Embarrassing, disappointing, Puzzling. That and much worse are the only way to describe what happened to the New York Rangers in game four last night.
With a humiliating 7-2 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the series is now 3-1. The man that has the entirety of the Ranger’s success on his shoulders, Igor Shesterkin, was chased after allowing six goals through 40 minutes. Five of the goals came in the second period alone.
It’s evident that the differences between these two teams are now visible. Despite being a complete powerhouse against the Penguins in the regular season, the Rangers have folded to the playoff pressure and playoff experience of their opponent.
What Went Wrong?
There is a lot that went wrong for the Rangers in game 4. It started so right, with the “kid line” of Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, and Alexis Lafreniere being the best line on this roster. Lafreniere got the opening goal with a wicked writer past Louis Domingue in the early part of the first period. This was his first career playoff goal. The first five minutes of this one were heavily in the Ranger’s favor, and the following 55 minutes were not.
Defenseman Patrik Nemeth continued to be an eyesore for Rangers fans. He took a team-leading fourth penalty in the early going of the first, just when the tide switched to the Penguins onslaught. He was called for a high-stick on Sidney Crosby, yards away from the play. The hope is that Ryan Lindgren will be healthy enough to make a return on Wednesday for game 5.
Adam Fox would score on a lucky bounce off of a Pittsburgh Penguins skate in the second period. However, the damage was undoubtedly done at that point, and the Rangers just looked defeated. The second period was complete and utter domination from the Penguins’ offense, and the Rangers just couldn’t get any traction. Deflections, some head-scratching soft goals, and no defensive help around the net and slot forced Shesterkin to try and stand on his head. But, the for-sure Vezina winner of the regular season just couldn’t find a groove and was chased out after the second period.
Alexandar Georgiev was slotted back in for the third period. He allowed a goal on 11 shots in that final period. He certainly has looked good in his three periods of work this postseason, but the speculation was quickly shut down for Game 5’s starting goaltender. “He’s the best goalie in the league. So, I’m going with him,” Gallant said about Igor Shesterkin.
Gallant said it best in the post-game press conference regarding his team’s performance. “We were soft all over the ice,” he said. The Rangers, who understandably are without their heavy hitters and playoff veterans, were outmatched in every area of the game. Outshot, having no forward momentum up the ice and abysmal faceoff numbers plagues the Rangers last night.
It isn’t all on the goaltending and defense, however, as the top six forward of this team have failed to produce many results. The “bread and butter” of Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome was sorely missed, and the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad duo was off-key last night. Frank Vatrano was slotted all the way down to the fourth line in the middle of last night’s game when things were getting out of hand, and Gallant nuked the lines. Panarin was on the first line, Lafreniere was on the second line, Kevin Rooney was on the third line, and Vatrano was on the fourth line. I don’t expect that to stay the same for Game 5, but it was certainly interesting to see how Gallant responded.
Backs Against The Wall
The Rangers’ backs are against the wall. It is win or go home time, and the series swings back to Madison Square Garden. Hopefully, back at home, in front of their crowd, this team can find some comfort and play similar to game 2 when they handly defeated the Penguins 5-2.
It is a hard task but a task that has been done before. Being down 3-1 in a series is not a death sentence, but If the Rangers opened up game 5 with another lackluster period like the second period last night, it’s over.