Luke Skywalker he is not, but just two games into his playoff career, rookie Pavel Buchnevich has already brought balance to the Rangers’ lineup and helped take down the Montreal empire. While the Tanner-Glass powered Rangers fell pray to the Habs’ embrace of the Dark Side, in games four and five, the Rangers were able to deploy a more balanced lineup. In turn, they were able to utilize their speed and skill advantage to earn back-to-back wins to take a 3-2 series lead.
Perhaps Buchnevich’s impact is best measured in the play of the fourth line. As Arthur Staple wrote, “Alain Vigneault called it a ‘subtle little move,’ putting rookie Pavel Buchnevich in the Game 4 lineup and shifting Michael Grabner to the wing on the presumptive fourth line in place of Tanner Glass. What it allowed the Rangers to do was roll four lines pretty evenly throughout the 2-1 win Tuesday night at the Garden, and that speedy Grabner-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast trio was effective once again.
Fast has goals in back-to-back games (shorthanded in game five), Michael Grabner generated five shots in game four alone, and Oscar Lindberg’s compete level has a more tangible effect with better players on his wings.
Beyond the scoresheet, the fourth line has been New York’s most consistent in establishing a forecheck, forcing turnovers, and maintaining zone time. Fast and Lindberg have been good together throughout the series, but with the added speed of Grabner, Montreal doesn’t have an answer and the Rangers have a legitimate fourth-line scoring threat.
The KZB line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Buchnevich was reunited after an explosive start to the season with the lineup change and, while the trio has seen similar 5-on-5 ice time to the Lindberg line (making them, ostensibly, a fourth line, despite their talent), they started generating some chances in game four. Both Kreider and Zibanejad had been disappointing through the first three games of the series but in the last two, they’ve gotten a bit more confident and spent more time dictating play. But in overtime of game five, Kreider seemed to finally find his legs and Zibanejad provided his opus.
Since the series began, Montreal has tried to beat the Rangers with a brand of hockey that, to be generous, borders on goonish. Even with Glass in the lineup, New York isn’t built to play in slugfests and trying to do so eliminates the distinctive depth, speed, and skill advantage the Blueshirts have thanks to their forward group. But while Vigneault called adding Buchnevich into the lineup “subtle,” the effect has been remarkable in allowing the Rangers to play with speed and not get too hung up on the Habs’ physical element.
While he hasn’t registered a point, Buchnevich’s has registered seven shots on goal and he’s looked every bit the part of a dangerous depth scorer that opponents must account for. Adding the rookie into the lineup has been the key to rolling four fast, dangerous lines capable of exploiting Montreal’s bigger bodies and was instrumental in winning games four and five. If luminous beings the Rangers are, they’ll overcome the crude matter of the Canadiens and the series will be over tonight after game six.