By Sean Hartnett
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For the Rangers to stand any chance of making this a series, they need to get back to basics. The Blueshirts have lacked any form of defensive structure, as they have been pulled into a track meet by the speed-burning Lightning. The result? Henrik Lundqvist has allowed six goals in consecutive defeats and the Blueshirts are staring at a 2-1 series deficit.
“We feel we have to be a lot stronger in front of them, for sure,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “They’re getting some open looks and some rush plays. We definitely are having our breakdowns in front of them, so that’s stuff that we can control. We’re going to continue to look at things on video, and ways that we can counteract that and make sure that we’re giving ourselves that best chance to win.”
The Lightning are buzzing and thriving in the transition game and the Rangers have been run ragged, especially by the “Triplets” line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov.
“They rely on high-octane, fast-paced plays (and) taking what you give them,” McDonagh said. “I mean, if you’re going to give them an opportunity to make an extra pass and then create an opportunity in front of the net, they’re going to look for that. So, as the opposition, we’ve got to try to minimize those offensive looks for them, try and minimize that extra play that they’ve been making against us.
“I thought that because of the fact that they weren’t having to defend as much, that they were able to utilize their speed, their transition game and get back and play in our offensive zone. So in that aspect, I think we can get back to doing what was the strength of us in Game 1: making them go the whole length of the ice, and trying to wear down their defensemen and their forwards by making them defend.”
While the Blueshirts possess a good amount of team speed and skill, they do not have the firepower necessary to beat the Lightning skill for skill. All season long, the Rangers spoke about the need to defend in five-man units.
Center Derick Brassard believes the Rangers haven’t given Lundqvist a chance to win either of the past two games. It’s all about getting back to solid structure.
“We just have to go back to play some good defense with a lot of structure, and if we do that, we have a better chance to win,” Brassard said. “We won the Presidents’ Trophy this year by playing good defense, and we didn’t give our goalie a chance to be successful the past two games.
“When you look at the big picture, yeah, it’s nice we scored a lot of goals, but we just have to go back to basics. They love the stretch pass. They have a lot of skills, obviously, but we have to go back to play some good defense.”
Obviously, it’s crucial for Lundqvist to find his game. While the floodgates have opened in front of him, he’s also let in a share of soft goals.
“Hank would be the first to say to you that six goals against is very uncharacteristic,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “In the number of games that he’s played for the Rangers, he’s been, on most nights, one of the top players. He’s going to get ready for (Game 4) and he’s going to try to have a real good game.”
It’s time for the Rangers to get back to their strength, which is staying disciplined and gutting out low-scoring games.
“Our strength all year has been being able to play in those one-goal games and win the Game 2-1,” alternate captain Derek Stepan said.
They need to play their way. Otherwise, they’re going to keep getting burned by the superiorly skilled Bolts.
“We’ve just got to get back to the Rangers hockey that we’ve had success with all year and stay confident with our group,” Stepan said.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.