By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers embarrassed themselves in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. Their lopsided 6-2 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning was wholly accurate given the undisciplined hockey that invaded the Blueshirts like a virus.
A catalog of sloppy turnovers, woeful puck management, poor defensive-zone coverage, a slew of inexcusable penalties and an overall lack of competitive fire consumed the Rangers in Game 2. It was a performance that was uncharacteristic of a Rangers team that typically corrects mistakes on the fly.
“At the end of the day, it’s 3-2 going into the third after all that sloppiness,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “We continued to be undisciplined. We continued to not play hard in front of our net and these guys are going to make us pay.”
Following the trouncing, McDonagh sat furiously at his dressing room stall. The Blueshirts’ captain was sickened and shocked at what had festered over the course of 60 minutes.
“I don’t even know what to call this game,” McDonagh said. “I want to get rid of it.”
McDonagh challenged his teammates to never allow themselves to fall to this level again.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “There are a lot of things you want to say right now but talking doesn’t do much. Our guys better figure it out quickly here and realize that stupid, selfish penalties are going to cost us against this team. They have too much skill. (We were) shooting ourselves in the foot from the very first few minutes. That is not going to give us a chance to win.
“There’s a lot of areas here that’s very uncharacteristic. At the end of the day, it’s a loss. We can’t afford to do it again. That’s the main thing.”
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was under siege as the fast-skating Lightning took advantage of New York’s frequent breakdowns and were able to strike on three of six power-play opportunities. It was the Rangers’ worst playoff loss since their 6-1 defeat in Lundqvist’s playoff debut against the Devils on April 22, 2006.
VIGNEAULT CALLS OUT STARS
As the game wore on, head coach Alain Vigneault’s usually calm-as-it-gets demeanor turned from irritated to seething.
“A couple of our guys didn’t have their best game tonight,” Vigneault said.
He later was asked about the performance of on-fire Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, who notched a Game 2 hat trick and leads the playoffs with 11 goals and 16 points. Vigneault took the opportunity to call out his star players.
“Without a doubt, he took his game to another level tonight,” he said. “We need our top guys to do the same thing.”
Although he was credited with two assists, alternate captain Martin St. Louis played what could be described as the worst game of his Rangers career. At 39, St. Louis looks like he does not have the legs to keep up with the play. With star winger Mats Zuccarello missing from the lineup, youngsters Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast currently skate on the right wing of New York’s top two forward lines. St. Louis has been demoted to the third line.
St. Louis is yet to score a goal in 14 games this postseason. Make no mistake: St. Louis always brings the right level of effort. He’s always been an extremely prideful character, but it appears that age has finally caught up to the future Hall of Famer. St. Louis looks like an aging boxer whose mind and body are out of sync. He can think the game as well as anyone on the ice, but his body is betraying him.
On a first-period 5-on-3 power play, St. Louis fell in the high slot after 38-year-old Dan Boyle misplaced a return pass. This allowed Johnson and Alex Killorn to break on a 2-on-0 shorthanded rush, as Johnson scored the game’s opening goal.
“It’s a play that simply can’t happen,” McDonagh said. “You can’t afford to give a 2-on-0 breakaway on a 5-on-3.”
To be clear, McDonagh wasn’t assigning blame to any individual, but rather the Rangers’ collective fail.
Meanwhile, Rick Nash continues to take plenty of flak from fans and media. Nash is now without a point in three consecutive games. The 6-foot-4 winger has only collected two goals in 14 playoff games. Still, there is far more good than bad in Nash’s game. He’s passing the eye test by playing a committed 200-foot game and effectively throwing his body at opponents. Still, what fans are looking for from Nash is him lighting the lamp with greater frequency.
DON’T EXPECT A CARRYOVER INTO GAME 3
The Rangers are a realistic group. Whether they win or lose, they don’t believe in the theory of playoff momentum. A number of Rangers, including winger Chris Kreider, have stated that game-to-game momentum does not exist.
“There’s no such thing as momentum,” Kreider said on May 12. “As soon as the game ends, you’ve got to move on to the next one – focus on the next game.”
Following Game 2, Vigneault made it clear that he believes the Rangers will turn the page quickly. After all, this team has done so throughout their entire playoff run and since Vigneault took charge last season.
“I’m confident that we’re going to respond the right way,” Vigneault said. “We always have.”
When you attack the virus, you try to get it out of your system as quickly as possible. Rangers fans should feel confident in their team’s ability to bounce back. They’ll have their chance in Tampa’s building on Wednesday night as Amalie Arena hosts Game 3.
“Ultimately, we have to crawl back and find a way to win some games in their building,” McDonagh said.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.