Save for perhaps Brandon Dubinksy — who was ejected early in Game 2 for being the third man into a fight with just one combatant — could there have been a more perfect goal-scorer in the Rangers’ 1-0 Game 3 win than Brian Boyle? The Ottawa crowd last night zeroed in on Boyle, who will serve as Public Enemy No. 1 in the Canadian capital, at least until Carl Hagelin returns to the lineup. And Boyle — continuing the hot streak that began at the end of the regular season — responded to the boos by scoring his third goal in three games. And unlike Game 2, the Rangers this time would protect their lead.
Give the Rangers credit for doing a better job of trying to advance the puck themselves in the second half of the third period, as opposed to sitting back and waiting for Ottawa to set up. Give credit to the Rangers defenseman for all sorts of things, including Stu Bickel’s arm save of a Jim O’Brien shot that could have given the Senators a 1-0 lead. But let’s not kid ourselves: The hero of Game 3 was Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist stopped all 39 shots he faced, and the save he made on Kyle Turris — when he stopped the Ottawa forward on a rebound attempt on the doorstep with a minute to go in the third period — instantly became one of the great highlights of the Rangers’ season, if not Lundqvist’s entire career. Lundqvist was outstanding last night — make no mistake, he’ll need some more games like that if the Rangers are going to make a deep run — and he gave his team a chance to get the kind of victory they’ve been able to pick up all year. The Rangers didn’t necessarily dominate play last night, but they turned in a typically strong effort and, as they have so often this year, did just enough to win. Perhaps the best visual of the night came with 5:18 remaining in the third period, when Erik Karlsson appeared visibly frustrated after Lundqvist stoned him on an excellent scoring opportunity, thus protecting the one-goal lead.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the bizarre minutes leading up to the opening face off: Chris Kreider apparently knew on Sunday that he’d be making his NHL debut last night, but John Tortorella did a good job of keeping his lineup a secret until the very last moment yesterday. Both Kreider and John Scott skated during warm-ups, and via Rick Carpiniello, the NHL’s official lineup sheet had Scott in the lineup and Kreider scratched after the warm-ups were completed. Then at the last minute, that lineup was changed. Viewers of the MSG pregame show learned of Kreider’s insertion into the lineup thusly: Al Trautwig and Ron Duguay had just completed a discussion about the game — and about John Scott’s inclusion in the lineup — to end the network’s pregame show. The actual dialogue as they signed off:
Trautwig: Enjoy the game. We’ll see you in the intermissions. Coming up: New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And now John Scott is scratched!
Trautwig: Yup. [Cut to commercial.]
Gamesmanship, ladies and gentlemen. (All things considered, Kreider played fine in his debut last night. He started the game in Hagelin’s spot on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, though he remained on the bench late in the game as the Rangers nursed their one-goal lead in the final minutes.)
Last night’s game didn’t feature the same level of chippiness that we saw on Saturday night, but Game 3 seemed to get better and better as it went along, as it became increasingly clear that whoever blinked first might lose. This series, too, is getting better as it progresses. Game 4, in Ottawa, is tomorrow night.