By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Right now, the Rangers are flatlining their way to another deserved first-round exit. Staring at a 2-1 deficit, something has to change and fast.
Teams are usually re-energized when they return to their home building in the playoffs, but this Rangers team put on a listless, inexcusably timid performance against the Canadiens in front of the Garden faithful on Sunday night.
The Blueshirts were a tentative hockey team from the jump in Game 3. How many times did you see a Ranger aimlessly throw the puck to the middle in the defensive end, only for it to be picked off by a Montreal skater? There was no cohesion or support. The Rangers committed 10 giveaways compared to the Canadiens’ one in the first period, setting the tone for a 3-1 home defeat.
“In order to create, you’ve got to have everyone involved,” alternate captain Marc Staal said. “I think we’re just a little disjointed right now in the plays that we’re making. We’re just not hanging on to pucks when we can and just not really in-sync.”
At the end of 60 minutes, the Rangers had committed 21 turnovers, while the Canadiens limited themselves to eight. The Rangers only managed six shots on goal apiece in the first two periods — and they wasted four minutes of power play time in the opening 20. When they needed to play desperate hockey in the third, the Blueshirts could only muster six five-on-five shot attempts. Their standstill power play has fallen to 0-for-10 in the series. Yikes.
“First of all, you’ve got to make the passes,” Rick Nash said of the power play. “There’s too many passes in guys’ skates and on their backhand when they want it on their forehand. The execution just wasn’t there. Next, you need to get a shot through. I think everything starts off a shot. If you keep it going to the outside, you’re not going to have any success.”
This team has played on its heels for much of the series. Since the start of the second period in Game 2, the Canadienshave a 78-51 shots-on-goal advantage. The Rangers look like they’re weighed down by expectations of delivering in front of a home crowd that rightfully demands better. Six straight home playoff losses seem to be grinding on this team’s confidence and psyche.
Aside from peerless goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the energetic fourth line of Tanner Glass, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast, there are few Rangers playing at anything close to their A-game.
“We have to give more at home, in the playoffs, or we aren’t going to win,” Lundqvist said. “We need more. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, special teams were a big part of the game tonight. I didn’t come up with the saves there on the penalty kill. They made some good plays. Our power play did not get going and get any momentum for us. We all need to be better in the next one.
“I think every little detail matters in this game,” he continued. “Every play. We did it really well in the first game and I think we need to come back to that. We work hard at times. But we talked about going into this game that they are a good team. We are going to need our best from everyone and from myself. That’s the only way for us to win the next game. We need our best from 20 guys.”
Once Lundqvist hangs up his pads and calls it a career, the Rangers will immediately lose a generational goaltender who has pulled his team by the scruff of the neck and dragged it to great heights. That’s why the now is so important with this hockey club. The 35-year-old netminder is not going to be around forever and he puts out countless brush fires when the Rangers are pinned in their end and unable to connect the dots. Every teammate in that dressing room owes it to Lundqvist to get his act together, because the former Vezina Trophy winner is doing everything possible on his end.
Here’s a couple of stats that will make Rangers fans weep: The last player to score a five-on-five goal at home during the playoffs was Dominic Moore in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference finals. They’ve been outscored 21-4 during their six-game home playoff losing streak. Their trip to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final feels like decades ago.
“Right now, we’re fighting it without a doubt,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “That should be evident. We have a practice tomorrow and go from there.”
When the puck drops in Game 4 on Tuesday, the Rangers better have rediscovered their spirit and execution or it’s going to be another unacceptable first-round exit.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey