This was Game Too.
Because though the Rangers were a tad better through stretches than they were in Saturday’s 3-2 Game 1 defeat to Carolina, they weren’t even close to good enough in Monday’s 4-1 loss that placed the Blueshirts on the brink of rapid elimination.
At least Game 3 will be at the Garden, where the Rangers … ah, right. No, Tuesday’s Game 3 will be played under the very same bubble in Toronto where all the Eastern Conference games are being contested.
Though the Blueshirts will have the last change and be afforded the bigger spaces of the home locker room, out of which the Maple Leafs last won a playoff series in 2004.
The numbers through 120 minutes of postseason hockey are garish and ugly. The Rangers have not been ahead for so much as one second. They have been tied for all of 14:39, while playing from behind for 115:21 — 53:49 of which the Blueshirts have been down by at least two goals. Against a team that, with a lead, will strangle the life out of an opponent.
They have scored a sum of three goals, just one at even strength. They did get a power-play goal on Monday on a five-on-three, but managed just one shot on three five-on-four man-advantages. Oh, it did not go in.
The best two forwards on the ice were not Artemi Panarin (who did score the Rangers’ goal) and Mika Zibanejad, but Andrei Svechnikov (who recorded a hat trick) and Sebastian Aho. The Rangers’ top six was so ineffective again that midway through the match, David Quinn flipped Panarin and Chris Kreider. Thus it was Panarin with Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, and Kreider with Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko.
Only the alignments changed, not the results.
“Our top six forwards have to be better,” the coach said. “If you’re going to win, your best players have to be your best players and our best players have to outplay [their] best players. That’s something we certainly have to have [in Game 3].
Plus, the best goalie on the ice was Petr Mrazek, who though not unduly tested, made key first-period glove saves on Brett Howden and Zibanejad from in front. Mrazek outplayed Henrik Lundqvist, who started again in place of an ailing Igor Shesterkin and yielded two that he probably should have had.
The Rangers didn’t necessarily lose because of Lundqvist, though his failure to stop Svechnikov’s short-sider from the left for the ’Canes 1-0 goal just 4:32 into the match was unsettling. But he didn’t win it for his team either, allowing another wonky one to Svechnikov just 1:11 into the second after Panarin had tied it at 12:05 of the first.
And unless something unforeseen develops — and that is the norm for 2020, is it not? — the King’s 129th consecutive postseason start probably will mark his last start, if not appearance, in the uniform of the team he had once carried for more than a decade.
If Shesterkin is healthy enough Tuesday, he will be in. If not, the Rangers would likely turn to Alex Georgiev to keep them afloat.
There’s no controversy here. No drama either in this series in which the Licorice Sticks have had their way with the Rangers, turning the New Yorker’s historic and ongoing head-to-head regular-season mastery into a pile of irrelevant rubbish.
The ’Canes have dictated the play essentially from start to finish. The Rangers cannot get into open ice and unleash their rush game. The first pass has been disrupted, the stretch pass has been eliminated. The Blueshirts really don’t have a down-low, forecheck attack, so if they are forced into a ground game, this is pretty much what to expect.
The larger question is whether an open-ice, skill team can prosper in the tight spaces of the playoffs, but that’s something for the hierarchy to address during the offseason. The immediate question is whether the Rangers will be able to create some time and space on Tuesday and thus force the ’Canes out of their comfort zone for the first time in this series.
The Rangers were better on the 50-50 puck battles in this one. They were a little crisper. And they can be crisper on details, but they’re not going to morph into the Black-and-Blueshirts by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
“Sometimes when you go out there and nothing happens, good or bad, that can be a good shift and I don’t think we really understand that yet,” Quinn said. “I think we always think we have to make something happen. At this time of year, that’s not necessarily the case.”
Point taken. But the counterpoint is that the Rangers, distilled to playmakers Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, Buchnevich, Strome, Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox, darn right better make something happen on Tuesday, or else.
There is this, though: NHL teams trailing 2-0 in a best-of-five played under a bubble have never lost a series.
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