaw that is being exploited over and over. “There are different reasons, different plays,” Staal said. “They’re just finding a way to get it across the goal line.”
In the end, though, the feeling is emptier than Craig Anderson’s goal. For the Rangers this spring, this situation has been extra, extra, extra painful.