OTTAWA — If this is truly the reason for the Rangers’ latest late-game blow, as Alain Vigneault believed it might be after his team lost Game 5 in overtime Saturday, 5-4, there is simply no excuse for it.
If the Rangers didn’t know Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson had gone to the bench for an extra attacker late in the third before the Sens tied it with 1:26 left, won it 6:28 into overtime and put the Rangers’ season on the brink with the Blueshirts trailing 3-2 going into Tuesday’s Game 6, it is a bad look for everyone involved as the Rangers allowed a late, tying goal in a 6-on-5 situation for the third time in these playoffs and the second time this series. On each occasion the Rangers went on to lose in either overtime or double overtime.
“There’s definitely an area as far as structure-wise that I thought we had addressed,” Vigneault said regarding defending in a 6-on-5 situation. “Maybe the guys didn’t know their goaltender was coming (out,) but it was less than two minutes and (Ottawa’s) down by a goal. Should expect it, but maybe they got caught there not knowing the goalie was out.”
Perhaps if the Rangers on the ice were unaware Anderson had bolted for extra attacker Derick Brassard, the friend-turned-foe who scored that tying goal before Kyle Turris won it, that might explain why Erik Karlsson was able to find Clarke MacArthur with time and space in the left circle for the shot which ultimately caused a frantic scramble in front.
There certainly is an element of misfortune here. Lundqvist saved MacArthur’s shot and Brassard batted down the rebound. The puck then bounced off Marc Staal, Tanner Glass and finally Brendan Smith’s right skate before trickling by. Lundqvist was on his behind and outstretched his glove in a desperate attempt to keep the puck out, but to no avail.
“Sometimes those pucks pinball their way in,” said Staal, who played 2:03 of the final 3:27 of the third while Brady Skjei sat the final 5:04 of the third. “It’s not like we’re not trying. We’re right there desperate, battling, trying to keep that puck out of the net. It just found its way in.”
The Rangers started this one getting out to a quick 2-0 lead before Ottawa pulled one back shortly thereafter. The Sens struck twice in a 33-second span in the second, but the Rangers didn’t give Ottawa much the rest of regulation until the end. Ryan McDonagh tied it late in the second and Jimmy Vesey put the Blueshirts ahead with 7:12 left in the third.
In Game 1 here it was a fluky goal by Karlsson off Lundqvist’s head late in the third. In Game 2 it was a two-goal lead blown with less than four minutes left, and now another lead evaporated with less than 90 seconds left — that all coming after the Game 2 in Montreal when a lead was lost with 17.3 seconds to go in the third.
“We found a way to lose some games here,” Staal said. “That’s pretty much it. We’ve had opportunities to close out some games here and haven’t been able to do it.”
And that is why the Rangers are entering an elimination game at home on Tuesday instead of having the chance to advance. They’ll have an extra day again just as they did one week ago, an extra day to process why they couldn’t close another one and a day to bury this and move on.
“You don’t have a choice,” Lundqvist said. “You have to.”