For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.
Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Craig Ramsay doesn't hide his affinity for four-line hockey.
"I'm a huge believer in it," Ramsay told NHL.com.
What coach isn't? They love the ability to roll four lines, to rest their star forwards, and to watch their fourth-liners grind away minutes and eat away at the opposition's confidence.
Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien had that working in 2011, when they won the Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks, who were coached by Alain Vigneault.
Vigneault now has the New York Rangers thriving with a four-line brand of hockey. They're two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
Ramsay said the four-line factor has been a major reason the Rangers have won five in a row, including the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens. He said it will continue to give the Rangers a chance to move on unless or until the Canadiens figure out how they can tire the Rangers' fourth line.
Game 3 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"The Rangers' fourth line at times is able to go out there and dominate play," Ramsay said. "They just keep throwing out one line after another that goes out there and plays a similar style. They get the puck in, get it past the defensemen, get it and try to keep it. They hold on to it. They're getting the defensemen involved.
"When your fourth line can go out there against anybody with no fear from them, and they're laughing as they're coming to the bench, having fun, it means the coach is confident in them."
Vigneault was forced to adjust his fourth line in Game 2 because Derick Brassard was injured. The coach moved Dominic Moore to center the third line. That pushed Brian Boyle from the left wing on the fourth line to center and gave Daniel Carcillo his turn in the lineup. The line of Carcillo, Boyle and Derek Dorsett combined for six shots on goal.
According to shot statistics compiled by extraskater.com, Carcillo, Boyle and Dorsett were plus-16 in 5-on-5 shots on goal for vs. shots on goal against (23-7). They were plus-15 in 5-on-5 shot attempts for vs. shot attempts against (31-16).
To put it in simpler terms, the Rangers had the puck the majority of time that line was on the ice.
"A guy like Boyle is really a factor. Dorsett goes out there and bangs around," Ramsay said. "They put so much pressure on Montreal's defense that it becomes just this continuous onslaught of 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, and it isn't about matchups as much as its about just rolling them over and letting them play. They play with so much enthusiasm and they're feeling really good about themselves.
"Montreal has to find a way to make them play in their own end. Montreal's top guys have to find a way to get out against a third and fourth line and make them play in their own end, show a flaw in their system. They haven't shown any flaws. They haven't made them work."
As a result, Ramsay said, the Rangers are not only feeling confident, but everyone who plays feels he's contributing to a win.
"It's a huge plus for a team because now everybody that dresses is part of the action and everybody feels good about it," Ramsay said. "The other players recognize the important role that these people are playing and they have fun with it. That's certainly what I'm seeing from the Rangers. They're having a lot of fun playing in these playoffs. They really think they can win."
Ramsay remembers seeing the same thing from Boston in 2011. He vividly recalls seeing and feeling the same way as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. Those teams won the Stanley Cup; the Rangers need six more wins.
"If you're trying to go through this whole thing with a three-line team, that becomes very difficult," Ramsay said. "These guys have to be able to go in there and play, and that's a huge part about what the Rangers are doing right now."
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