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A Step in the Right Direction

Coming home is a good remedy for a rough time on the road. For the New York Rangers, after only scoring one goal in two games in the nation’s capital, a change of scenery was needed. Their offense was lacking, the power play woes from the regular season continued, and they couldn’t solve Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. Maybe it was getting back in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd, or maybe the team got a boost by seeing a healthy Marc Staal in the line-up. Either way, the Blueshirts offense woke up, and the Rangers are halfway to making their first round series with the Washington Capitals a Best-Of-3.

Scoring the first goal is important to any hockey team, but the Rangers are a much better team when lighting the lamp first. That didn’t happen in Game 3 at MSG. A mere 4:06 in to the First Period, Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal of the playoffs on a redirection of a John Carlson shot from the point (also assisted by John Erskine) to give Washington the early lead. The Rangers would battle back eight minutes later, courtesy of Brian Boyle’s first goal of the playoffs (assisted by Derick Brassard and Michael Del Zotto) to knot the game at one heading in to the first intermission.

Derick Brassard celebrates the Rangers first goal of the playoffs
Derick Brassard celebrates the Rangers first goal of the playoffs (as well as the Rangers first power play goal of the playoffs) in the 2nd period
(Bruce Bennett – Getty Images)

The Rangers didn’t get the first goal of the game, but they scored the first goal of the Second Period. Derick Brassard gave the Rangers their first lead in the series since early in the 2nd period of Game 1 (assisted by Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle), but more importantly, it snapped their goal-less streak with the man advantage. As the old saying goes, the 12th time was the charm on the power play, and New York was back in front. While the Blueshirts opened the frame by scoring a goal, the Capitals would close the frame by evening things at two goals. Caps defenseman Mike Green beat Henrik Lundqvist high-glove side with 2:41 remaining in the period for his second goal of the series.

With things tied at two, it came down to one period for the Rangers season. If they won, they’d be back in the series with a chance to even it up on Wednesday night. If they lost, the Game 4 preview would consist mainly of highlight packages of “teams that have erased a 3-0 series deficit” in the past. The Rangers scored another early period goal, but this time it would be from an unlikely source, Arron Asham. After a great play by Rangers defenseman John Moore to keep the play in the zone, he sent the puck deep. Brassard then took the puck behind the net, found Asham in front, and New York had their second lead of the game. Washington answered back five minutes later, courtesy of Jay Beagle’s first goal of the playoffs (assisted by Jack Hillen and Joel Ward), to tie the game at three.

A Step in the Right Direction
Derek Stepan watches his eventual game-winning goal go by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the 3rd period
(Scott Levy via NHLi via Getty Images)

The already tense game became more intense, and every shot had the potential to be the back-breaker for either side. Six minutes after the Caps tied things, the Rangers went back to work in the Capitals zone. Mats Zuccarello made a cross-ice pass behind the net to Rick Nash, Nash fired the puck towards the net, and Derek Stepan’s blade redirected the puck past Holtby’s shoulder to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead. A late high-sticking penalty to Brad Richards gave the Capitals one last opportunity to send the game to overtime with 1:54 remaining. Washington’s top rated power play unit did a great job of moving the puck around, but two shot attempts were blocked, one shot attempt went wide, and the crowd at Madison Square Garden finally exhaled in relief.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal joined Henrik Lundqvist and the rest of the Rangers for his first game of the playoffs. He returned to the line-up for the first time since taking a puck to the eye against the Flyers on March 5th.
(Bruce Bennett – Getty Images)

It’s not overstating to say that last night was a “must-win” for the Rangers. There were many positives to come out of the game. The Rangers offense woke up, the power play finally put one on the board, the Penalty Kill went 3 for 3, and defenseman Marc Staal returned to the line-up (17:17 of ice time, -1). Staal has been so effective on Alexander Ovechkin in the past, and having him back strengthens an already deep Rangers blueline. One area that concerns me a bit is Henrik Lundqvist. Yes, he’s an all-world goalie, and yes, he’s made some fantastic saves to keep these games close in this series. But he has let in multiple questionable goals in this series. No one is harder on Lundqvist than himself. But considering how potent the Capitals offense is, one weak goal could be the difference in this series.

Game 4 is Wednesday night at 7:30PM at Madison Square Garden. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network in the United States (MSG in NYC, CSN-Washington in DC) and on TSN in Canada.

Adam Bernard
I'm a seasoned veteran in the sports media field and a lifelong Rangers fan (hoping to relive 1994 at some point - I couldn't fully appreciate a championship at 11 years old). Hockey dominates my life for the most part: I also root for the Blackhawks & Kings, I've been lucky enough to split season tickets for the Blueshirts with a good friend since the lockout, and I'm a defenseman on a local roller hockey team. Away from the rink, I enjoy hiking, hard rock music, and spending time with my dog Astro.
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