NEW YORK – Any time you allow your opponent to dictate the pace of the game, it’s not usually going to end well.
The Rangers (8-6-1) allowed the Canadiens to dictate the pace – a painfully methodical, interminable one – and it cost them in a 3-1 loss at MSG on Tuesday night.
To even use the phrase “pace,” to describe this game is a misnomer. Neither team tallied a shot on goal until over eight minutes had passed. After 20 minutes, the Rangers had only five attempts on goal, the Canadiens three.
“I thought it was probably one of the worst hockey games I’ve [ever] been involved in, both teams,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “They were better than we were.”
“We were ready to play that type of game, we know they’re patient in the neutral zone,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. “We just weren’t able to get enough scoring opportunities to go into the net.”
The tedious game finally got some character – and some noise into an otherwise-lifeless Madison Square Garden – when the Rangers scored on a delayed penalty. As the Canadiens inexplicably slowed down, expecting the play to get blown dead even though they didn’t have the puck, Derek Stepan found Anton Stralman cutting to the net. Stralman’s first shot was saved by Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (24 saves), but Stralman dumped home the rebound at 12:29 of the second to put the Rangers in front.
The Canadiens answered just over six minutes later when Max Pacioretty’s one-timer from the slot got past a screened Henrik Lundqvist (15 saves), and Alex Galchenyuk added the game-winner – on an assist from former Rangers fan-favorite Brandon Prust – at 1:48 of the third.
“They clogged it up in that neutral zone – it was tough to get through,” said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. “When a team does that, it’s a matter of not extending yourself, not trying to make that cute play. I thought we stuck with it for most of the game, but there’s periods we didn’t and that’s where they got their opportunities.”
“They were pretty good at hanging back and played pretty conservative,” said Rangers forward Brian Boyle. “We didn’t want to let them lull us to sleep, but a couple breakdowns and they got some weapons.”
Raphael Diaz added an empty-netter with 1:06 left, shooting it in from 175 feet away to secure the sloppy win for the Canadiens (11-4-1), who vault to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
“They’re coming off a back-to-back,” said Michael Del Zotto of the Canadiens. “We should have been able to tire them out down low. That is the strength of our game, we felt we could exploit them down there, and we didn’t do a good enough job.”
“It’s a game of patience when you play a team like this,” Lundqvist said. “They play extremely boring, but they’re a smart team. They didn’t give up much and were just waiting for mistakes. We didn’t make that many. They’re a quick team, I thought we played a pretty good game, we just didn’t come up with the big plays in the end.”
“It was two bad teams playing and we were worse than they were,” said Tortorella. “Pretty much sums it up, huh?”
About two hours before the game, the Rangers announced star winger Rick Nash (undisclosed) would not play. Nash leads the team in assists, points, and shots. Tortorella refused to divulge the nature of the injury.
Brandon Prust, in his return to MSG after over two years as a Ranger, tallied an assist and was on the ice for all three Montreal goals. He had two shots and four hits in 16:26 of ice time.
“He’s a gamer,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien of Prust. “We like him a lot, and it was a special game for him. I thought he was a real warrior out there tonight for us.”
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM