MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers admit they could have handled the situation better.
They stopped short of admitting they should have handled it differently.
The morning after losing Game 2 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime on Friday, the Rangers still had the game fresh on their minds Saturday before taking off for New York, where the best-of-7 series, tied 1-1, will resume with Game 3 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, MSG).
The Rangers decided to remain in Montreal overnight in order to get in a good night's rest. But that became difficult after their chance to take a 2-0 series lead vanished; Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec scored the tying goal with 18 seconds remaining in regulation, and forward Alexander Radulov scored at 18:34 of overtime.
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"It's never easy to sleep after an overtime loss," New York center Derek Stepan said.
The Rangers spent most of the third period in Game 2 sitting on a 3-2 lead. When they got the puck in their own end and felt pressure, they dumped it out into the neutral zone. When they managed to skate the puck out of their zone, they often would cross the red line, dump it into the Canadiens end and send one forechecker to go after it.
That allowed Montreal to build momentum and spend shift after shift attacking Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who set a career high in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 54 saves, including 29 in the third period and overtime.
"We played very high percentage there with the lead in the third period," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We spent a lot of time in our zone, which sometimes isn't ideal, but we've won games like that before throughout the season.
"We trust ourselves in any situation. But ultimately there we probably want to make a few more plays, spend a little more time in their end and have a few more shifts generating time there."
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Stepan said he had no problem with the Rangers' strategy in the third period and said the bigger problem was the lingering effect it had in overtime.
"We're 17 seconds from finding a way to win that way," he said. "They score a goal, and I think in overtime we were playing a little too safe."
Through two games, the Rangers have held a one-goal lead in the third period for 38:32 of the 40 combined minutes, and they played the same way in each game. The Canadiens led the NHL this season with 11 wins when trailing after two periods, and they did it again Friday, perhaps suggesting a one-goal lead may not be a big enough cushion for the Rangers to start sitting back and allowing the play to come to them.
There is a saying in football that playing prevent defense prevents a team from winning, which means if you give up small plays to the opposition in order to prevent the big one, those small plays can add up to a comeback.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault also used a football analogy to break down what happened Friday, but saw it from a different point of view.
"It's a bit like in football, when a team is coming from behind it always seems like the losing quarterback has 300 more yards of offense because he's taking some chances," Vigneault said. "That's a bit like what happened [Friday]. It wasn't the first time we went into the third period with a lead, not the first time we had to manage a lead. But [Friday] we were on our heels a little too much. That will help us over the next games. We'll be in a better position to play better."
As difficult as it might have been for the Rangers to ignore how close they were to taking a stranglehold on the series, the fact remains they did their job in Montreal. They got a split and are heading to New York with home ice advantage in the series.
Except Madison Square Garden has not been very advantageous to the Rangers this season.
They went 21-16-4 at home in the regular season, the worst home record among the 16 playoff teams. Vigneault feels that record is skewed by one bad stretch from Feb. 21 to March 22, when the Rangers went 0-5-3 at home.
"Before that we had a good record," he said. "Since I've been in New York, we've always had a good record."
The Rangers won their final two home games of the regular season, so perhaps that is behind them. It had better be; though momentum can be difficult to carry over from one game to the next, the way the Canadiens controlled Game 2 toward the end and came back in such emotional fashion, it could be argued they have the momentum right now.
"After that last goal, it's hard to say they don't," forward Rick Nash said. "But with us going home, we split the series, there's got to be some momentum in that, too."