The New York Rangers failed to take a 3-0 series lead in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, but it isn't the end of the world. With a victory, the Montreal Canadiens earned their first victory of the series, but they are hardly "back in the series." The Rangers' loss in Game 3 may be hard to swallow for fans, but it will provide some valuable lessons that will prepare the team for its eventual battle for the Stanley Cup.
For starters, the Rangers were due for a loss. It is easy to say that after the loss, but it is true. Prior to a loss in Game 3, the Blueshirts had won five games in a row, including three straight road games. The Rangers returned to Madison Square Garden with emotion, and arguably they felt really good about themselves.
When a team experiences a ton of success in a short span of time, it is easy to become complacent. I am not suggesting that the Rangers sat back, but a veteran contender would have put this game away. The Rangers played hard in stretches, but they never kicked it into that extra gear when they needed to.
Moments like this include failing on the power play; success in those situations would gave the Blueshirts a chance to take a lead and run with it. Going forward this is a valuable lesson that can be learned, even though the Blueshirts' power play has been much better than it was during the past two rounds.
One huge lesson that the Rangers can learn is that sometimes you can be the better team and still lose.
Although the Rangers dominated play in terms of puck possession in Game 3, they lost the game. They got shots on net, they stifled the Habs in the neutral zone, but they just didn't get that extra bounce sometimes needed to win a game. A victory would have all but assured them a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, but no one should be surprised that they ended up losing this game.
This is a team that has a ritual of playing seven-game series year in and year out, so taking a 3-0 lead and/or sweeping the Habs was never in the cards.
Game 3's loss will force the Rangers to reflect and look at what they can do better, and ultimately that will help prepare them for a matchup against the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks.
Both are two incredibly deep offensive and defensive teams that can win in multiple ways, so facing some adversity against the Canadiens can be looked upon as a learning moment. In particular, there are a few specific areas in which the Rangers learned some things the hard way.
One of the biggest lessons learned that can be applied to Game 4 is staying within the system. A blatant cheap shot by Brandon Prust on Derek Stepan that went unnoticed got the Canadiens into the game emotionally.
Derek Dorsett eventually dropped the gloves, the Habs gained some energy and Dan Carcillo was ejected for an altercation with a linesman.
For a brief instance, the Rangers went away from playing a skill game, and instead resorted to physicality. The Rangers avoided that in Games 1 and 2, and they won those games. They deviated from their game plan in Game 3, and they lost.
Right there is a sign of what they shouldn't do in Game 4—and it can serve as a lesson that you shouldn't let another team dictate how you play. If you are having success there is no need to change gears just because another team said so.
Another valuable lesson the Rangers can learn involves defense. Up to this point in the series, the Blueshirts had been amazing defensively, but that wasn't the case in Game 3.
The first Habs goal was a poor read by Henrik Lundqvist that was compounded with a defensive breakdown. It was a rare occurrence for a team that has allowed only three goals on 63 shots heading into Game 3. Daniel Briere's go-ahead goal in the third was a deflection of a defender, and the eventual game-winning goal by Alex Galchenyuk was a fluke combination of the puck bouncing at the right place and time.
Simply put, the Habs were successful in Game 3 because they got lucky and were in the right place at the right time. P.K. Subban told the media before Game 3 that Lundqvist had been lucky, and that is what happened with his team during Game 3. The Canadiens got the bounces and deflections; it wasn't like they outplayed the Rangers.
That is something the Rangers can take out of this and is also something they can just shrug off as they get ready for Game 4.
Dustin Tokarski stood on his head in Game 3; that was the reason the Canadiens won the game. It was an amazing performance for the youngster, but as good as he looked in Game 3, he looked equally bad in Game 2. It is fair to say he played better because he was more comfortable, but he still gave up tons of bad rebounds that the Rangers didn't bury.
Goaltending has become the emphasis of the series ever since Carey Price was injured, and it is still an advantage held by the Rangers.
With the series at 2-1, the Rangers can win in five, six or seven games. The Canadiens can win in six or seven. At this point it still appears unlikely that the Habs will win three of the next possible four games, because it is hard to believe that Tokarski will outduel Lundqvist three more times. The Rangers have been too good, and it is fair to chock up the loss as an off night.
Look at the Blackhawks' loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final as a prime example of good teams having an off night.
If you go to NHL.com, you will see that Lundqvist is leading most of the major categories; that gives him an edge the rest of the series. It is unlikely that he will have another subpar performance, let alone multiple ones. This series is going to come down to goaltending, and it is easy to say that betting on Lundqvist is more of a sure thing.
The Rangers lost Game 3, but they have some positives to look forward to. Derick Brassard should be back in the lineup. Game 4 is on home ice. They will have an opportunity to dissect a loss, and they can fine-tune their game plan to be successful.
A team that won three straight against a good Pittsburgh Penguins team and two road games against the Habs isn't going to be devastated by this off-performance. The Rangers will learn from their mistakes before finishing this series with a victory in five or six games.