Alain Vigneault called it a “subtle little move,” putting rookie Pavel Buchnevich in the Game 4 lineup and shifting Michael Grabner to the wing on the presumptive fourth line in place of Tanner Glass. What it allowed the Rangers to do was roll four lines pretty evenly throughout the 2-1 win Tuesday night at the Garden, and that speedy Grabner-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast trio was effective once again.
But it wasn’t necessarily the Rangers’ best line, as Vigneault called the Glass-Lindberg-Fast line through the first three games. That’s a backhanded compliment to a team, when its fourth line is playing like its first; on Tuesday, Fast contributed the game’s opening goal, but there were plenty more active Rangers forwards than in the previous two games, which made Vigneault’s ability to roll four lines and preserve that one-goal lead all the more important.
“For me, it was important to play at a high pace. To do that, you’ve got to be able to roll four lines,” Vigneault said after his team tied the series. “With that move (Buchnevich for Glass), we were able to do that.”
Glass certainly was a contributor in the first two games, scoring the opening goal of the series and throwing his weight around. But speed is not Glass’ forte, so Buchnevich coming in and putting Grabner on that line gave it a distinctly different element in Game 4.
“Tanner has speed, but Grabs has that ability he has,” Lindberg said. “You can just chip pucks in and he’s on top of the D right away or past them.”
Fast’s goal was an opportunistic one as he alertly picked the puck up and beat Carey Price before the goaltender could get set when Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov had the puck carom off his skates and right into the slot.
As Glass’ goal did 9:50 into Game 1, it was an unlikely score from an unlikely source to make a difference in a series that is perhaps the most evenly matched in the NHL’s first round. “Getting the first one in our building, getting the crowd into it, that was big,” Lindberg said. “We talked about getting that first one and we kept playing into the second and third.”
Canadiens coach Claude Julien lamented his own team’s disappearing act in the second, when the Rangers took the lead for good.
The third featured some hairy moments from the Canadiens’ top players, but the Rangers were the stronger team with the lead late. Fast seemed to be on the ice for the entire final two minutes to help preserve the lead and Grabner led all skaters with five shots on goal for the game. Every Rangers forward played at least 10:17 at even strength and no more than Derek Stepan’s 16:54, preserving a freshness the Rangers will need as the series gets to white-knuckle time in Game 5 on Thursday in Montreal.
“Our line just kept playing the same way we did the first couple games,” Lindberg said. “We tried to make it tough on their D, keep the pressure on and I think all of the guys did the same.”