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Maybe the Rangers are trying to convince themselves it is true, or maybe it is.
But come Sunday night, it will be seen if the playoffs really are a new season or if the Blueshirts’ malaise at the Garden has carried over into the postseason.
Because this Game 3 of their first-round series against the Canadiens is one that carries more implications than just breaking the best-of-seven contest knotted at one game apiece. It is a split that on paper seemed like a good result in the din of the Bell Centre, but was somewhat disheartening after the Rangers blew a 3-2 lead with 17.3 seconds to go in regulation in Game 2 and lost in overtime.
“It’s never easy to sleep after an overtime loss, but it’s a playoff series,” center Derek Stepan said in Montreal on Saturday, as the team stayed over Friday night then returned to New York in the morning. “We play every other night here, so there’s not much time to wait. It’s 1-1 and we’re going back home.”
Yet, as nice as that sounds, there is a caveat that comes with it. Though the Blueshirts were the best road team in the league this regular season, they matched it with having the worst home record of any of the 16 teams that qualified for the tournament. It is a fact that has been brought up ad nauseam through the first week of this series, but a 2-5-3 record at home to finish the season, dating back to a shootout loss to the Canadiens on Feb. 21, will do that.
“I think like any team, you make the playoffs and it’s kind of a clean slate, both individually and as a team,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “Good season or not so good season individually, it’s a fresh start, and that goes for the team as well. We have to just focus on playing well as a group, no matter where you’re at and the situation you’re in.
“I think more importantly we’re excited to feel the energy of our home crowd, the way Montreal fed off their home crowd [Friday] night.”
It would be foolish to think the Garden crowd — or any crowd, for that matter — can match the intensity, noise level and constant enthusiasm of the 21,273 up in Montreal. In comparison, the 18,006 who show up on Broadway have been known to be rather fickle, and for good reason — the Rangers have lost five playoff games in a row at home while being outscored 18-3.
But those fans love themselves a winner, and the Rangers know if they perform well, they will hear their support loud and clear — and so will the Canadiens.
“I played playoff games at MSG, it’s incredible,” McDonagh said. “Fans, they get so jacked up for it, it helps us players really stay in the moment out there and give us a chance to win the game.”
So now the question is what the Rangers can do to rediscover their fast-paced, high-tempo style that was utterly stymied for most of the third period and all the overtime on Friday. Clinging to a 3-2 lead, the Rangers admittedly sat back, and the Habs took it to them. Henrik Lundqvist did all he could in setting playoff career highs for shots against (58) and saves (54). But he couldn’t stop Tomas Plekanec from scoring the game-tying goal in the waning moments of regulation and or Alexander Radulov from getting the game-winner late in the first overtime.
The Rangers were so close they could smell a commanding 2-0 series lead going home, which would have given them a cushion returning to a place where they have struggled. Instead, the series is tied and they need to play well or this series could turn on them fast.
“You’re 17 seconds away from being in a good spot, and now the series is tied,” McDonagh said. “Wake up [Saturday] and get going back to New York and get focusing on having a good start, playing well in front of our crowd, having some pride there, and having some urgency, as this series is now getting into the middle of it.”