Rangers on brink of Cup finals
MONTREAL (AP) -- When other parts of their game are sputtering, the New York Rangers have two solid-gold assets to fall back on -- penalty killing and goaltending.
It’s a combo that has put them within one victory of their first Stanley Cup final in 20 years. And it has frustrated the Montreal Canadiens, who must win Game 5 Tuesday at the Bell Centre to stave off elimination.
With a 17 percent strike rate -- good for 19th during the regular season -- the Montreal power play was hardly a humming machine. But against the Rangers, the Canadiens are 1-for-17 with the man advantage.
Montreal’s lone power-play breakthrough came Sunday night in a 3-2 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. That P.K. Subban blast from the point, however, was tempered by a short-handed goal by Carl Hagelin that opened the scoring.
The Canadiens’ power play went 1-for-8 on a night where the Rangers spent 14 1/2 minutes or almost 22 percent of the game a man short.
"Give credit to our killers and our goaltender," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They did a real good job."
That is nothing new. Before Subban’s goal, the Rangers had killed off 27 straight penalties. New York is 37-for-39 (95 percent) on the penalty kill in its last 12 games
"We had the opportunity on the power play but we didn’t take advantage of it," lamented Montreal coach Michel Therrien. "Yes, we scored a goal. It was a tying goal, but we gave up one, and that was the story of the game. I thought our power play had to be better."
The Rangers’ go-to forward pairing on the power play is Hagelin and Brian Boyle. Hagelin is a speed merchant while Boyle’s resume reads "big body, blocks shots, good on faceoffs," according to Vigneault.
Boyle can also pass a bit, finding Hagelin on a pass deep from the New York end. Hagelin broke in alone, faked a shot and tucked a backhand between the legs of Dustin Tokarski at 7:18 for his sixth goal of the playoffs. It was the Rangers’ first short-handed goal in 70 playoff games, dating to 2008.
The New York penalty kill is smart and sleek. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has worked hard on his puck handling and his defenders are positioned well. If a Ranger gets to the puck first behind the net, there is usually a teammate standing just feet away ready to dump it down the rink.
"I think our guys do a good job whether it be on the forecheck coming back in the right positions and trying to create those battles where you’ve a chance to make a couple plays and get it out," Vigneault said. "When we don’t, (our) goaltender stops the puck."
In four games, Montreal has seven goals on 107 shots.
While Tokarski has won kudos for his play in stepping in for the injured Carey Price, Lundqvist’s playoffs numbers are sparkling -- a .931 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. The Rangers have allowed two goals or less in 13 of their 18 playoff games, including six of the last seven games. New York ranks first in the NHL in goals against per game in the playoffs at 2.11.
Lundqvist has 41 career playoff wins, tying him with Mike Richter for the most in Rangers history. His counterpart, Tokarski has played all of 13 NHL games -- 10 in the regular season and three in the playoffs.
Lundqvist picked up an assist on Derick Brassard’s second-period goal, his first in 85 postseason games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first Rangers goaltender to record a playoff assist since Richter on May 11, 1997.
One question for the Rangers will be whether Derek Stepan can return from his broken jaw in Game 3. Over the weekend, he dropped by the arena to see his teammates before returning home to recuperate from surgery.
Brassard, meanwhile, returned to the lineup Sunday after being knocked out of Game 1 early with an upper body injury and made his presence felt.
Martin St. Louis’ hot hand is also of note. His overtime winner Sunday extended his point streak to six games. He leads the Ranges with 13 points in these playoffs.
NOTES: Hagelin was Sunday’s recipient of the Broadway Hat, a battered black fedora given to the player judged by his peers to be most instrumental in a Rangers win ... The Rangers are 12-1 when they lead a playoff series three games to one.
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