See, I told you everything is fine. So the Rangers’ two-goal lead was cut to one with 6:48 left in the game and Rangers fans were forced to sit through 408 agonizing seconds watching the Penguins try to tie the game. It all worked out.
The Rangers’ relentless pressure in the first period of the first two games carried over to Game 3 where they outshot the Penguins 7-3 and held another lead heading into the locker room at the end of the 20. I’m still amazed at Carl Hagelin’s decision to rip a bomb on his first-period breakaway goal, especially with Marc-Andre Fleury coming out so far to challenge him, but hey, he got the result.
The first three games of this series have gone as expected. The Penguins haven’t been able to keep up with the Rangers’ speed. The Rangers’ power play has been below average. The Penguins haven’t been able to win when Sidney Crosby doesn’t score. Evgeni Malkin hasn’t been able to find his offense against the Rangers’ defense. Henrik Lundqvist has been better than Marc-Andre Fleury. And because of all this, the Rangers are winning the series 2-1. And, oh yeah, Chris Kunitz has been his usual scummy self.
There was a lot of unnecessary worrying going on in New York following the Game 2 loss after the Penguins completed any road team’s goal of splitting on the road. The Rangers answered the Penguins’ split with a road win of their own to reclaim home-ice advantage in the series and put the Penguins on the brink of staring down elimination for the rest of the series. The 2-1 Game 3 road win cancelled out the Game 2 home loss and meant all of the uneasiness on Saturday night was for nothing.
Despite Games 1, 2 and 3 all being decided by one goal, and the Rangers having lost one of those games and Game 3 being a pivotal game in the series, I’m still not worried about the Rangers. Maybe it’s because I know that when the Rangers are at their best the Penguins can’t beat them or because Henrik Lundqvist is in net, but there’s no real sense of worrying about this Rangers team until they’re faced with an elimination game and the season is on the line.
I expect the Rangers to win and that has never really been the case with them in the playoffs before. In the Henrik Lundqvist era, the only two playoff series I expected them to win before this season were the first round against Atlanta in 2006-07 and the first round against Philadelphia in 2013-14. Even when they were the 1-seed in the East in 2011-12, I still didn’t feel confident about their chances against 8-seed Ottawa in the first round because I didn’t think that Rangers team was that great, but rather a team that had put together a long list of improbable come-from-behind and last-second wins. This postseason, I expect the Rangers to win and that’s changed the playoff experience.
Past postseasons, especially last year, were about seeing how far the Rangers could go. This one is about how far they need to go and how far they need to go is the Stanley Cup Final and if they continue to play the way they have in three first periods against the Penguins, they will get there.