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Hartnett: 5 Keys For The Rangers Ahead Of All-Deciding Game 7

Mats Zuccarello (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Mats Zuccarello (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Disjointed, clumsy, lethargic. All of these words can be used to describe the Rangers’ woeful showing during their 5-2 Game 6 defeat to the Flyers.

The Rangers let slip their chance to close out the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Now, the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden for an all-deciding Game 7. The Blueshirts must wipe Game 6 clean from their memories, burn the tapes and any other evidence of Tuesday night’s misery.

Alternate captain Brad Richards knows that Game 7 can bring the best out of his teammates.

“Game 7’s are what bring the best out in people,” Richards said. “It’ll be a hard-fought battle. We’re going home. We’ve had success in Game 7’s, especially a lot of these guys in this room. That’s why we battled hard right to the end to get home ice.”

Rangers fans can take some solace in knowing that their team is 5-0 all time in Game 7’s at Madison Square Garden. Yet, you can throw that statistic out the window if the Rangers repeat Game 6’s mistakes. Here’s what the Rangers must correct if they are to win Game 7 and advance to a second-round meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

RANGERS MUST CONTROL THEIR EMOTIONS

After Benoit Pouliot took an undisciplined offensive-zone penalty at 5:23 of the first period, the Rangers unraveled. Wayne Simmonds capitalized on the game’s first power play and the Blueshirts folded faster than Superman on laundry day.

The Rangers looked scatterbrained from that point on. It appeared that the raucous atmosphere of Wells Fargo Center was having an effect on the Blueshirts. Panic set in and the Rangers became timid. No one looked like they wanted the puck. The Rangers suddenly could not complete simple passes, began falling down clumsily and star players went missing.

It’s a terrible sign to see a team disappear collectively after just one goal. The Rangers transformed into a bunch of friendly ghosts after Simmonds’ first power-play goal. Prior to that, the Rangers dominated the opening five minutes. The Rangers can’t let momentum swings consume them again in Game 7.

Pouliot has shown a strange tendency to take unnecessary offensive-zone penalties this series. He must cut that out of his game immediately.

0-FOR-20 POWER PLAY MUST STEP UP

At the heart of the Rangers’ troubles is a struggling power play that has now slumped to a dreadful 0-for-20. Power-play ineptitude is nothing new to Rangers fans, who long suffered watching John Tortorella’s teams of yesteryear stagnate on an inefficient power play run by former assistant coach Mike Sullivan.

Scott Arniel was brought in by current head coach Alain Vigneault to address the Rangers’ power-play woes. Arniel installed a new-look power play that was dependent on the Rangers successfully dragging opposing defenders away from shooting lanes and forcing opposing players to commit to a man. It allows the Rangers to outnumber their opponents in the low slot.

Outside of Martin St. Louis and Pouliot, this is the same personnel that was there under Torts and Sully. Arneil is not to blame. He’s offered fresh ideas that should be meshing with the athleticism possessed by Rangers skaters. The burden is on either of the Rangers’ two power-play units to get something going.

GIRARDI AND MCDONAGH CAN’T ALLOW SIMMONDS TO FEAST IN THE CREASE

On his 30th birthday, top-pairing defenseman Dan Girardi had a rare off-night. Throughout Game 6, Girardi made a number of glaring turnovers, missed clearances and was often beat to pucks.

Together, Girardi and Ryan McDonagh had all kinds of trouble keeping Simmonds out of the blue paint. Simmonds camped out all night in front of Henrik Lundqvist’s crease without any resistance from Rangers defensemen, and the 6-foot-2 winger completed a hat trick, scoring twice on the power play.

Simmonds knows how to use his big body to thrive near the crease. Throughout the regular season, Simmonds was the Flyers’ most productive power-play scorer with 15 goals scored on the man advantage.

McDonagh and Girardi cannot have a repeat performance in Game 7. Should Simmonds and the Flyers establish a dominant net-front presence, it won’t matter whether Lundqvist summons his inner-Mike Richter, or plays below the level of scorching-hot opposing goalie Steve Mason.

POULIOT-BRASSARD-ZUCCARELLO LINE MUST FIND ITS GROOVE

All season long, the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line was the Rangers’ most consistent and most dominant forward line.

Their tic-tac-toe success has come screeching to a halt in round one. The line has collectively contributed just seven points through the first six games of this series.

Brassard has gone missing all series. Given his natural speed and creativity, Rangers fans have the right to be demanding more from him. Remember last playoffs when Brassard notched 12 points in 12 games? He’s been in a complete funk this series. Brassard has zero goals and one assist in six games against the Flyers.

Yet, Brassard plays the game with an unquestioned burning passion. He wants to be “the guy.” This is the time of year when he should be coming alive. Perhaps under the Game 7 spotlight, Brassard finally rediscovers his game and puts in a memorable performance.

NASH NEEDS TO SILENCE HIS CRITICS NOW

For the majority of the series, Rick Nash has found plenty of ways to contribute without scoring goals. He’s been engaged for most of the series, peppering Flyers goalies with plenty of shots on goal. He’s been effective on the penalty kill, using his body to get to the dirty areas, and is throwing some hard checks.

That wasn’t the case in Game 6. Nash was nowhere to be found.

As a Ranger, Nash has just one goal in 18 playoff games. He must silence his critics right now by scoring in Game 7. It’s a simple as that.

On Monday, Vigneault said that Nash is due to score.

“He’s due,” Vigneault said. “He’s had some great looks and is working real hard. I have, and his teammates have, a lot of confidence in him. He’s doing a lot of right things, and sooner or later those are going to go in.”

Some fans appreciate the entire body of work Nash brings to the table, but others judge him purely by whether he’s scoring or not.

Fairly or unfairly, fans have pinned Nash as the symbol of the Rangers’ inability to take the next step as a franchise. He needs to have the performance of his life in Game 7. Otherwise, fans will continue to pile on Nash.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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