5 Biggest Takeaways from Start of New York Rangers' 2nd-Round Playoff Series
Two games into their second-round series, the New York Rangers find themselves down 2-0 once again.
After a Game 7 stunner to defeat the Washington Capitals, the Rangers looked to carry momentum into their series with the Boston Bruins. But once again, New York stumbled on the road and is now looking at another long series.
Though the Rangers have had significant success against the Bruins during the previous five seasons, they haven’t faced them in the playoffs in 40 years. And the Rangers have learned very quickly that their regular season accomplishments are moot come the postseason.
Their emotional victory over the Caps and comfort playing the B’s had many experts believing the Rangers could win this series. But, instead, the first two games have reminded the hockey world of all the troubles the Rangers still face.
Before the series shifts back to New York, we’ll highlight the five biggest takeaways the first two games have presented, and unfortunately for the Rangers, very few are positive.
Henrik Lundqvist Is Human
To say Games 1 and 2 were lost by the Rangers because of the subpar performances of Henrik Lundqvist would be unfair to him and an inaccurate reflection of the team’s showing as a whole.
That being said, Lundqvist was not at his best.
After his superhuman display in Round 1 the sky seemed to be the limit. But when you shutout your opponents in Games 6 and 7, you’re setting yourself up to disappoint when you fail to deliver a goose egg in Game 1. Not that fans and teammates should expect a shutout every game, but despite Hank’s 45 save performance in the opening contest, two of the three goals were his fault.
And that’s what should be taken from all this. Lundqvist is human. He’s going to make mistakes and let in weak goals. He’s actually done it more times in the opening two games of the second round than he did in all of round one, but the team has to pick him up, just like he picks up the team when they falter.
Lundqvist has the invaluable ability to single-handedly win games, but he can’t do it every night. It’s a team sport for a reason and there are 19 other players who take the ice with him. Relying on Hank to be perfect each and every game almost cost them in round one and it’s cost them the first two games of round two.
Brad Richards Is Barely an NHL Player
It looked as if Brad Richards turned the corner late in the season after a nightmare campaign in 2013 as he and his teammates geared up for the postseason.
His late season surge padded his stats to a semi-respectable 34 points in 46 games, but he hasn't been able to avoid the critics in the playoffs.
Even his coach realizes his contributions are well below minimal. John Tortorella dropped Richards to the fourth line in the second half of the Washington series and he’s remained there ever since.
He’s averaged around 11 minutes of ice time against Boston, and that number would be much lower if he wasn't getting power-play time.
Now, I understand fourth-line players have a limited effect on a hockey game, but Richards isn't your typical fourth liner. He’s a playoff legend and a Conn Smythe winner who has been a consistent 70-point man when healthy. He possesses an elite ability to pass the puck, and although he gets limited minutes, he’s playing on a line with a talented 22-year-old and being matched up with the other team’s fourth line.
Yet he still has zero points in the series.
He also gets power-play time. Most fourth liners don’t. Still he contributes essentially nothing. So not only is he well-rested—playing on the fourth line and all—but he plays against the opposition’s worst players and still has nothing to contribute.
It’s time to seriously consider whether or not Richards even belongs in the NHL.
The Rangers Can't Win in Overtime
The Rangers lost Game 1 by the score of 3-2 after an overtime tally from Brad Marchand. It was the third time in these playoffs that the Rangers have dropped a game in extra time.
The common theme, if you ask me, is the Rangers being totally outworked in the overtime period. In the three games, New York literally had no pressure and generated basically zero scoring opportunities. In all three instances, the Rangers also lost in the first overtime.
This tells me the Rangers are lacking a sense of urgency. The only time they come out to leave it all on the ice is when their backs are against the wall and they need to win, like in Games 6 and 7 last series.
If anyone hasn't noticed, the Rangers won both of their playoffs series last season and the first round series this season in seven games. This team is seemingly only capable of playing with a killer instinct when their playoff lives depend on it.
It’s that lack of urgency that fails them in overtime, too.
This is a problem with Tortorella. A falter in preparation leads to a lack of urgency, and just because it’s taken a third overtime loss in these playoffs courtesy of the Bruins in Game 1 for people to realize how poor the Rangers are when it comes to closing out an overtime game, this issue has been ongoing.
Under Tortorella, the Rangers are 2-8 in overtime playoff games. This is, and always has been a problem. Overtime games swing momentum, and when you drop so many of them, you allow the opponent to capture it.
If you ask me, the Rangers will have to pick up an OT win in this series if they’re going to advance. These teams matchup well and I would bet on there being at least one more overtime game before this thing is over.
The Rangers Can't Put Together a 60-Minute Performance
When it’s all said and done, the Rangers’ 2013 season will be remembered as one of the most inconsistent in recent memory. The team’s inability to play a full 60 minutes on even a semi-regular basis almost cost them a spot in the playoffs and it’s making things very difficult for them now that they’re in.
Game 2 is a perfect example. Despite being down 3-2 heading into the third period, the Rangers had played a fairly solid game. Rick Nash was playing the best he has in these playoffs and the team as a whole was getting more offensive zone time and creating more scoring chances.
In truth, they were somewhat unlucky on the defensive side of things, but the Rangers carried the play and could have easily been ahead. The third period presented an opportunity to get back into the game and back into the series.
But just 26 seconds into the period, Brad Marchand gave his club a 4-2 lead and took the wind out of the Rangers’ sail. Milan Lucic would add another near the midway point of the period and the Rangers found themselves down 2-0 once again.
The problem is that you never know which Rangers team is going to come out for each period. It’s one thing to be inconsistent from game to game, but when you’re inconsistent period to period you've got some serious issues.
Not only did the Rangers have a chance to take Game 2, but they were also up in Game 1. After an early third-period goal, the Rangers had less than one period to shut down the Bruins. They couldn't and eventually lost in overtime.
The Bruins are a good team, and 40-minute performances will get the Rangers nowhere.
The Bruins Are a Beatable Team
Though most of the pieces that were around when the Bruins won the Cup in 2011 are still intact, Boston is a vulnerable hockey team.
The Bruins are a team that actually has a power play that’s almost as bad as the Rangers’. They've also gone through their fair share of scoring droughts, and at the moment, their back end is depleted. Boston is a team ripe to be beaten, despite their pedigree and dramatic victory in round one, in which they almost blew a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Boston has always been a good matchup for the Rangers, who have the edge in goaltending and defense and aren't too far behind in the offense category when they’re in the mood.
To be completely honest, the Bruins haven’t looked great in the second round against the Rangers. They've just been better.
If the Rangers played to their potential and strengths, they’d win this series. Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden have been out with injury and three rookies have taken their spots. The Rangers, a forechecking hockey club, should be able to get the puck deep and force the youngsters into making mistakes and then capitalizing on them. But they haven’t been able to sustain a forecheck long enough, and when they do get chances, they struggle to bury them.
Furthermore, Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin have been zeros, and Nathan Horton hasn't looked great. Just a handful of forwards have impressed for Boston. As for the defense, even Zdeno Chara has looked vulnerable.
It’s my belief that if Boston was playing Pittsburgh of Ottawa right now this series would be 1-1 at the very least. The Rangers simply aren't taking advantage of a golden opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in as many years.