In warm-ups before Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, Rangers coach Alain Vig neault showed some sweeping changes on all four lines. That turned out to be subterfuge. Or some overthinking. When the puck dropped against the Montreal Canadiens, Vigneault stayed with the same trios from the two previous games.
It’s fair to say he should have made the changes.
The collectively out-of-sync Blueshirts were locked down by the quicker Canadiens, who won, 3-1, with basically their same lineup from the two previous games and took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Henrik Lundqvist was valiant, making 26 stops, but the Rangers have put themselves in close to a must-win situation tomorrow.
“Their top players were better than ours, their bottom-line players were better than ours, they were sharper on special teams,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “You add those three things up, you’re going to lose 99 percent of the time.”
Said a subdued Vigneault: “At this time, our best line is our fourth line. So our top players need to find their game.”
The Blueshirts managed only six shots in each of the first two periods against goaltender Carey Price and failed to score on two power plays, so Vig neault then juggled the lines: Kevin Hayes, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello were on one and Jesper Fast was moved to the first line. Mika Zibanejad was with Michael Grabner and Tanner Glass. It didn’t matter.
“In order to create, you have to have everyone involved,” Marc Staal said. “We were a little disjointed.”
With the Rangers down 3-0 and Lundqvist pulled for an extra skater, Brady Skjei spoiled Price’s shutout with a shot from the point with 2:56 remaining.
The Rangers have only six goals (one an empty-netter) in three games plus an overtime in this series. Both teams had been 0-for-7 with the man-advantage, but the Canadiens broke through with two power-play goals. The Rangers fell to 0-for-10.
“Early on, Oscar [Lindberg] hits the post, Kreids [Chris Kreider] has got an open net, we don’t score. We take two offensive-zone penalties 200 feet from our net and they score,” Vigneault said. “Right now, we’re fighting it, without a doubt.”
The one change that Vig neault did make was on defense, and it was a wash. Kevin Klein, who had replaced Nick Holden, had four giveaways and no shots on goal.
With the game scoreless in the second period, J.T. Miller was penalized for covering the puck with his hand on a faceoff at 16:05, and on a set play, Brendan Gallagher, from behind the goal line, found Artturi Lehkonen alone in the slot. He whipped a high shot past Lundqvist for his first NHL playoff goal and a 1-0 lead. “I take a penalty and they score,” said an annoyed Miller, who then ended the interview.
If anybody thought these Rangers could turn around their pedestrian 21-16-4 regular-season home record in the postseason, they were incorrect. In their last six home playoff games dating to the 2015 conference finals against the Lightning, the Rangers are 0-6 and have been outscored 21-4.
“I think we all feel like we can do better here at home,” Lund qvist said. “We were right there [down 1-0] going into the third. That’s the killer, to give up that second goal on the PK. That kind of took the momentum away.”
That was at 4:07. Zuccarello was sent off for four minutes for high-sticking Andrei Mar kov and Shea Weber was set up by Alex Galchenyuk for a 2-0 lead at 7:42. Alexander Radulov, who won Game 2 in overtime, scored at 15:35 to ice it.
And in the stands, fans in a playoff gloom began leaving.