It was only their third game of the playoffs, and already the New York Rangers looked out of gas.
Credit to the Montreal Canadiens, of course. The Habs smothered the Blueshirts Sunday at MSG, limiting their opponents to just 21 shots in a 3-1 victory.
But now it’s on the Rangers to show that they’re still in the series, that they do have something left in the tank. They were good in Game 1 at Bell Centre, a 2-0 victory, but they lost momentum in Game 2, a 4-3 overtime loss, and they couldn’t get it back in Game 3.
For veteran forward Derek Stepan, it wasn’t a lack of effort that was to blame.
“I don’t think we worked smart enough,” Stepan said, per NHL.com. “I’ve been here for a long time. This group has worked extremely hard. We’ve put in solid work throughout the season and in the playoffs. No one is tougher on us than ourselves. We’re working so hard but I think we need to work a little smarter. I don’t think it’s a lack of effort. I think it’s a lack of brain power at times. ”
Meanwhile, it was a defiant Alain Vigneault who met with reporters Monday. The New York media was not kind to the Rangers in the wake of Sunday’s performance, and it sounded like the head coach had read what was written.
“Obviously, we didn’t pick a good time yesterday to have a very ordinary game,” said Vigneault. “But tomorrow we’ve got an opportunity to make this series 2-2. And anybody who believes that this group doesn’t want to play well, doesn’t want to win, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. We’re gonna go out and we’re gonna compete … and we’re gonna play a lot better than we did yesterday.”
Above all, Vigneault wants his team to manage the puck better, after turnovers become a problem in Game 3. He did not say whether there would be any lineup changes, though common sense says there could be.
The Rangers can ill afford to head back to Montreal trailing 3-1.