NEW YORK — It was a no-show on Broadway.
From the second the puck dropped to the second the clock stopped, the Montreal Canadiens never found any semblance of the cerebral style of game that had put them up 2-1 in this series on Sunday. They mismanaged the puck, giving it straight to the Rangers on both goals against, and they iced it eight times while chasing the lead in the third period.
When you consider all those factors, the 2-1 score in Game 4 was almost flattering to the visiting side.
“It’s not like we didn’t work,” said Alexander Radulov. “We just made bad decisions. Not bad decisions; just not the right decision at that time. When we couldn’t hold onto the puck and make the right play, we forced it with those long stretch passes, and they weren’t there.
“Well it’s 2-2 right now and it’s best of three right now and we’re going home. We’ve gotta focus on one game and get that next one.”
The Canadiens have their work cut out for them in the lead-up to Thursday’s Game 5 at the Bell Centre. They’d be wise to take a page out of the Rangers’ book, who proved how far a few key adjustments can carry you in a playoff series.
The Rangers, who had finished just one point behind the Canadiens in the regular season, had turned themselves into underdogs with the way they had slept-walked through Games 2 and 3. Their passivity had turned the neutral zone into a raceway for their opponents and turned execution into an impossibility at either end of the ice.
But the reversal from New York in Game 4 was tangible.
“We had jump from the get-go, we created more chances,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
It was unquestionably the Rangers’ best start to a game in this series, notching the first few scoring chances and rocking the Canadiens back on their heels and into second place in the race for loose pucks.
A goal from Jesper Fast, which came 11:39 into the first period was the first reward.
“We were able to put pucks in places where we could get it back,” said Derek Stepan.
That was a considerable departure from what we saw in Montreal last Friday and at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
“To be able to compete and play against them you have to make every shift count, and that’s what we tried to do tonight,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
Mission accomplished — and just at the right time.
The Rangers stopped their home losing streak in the playoffs — dating back to 2015 — at six games.
“We had to,” said Rick Nash, who scored the game winner at the 4:28 mark of the second period. “We couldn’t be going back to Montreal down 3-1.”
Even if the Rangers were the best road team in the NHL in the regular season, they knew those odds might’ve been too steep to overcome.
The Canadiens, who had an opportunity to take the stranglehold, strayed too far from the path. They had some chances, none better than first-period breakaways for Torrey Mitchell and Andrew Shaw, but they fell woefully short.
“We ended up turning it over in the neutral zone trying to make those plays at the blue line when we should’ve gotten it behind them and tried to wear down their D,” said captain Max Pacioretty. “I think their D were able to save up some energy during the game because of that.”
It showed — particularly through eight minutes of shot-less hockey from the Canadiens to start the second period.
Pacioretty didn’t have one in the game until Canadiens coach Claude Julien took Radulov off his line and replaced him with Shaw.
Julien said afterwards the idea was: “Just to give a little spark.”
No fire followed. There wasn’t even smoke.
“It wasn’t my best,” said Pacioretty. “But you know it’s one game at a time and [I’m] looking to get better.”
It wasn’t the Canadiens’ best, and they have to be looking at how they can get better.
Julien said that’s going to start with a comprehensive look at the game footage, and he didn’t have to say it’s likely going to result in a reinforcement of the importance of managing the puck properly in all three zones.
It wouldn’t be a total shocker if he tweaked the lineup, too, as he has on several occasions since taking over as coach on Feb. 14.
The Rangers did after their worst performance in the series, bringing in the speedy, skilled Pavel Buchnevich in favour of rugged fourth-liner Tanner Glass and subbing Nick Holden back in on the blue line instead of sticking with Kevin Klein. They both played great. It was all part of a major turnaround.
All the Canadiens had to do was counter with the same style of game that had proven to be so effective on Sunday. Easier said than done.
“The challenge is playing against the same team the next game,” said Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. “Every game is going to be different. Every team is going to adjust. It’s just a battle of adjustments.”
The ball is now in his team’s court.