Welcome New York Rangers faithful. It’s been a wild up and down playoff season thus far. The Rangers allowed the Flyers to steal game two in NY after holding a two goal lead. They managed to get one back in Philly and win the remaining games at Madison Square Garden to claim the series. Then after a thrilling game one in Pittsburgh they gave up in games Two and Four and lost game three in NY as well. This put the Blueshirts down three games to one yet they rallied around Marty St Louis (and the sudden passing of his mother) in games five and six then managed to win a game seven in Pittsburgh, the number two team in the Eastern Conference. It was a roller coaster series but the Rangers could always count on the Fourth line to come in and change momentum. Or even just have a shift in the other teams end when the Flyers or Penguins were attacking hard. In this post I’d like to give those three guys some much deserved credit.
The Rangers, even with new coach Alain Vineault try at times to shut down the neutral zone with a lead from their own blue line. That obviously can’t be done but Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett come out and bang guys around and close gaps between blue lines. They don’t stand around. They get the puck to the oppositions zone. This is an important “little” thing that coaches and players talk about vaguely in their post games presser. Now once they can get a stoppage in play in the offensive zone, Vineault can get one of his top two lines an offensive zone face-off and maybe a scoring opportunity. This is a big part of driving puck possession and Vineault’s zone matching. He is one of the founding fathers of zone matching which is simple starting your top forwards in the attacking zone and for the most part he uses the fourth line for the majority of defensive zone draws.
Much of the team’s success over the last three (elimination) games have been indirectly attributed to the play of the bottom line of Boyle-Moore-Dorsett. They have played some very tough mins but have succeeded in driving puck possession and deserve to be noticed for it. The fact these three have been so tough to play against, wearing down the oppositions defense in both series against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The three were extremely tough on the Giroux line in the first round and in the Penguins series Dom Moore was on Crosby like white on rice even getting him off his game. Much of the credit for this feat has to go to McDonagh, Girardi, Staal, and Strahlman as well as John Moore and Klein for holding Crosby to one goal in the seven games. For fourth line forwards these guys have been unsung heroes. Especially in the four elimination games for the Rangers during these playoffs.
The third line has been the most consistent offensively and held their own inside the Rangers zone, but the heavy lifting goes to the bottom line. Boyle leads the Rangers forwards in hits and he plays defense as well as any forward in the NHL. Moore has been a revelation since coming back to Manhattan for a second stint. He’s also one of the leaders for the Rangers in face-off win percentage. Then there’s Dorsett. He brings speed and determination on every loose puck during each shift. He’s hard to play against with his thirty-one hits (second on the team among forwards)and will fight just about anybody if need be. It’s imperative Alain Vineault can use all four lines and get effective minutes out of all 12 forwards. If you can have your fourth line out against the oppositions top line and make them spend their entire shift defending. That is one of the “little things” coaches refer to that win hockey games. Boston destroyed us last year in five games because Torts was a three-line, four defenseman coach. At times in the game Torts would even shorten the bench more and that would only tire the guys getting all the ice time. To me, that’s why the Rangers lost that series and in only five games.
The fourth line will be even more important in the Eastern Conference Finals if Rick Nash and the top line continually fail to find twine. This is a team that plays a faster pace generating more offense with speed than the one Tortarella had the reigns to a year ago. The biggest difference statistically between last years team is how the Rangers play in five on five close situations ( Plus or minus a goal or two in periods one and two). In these situations, 69% of the goals scored (by both teams combined) are by a Ranger player. Second in the playoffs with only Montreal having a higher percentage. This stat (close) means in games like the sixth game of the Conference Semi Finals against the Penguins at the Garden. While the Rangers were barely holding a two to one lead after the first period, Derek Brassard scored that huge goal in the second period to allow the Rangers a two goal cushion once again. That particular goal was in a five on five CLOSE situation. A trend the Rangers will have to continue. The Canadiens are also very good at even strength as well as the Power Play.
However, this New York Rangers team’s bread and butter remains its stout defense and the play of Henrik Lundqvist in net. One gives the other the confidence the other can feed off of. The fourth line gets the majority of the tough defensive zone draws and a large amount of the Rangers total Penalty Kill minutes so I feel they deserve just as much of the credit for the tough defense this team played all playoffs long. Boyle starts only 13.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone (After a whistle) Moore starts 14.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone and finally Dorsett starts 16.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone. All these defensive zone starts have been against some very tough competition throughout the playoffs yet they are still able to generate a decent amount of offensive chances and zone time. Boyle even scored the first goal of game five at 5:25 of the first period on a gorgeous pass from Dorsett and then Dom Moore to get Boyle the puck all alone in front of the net. The New York Rangers wouldn’t be in the Eastern Conference Finals without the play of the fourth line this year and they’ve been great in the playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens play a similar style as the New York Rangers. They use all four lines and all of them can contribute. The top two lines are always a danger to score. The bottom six can forecheck hard and will try to force the Rangers into mistakes or turnovers. Just as the New York Rangers bottom six are out there to do. I think the Rangers third and fourth line will have a slight advantage over Montreal’s. In my opinion this is because of the Canadiens bottom pairing. They are subject to defensive breakdowns. They’ll hit everything in sight but lose their coverage assignment in the defensive zone in the process. If the Rangers can beat the smaller Habs overload along the boards and get the puck to the weak side, there will be a wide open shot. That systems stuff is for another time though.
My prediction is that the line of Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello give the Canadiens a hard time in this series which forces Montreal’s coach Therrien to use one of his top two defensive pairs to cover that line. That will in turn create either easier competition for the top Ranger line or wear down Montreal’s defense. This is the series Rick Nash gets hot. The offense begins with Stepan but I think Nash will be a force against a smaller Montreal team. In my humble opinion, as the cliché goes “all players are pulling on the same rope,” Is the mantra for this New York Rangers team.
The New York Rangers Penalty Kill has been pretty good of late thanks in large part to Boyle and Dom Moore but Montreal has the best Power Play among the remaining teams in the playoffs at 26.3%. Boyle, Moore, and Dorsett will all play a part in the Penalty Kill. We will have to stay out of the box and try to win at five on five.
For the series I predict the New York Rangers will win in the sixth and final game of the series at Madison Garden to win four games to two and move on to chase the mighty chalice. The Stanley Cup! Let’s go Rangers!