NEW YORK – Michal Neuvirth’s poise under pressure is obvious to everyone who watches. So when the Rangers couldn’t rattle the Capitals’ young goalie with shots directed his way, they turned to playing their own game after the whistles.
Sean Avery chirped Neuvirth. Brian Boyle and others kept running into him in an attempt to throw him off his game. It worked – not because the 23-year-old faltered in the 3-2 loss but because the Caps got frustrated by the extracurricular activity.
“After every time that there was a scrum or there was something in front of the net they were hitting our goalie and it just got to a point where – they kept warning them not to do it, not to do it and nothing was done, so they kept doing it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Pretty simple.”
New York’s Erik Christensen was whistled for one goaltender interference penalty in the first period, but it was more than that. But what Boudreau was talking about was running Neuvirth out of the pace of the game – something that goes along with the Rangers’ grinding, agitating style. If it was a message to Neuvirth and the Caps, it was received.
“I don’t know if we are sending a message – that is the way this team needs to play to be successful,” Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “We need to grind it out and that is how we have been all year. That is part of our game plan and the way we need to play.”
Within the rules, Mike Knuble admitted the Rangers did a good job around the net; that’s how they managed to score their second and third goals.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said his team needed more “jam” in his pregame comments – and he got it.
“They are doing the same thing … trying to get pucks to the net and people to the [crease],” he said. “I think we played better at grinding underneath the hash marks. That is how we have to do it. We are not good enough – we have to grind.”
New York’s line of Avery, Boyle and Brandon Prust, which started getting under the skin of Caps players in the third period of Game 2, was most effective at grinding defenders down on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
The idea? To “jam the net and make it tougher on Neuvirth,” Dubinsky said. But the result was also a series of scrums around the crease. And unlike Friday night when the Caps controlled themselves, in Game 3 they got baited into some trouble.
“We took some penalties that we shouldn’t take, and I think we were getting involved in the scrums after the whistles too much,” forward Matt Bradley said. “In the playoffs you have to just kinda suck those things up because you can’t afford to go down a man.”
The most egregious example of that came late, as John Carlson jabbed back at Boyle after the New York center took several shots at his head. In Game 10 of the season, Boudreau said, it’s OK to fight back – but not Game 3 of the playoffs.
“There’s no reason that Carlson should have gotten involved with Boyle,” Boudreau said, “but it got to the fourth punch to the head and the third warning that he punched back and then they both went.”
The Rangers scored the game-winner on the ensuing four-on-four. It was an odd bounce but another example of being rewarded for physicality around the net and Neuvirth.
“We have to go hard to the net. We are a hard-working team that gets goals on rebounds and plays around the net,” New York’s Vinny Prospal said. “He only allowed one goal in two games, so we had to try to find a way to get some offense for our team some way, somehow.”
Looks like they found that way.