It’s a series that has been much closer than 3-1 would indicate.
Two overtime games, in New York, have displayed just how thin the margins are, with the Rangers getting a goal early on in the extra frame in Game 4 to leave the Montreal Canadiens with a situation where they’ll need to win three in a row in the next five days to move on.
Coming in, the Habs may have had home ice advantage, but the Rangers were the favourites for other reasons. They had been one of the league’s best teams since Christmas and are a puck possession powerhouse, with a better than 55 per cent possession rate in the season’s second half.
Many in the stats-minded community believed they were the best team in the East.
Montreal, meanwhile, struggled in that department this season, finishing in 22nd in possession at around 48 per cent, which typically means a team won’t go deep in the postseason.
That would seem to indicate that in a head-to-head matchup, New York would control the play quite a bit more and generate more chances, but that’s not what’s happened in this series.
Every game has kind of been its own snowflake, but the Habs hardly look outclassed, offering more than enough push back and generating chances almost to the same degree.
So where has New York’s edge come?
At even strength, the biggest difference is the Rangers have simply gotten more saves. Shots on goal are 96-86 in favour of New York, but shot attempts (Corsi and Fenwick) are nearly identical, which indicates the two teams are splitting time evenly between the offensive and defensive zones.
Henrik Lundqvist, though, has an elite .930 save percentage at even strength in the series, while Carey Price and Dustin Tokarski have given them a combination of under .910, which is rarely enough to win a series.
Part of that is obviously Montreal giving up some higher quality scoring chances – including several breakaways in Sunday’s loss – and the lopsided score in Game 1 when Price was hurt.
Overall, the Rangers have outscored the Habs 9-6 at even strength in the series.
Special teams have hurt Montreal even more, however. After scoring seven power play goals on the Boston Bruins in Round 2, the Canadiens have only one in this series and have allowed one shorthanded, meaning their man advantage has been a complete non-factor.
The Habs played a ridiculous 14.6 minutes on the power play in Game 4 – one of the highest totals of any single game played this season in the NHL – but only produced one goal on eight shots.
They have been the more disciplined team overall, having to kill 5.5 fewer minutes in the series, but again, that hasn’t mattered as they haven’t been able to convert on their chances.
Montreal’s shot and zone time rates on the power play are almost identical to the Rangers; the big difference is New York has a 25 per cent shooting percentage and the Habs are down at a little more than 5 per cent.
Some of that is simple regression. The Canadiens were so ridiculously hot on the PP in Round 2 that they should have been expected to cool off, while New York’s power play has been a weak point in previous rounds.
Now they’ve switched places, and it’s been a key reason the Habs are trailing.
So, overall, this series hasn’t really been about possession at all: With all the time they’ve spent killing penalties, New York has only seven more shots on goal after four games.
They’ve simply scored on a higher percentage of them – especially if you include the goal-fest that was Game 1.
The biggest key for Montreal in Game 5 is going to be getting to Lundqvist, especially on the power play. They need to score on more than 7 per cent of their shots and give Tokarski some breathing room or this series is going to be over in a hurry.
Start beating Lundqvist, however, and they can push this to the distance – and they have the luxury of Game 7 being at home.