Bruins vs. Rangers: How Will New York Respond to Playoff Crisis?
The New York Rangers were pushed to the brink of elimination on Tuesday when they lost 2-1 in Game 3 of their second-round playoff matchup with the Boston Bruins to fall behind 0-3 in the series.
After opening the scoring in the second period with a goal from Taylor Pyatt, the Rangers could not handle the Bruins' third-period surge, which resulted in two goals, one from defenseman Johnny Boychuk and another from fourth-line winger Daniel Paille.
New York will now try to become the fourth team in NHL playoff history to win a series after losing the first three games.
References will be made to the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals series between the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, which Boston lost in seven games after taking a 3-0 advantage.
But this is a Bruins team that has won a Stanley Cup since that historic collapse. The Bruins are more talented and much deeper at forward and on the blue line compared to the 2010 edition.
The concern for the Rangers is that star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played a near-perfect game on Tuesday night, and the team still couldn't find a way to win.
After a terrible Game 2 performance in which he allowed five goals, Lundqvist was the best player on the ice in Game 3 with 32 saves on 34 shots. Many of those saves should be put into a highlight reel when this series concludes.
The Rangers' response must start with a one-game-at-a-time attitude, and for a veteran team, this shouldn't be a difficult plan.
For starters, New York has to play better defensively, and one specific area of weakness from Game 3 that needs to be addressed is defensive zone faceoffs (stat via TSN):
Rangers: 5 for 19 on defensive zone faceoffs. Paille GWG came off lost defensive zone draw......won by Shawn Thornton, who was 1 for 1— THE STATS GUY (@TH2NSTATSGUY) May 22, 2013
Boston leads all playoff teams with a 58.6 faceoff percentage, and it had a 34-21 advantage in the faceoff dot in Game 3. Winning faceoffs is so critical in the playoffs, and if the Rangers continue to be dominated in this aspect of the game, erasing the 0-3 deficit will be an impossible task.
Despite the fact that Lundqvist is one of the best goaltenders in the world, when defensive breakdowns force him to make unreal saves every few minutes, the losses are going to pile up.
New York has turned the puck over way too much in the neutral zone during this series, and the team has also failed to prevent the Bruins defensemen (most notably the three rookies) from starting the breakout by skating the puck from one end to the other.
Another problem for the Rangers is that their head coach has no answers for his team's inability to score goals at even strength or on the power play.
New York has just five goals in three games, and its power play is 2-of-38 through 10 games (worst percentage of all remaining playoff teams). John Tortorella has used a lot of different line combinations and power-play units in this series, but nothing has worked.
The issue for the Rangers is that it's hard to score goals and generate enough chances if the team doesn't spend enough time in the attacking zone. The Bruins forecheck did a tremendous job of taking away the time and space of the Rangers defensemen in Game 3, which helped Boston create some sustained offensive zone pressure in the second and third periods.
If New York doesn't move the puck quickly and get it up the ice with a good first pass out of the defensive zone, the team won't score enough goals to beat a Bruins squad that's rolling four good lines right now.
The Rangers look like a beaten team at this point in the series, and there are a few reasons for that.
The amount of shots they are blocking is far lower than what we're accustomed to seeing from them. After blocking 29 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1, the Blueshirts have prevented just 29 shots from reaching Lundqvist in the last two games combined.
Boston is also outworking New York in all three zones, especially in puck battles along the boards. The Bruins are tenacious, aggressive and wearing down the Rangers physically with a heavy game.
After falling behind 1-0 in the second period, the Bruins turned their effort level up a few notches and the Rangers were unable to match it.
Tortorella's team got a lead and lost all of its aggressiveness, evidenced by the fact that it had just four shots on goal after scoring 3:53 into the second period. There was also a time frame of 14 minutes and 53 seconds in the second period when New York failed to register a shot on goal.
The Rangers pride themselves on being a blue-collar team that works hard for 60 minutes, but they have shown nothing in this series to make their fans believe that a comeback is possible given their embarrassing lack of effort.
It's not like New York has lost three close games. Even though two of its losses in this series have been by one goal, the Rangers have been outplayed in all three matchups.
But as we have seen with Boston time and time again during the Claude Julien era, closing out teams is difficult for this club.
The Bruins have been unable to close teams out before Game 7s in recent seasons, evidenced by their 2-8 record in non-Game 7 closeout games since the start of the 2010 playoffs. Boston has lacked a killer instinct in this year's playoffs and allowed the Toronto Maple Leafs to erase a 3-1 series deficit in Round 1.
Will the Bruins sweep this series?
As a team that has been dominated in nearly every facet of the game in this series, the Rangers don't have what it takes to extend this second-round series beyond five games. The Bruins have more depth, a healthier and fresher squad, better coaching and a goaltender playing with a ton of confidence.
Unless the Rangers show drastic improvement in Game 4, the team's disappointing 2013 season will end on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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