From the outside looking in, the Rangers appear to be have everything going for them, including health. In the Conference Final we’ve seen great games from stars Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash. Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider are flying. Ryan McDonagh is tearing it up. Henrik Lundqvist has been a wall. They’ve been, for simplicity’s sake, very good.
You can’t say the same about the Canadiens. Thomas Vanek is either hurt or outright terrible. Carey Price, one of hockey’s best goaltenders, is sitting in the press box with an injury. P.K. Subban hasn’t been as good, the depth scoring has all but dried up, and really, the only players who’ve been notable are Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Dustin Tokarski, with the latter presumably catching lightning in a bottle and hanging on for dear life. So, hooray for three out of 19 players?
But despite the Rangers domination on Thursday, and despite their combined 10-3 drubbings of Montreal in the Bell Centre, it’s a 2-1 series. And if the Rangers don’t do away with the Canadiens in a timely fashion, they could come to seriously regret not burying them when they had the chance in Game 3.
In any game where you control the play, it gets talked about on the bench: we need the next goal, we need to put these guys away, don’t let them hang around.
And don’t look now, but the Canadiens are playing Matt Damon’s character in Rounders to the Rangers’ Teddy KGB. They’re just hhhcang-ging around.
If I’m on the Blueshirts, my biggest concern is that the Canadiens haven’t played particularly well yet, and they’re capable of better. It’s true Tokarski has overachieved so far, but if he’s able to give them average goaltending on the way in, Montreal can improve in myriad ways.
Let’s say Vanek is nursing a nagging...something (if he isn’t, he should hurt himself in the interest of preserving his UFA value). Well, he’s coming off a two day break, then a game in which he played 11 minutes and could’ve done it wearing quail egg shoulder pads without cracking a shell. With another day off, he could start feeling and playing better.
Alex Galchenyuk now has a second playoff game under his belt (and a big goal) after returning from injury. He could be more effective.
Names like René Bourque, Lars Eller, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta have been what the french call “le garbage.” But they aren’t necessarily garbage players.
There’s massive room for improvement on the Habs side, while the Rangers have been excellent, but those two things are undeniably intertwined. The Rangers can’t count on playing many more games where they’re clearly in control. Letting a team hang around for long enough can start to get awfully scary in a game that relies so heavily on bounces.
Deserving to win and getting it done are separate things. The Rangers need a bit of their own desperation in Game 4 so they can find a way to get Old Yeller behind the shed.
While letting a team claw their way back into a series is one fear, the Rangers might have another.
Part of me wonders: if Carey Price could possibly play in the Stanley Cup Final as we’re told...who’s to say if this series goes six or seven he doesn’t start taking some reps and thinking about it? It’s the playoffs, after all.
When a good team is going through a rough patch, you don’t want to give them time to find their game - and their goalie.
Feature photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports