By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
It won’t make a difference if it’s Henrik Lundqvist or Antti Raanta between the pipes against the Penguins in Game 2 on Saturday if the Rangers repeat the script from the series opener.
Too many Rangers were bystanders throughout Wednesday’s defeat, treating their playoff opener like it was the second of back-to-backs in the middle of November. Some guys hit the snooze button in the first period, some were sleeping through parts of all three periods, while others simply didn’t show up.
There was a lot of gliding, a lot of watching the Pens work harder for loose pucks and moments where the Penguins were left uncontested in high-scoring areas. To borrow a phrase from John Tortorella, the Rangers need to “screw it on straight or you’ll get killed out there.”
This is basic stuff — compete level, supporting each other in units of five, and playing from whistle to whistle. Say what you’d like about Tortorella’s obsessive defensive tendencies, but his teams always competed at this time of year.
Alain Vigneault was annoyed by some of his players failing to “take a stride” when caught up ice, resulting in goals against, especially the opening tally by Patric Hornqvist.
“Three guys that were watching the puck behind the net and forgot him in front,” the Rangers’ head coach surmised.
Some coaches, Torts being the perfect example, will march up and down the bench and scream until they’re blue in the face. Others like Vigneault deliver calmer reminders. Either way, it’s up to the players to keep repeating these reminders on the bench and to constantly communicate with each other the ice.
With captain Ryan McDonagh unavailable for Game 2, the Rangers need to follow the lead of another prideful Minnesotan, Derek Stepan, who was a human dynamo in Game 1. The 25-year-old alternate captain gave his all across 200 feet of ice. Boy, does he compete.
Stepan recorded a game-high seven shots and provided two lifelines for the Rangers by scoring a pair of third-period goals. He also made takeaways on the defensive end, the kind of efforts that lead to transition chances.
While Rick Nash takes a lot of flack for his playoff production woes, he did record an assist on Stepan’s power-play goal. The big winger is often miscast and his two-way efforts sometimes get overlooked. Nash has now recorded eight points in the Rangers’ last five playoff games, as well as eight points in the last three road playoff games.
How about that back-check he made to break up a Sidney Crosby-Hornqvist odd-man rush? Here’s a great stat by Adam Herman of Blueshirt Banter: the Rangers have outscored opponents 12-6 in five-on-five situations over the last 20 playoff games when Nash is on the ice.
As a team, the Rangers need to follow the all-effort examples of Stepan and Nash. Whether Lundqvist or Raanta takes the Consol Energy Center ice on Saturday, the Rangers are going to need stronger efforts from the guys playing in front of them to have a chance.
No more little spurts — they need to play with urgency for a full 60 minutes. It’s the playoffs for crying out loud. It’s time to screw it on straight.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey