Now is the time for Dubinsky to step up

New York Rangers left wing Brandon Dubinsky (17)

New York Rangers left wing Brandon Dubinsky (17) and Chris Drury (23) skate off the ice after they lost 2-1 to the Washington Capitals in overtime in Game 1. (April 13, 2011) (Credit: AP)

GREENBURGH, N.Y.

This is not a time to think too much.

The Rangers are in a massive hole, down 2-0 to the Caps heading into Sunday's Game 3 at the Garden. Despite generating some decent chances and playing good defense against the Caps' array of skilled forwards, they have one goal in 138:24.

It doesn't seem like a good time to relax, to tune out the pressure. But that is exactly what the Rangers, particularly Brandon Dubinsky, have to do.

"It's something you don't map out," coach John Tortorella said, pointing to his head, "because it's here."

None of the key Rangers has seemed more mentally flummoxed by the playoff moment than Dubinsky was in the two games in Washington. It started on his second shift, when he hopped over the boards before any Rangers forward came off, resulting in a very obvious too-many-men penalty.

Dubinsky, who led the Rangers with 54 points and was their top faceoff man during the regular season, has been shut out along with the rest of the counted-upon forwards. But Dubinsky is counted upon for more than scoring, playing as he does in all situations and taking key faceoffs in all three zones.

None of it has gone well for the 24-year-old, who has been on the ice for three of the Caps' four goals, had only three shots on Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth and, perhaps most glaring, has won only 12 of 33 faceoffs, a dismal 36.4 percent success rate.

"There's been pressure before, and now it's mounting. But it's good pressure," Dubinsky said after the Rangers' brief practice. "You want to be in these situations. I've just got to find a way to break through and get it done. All of us do."

And there certainly is truth to that. It is not all on Dubinsky, just as it is not all on Marian Gaborik, who joked after missing another golden scoring chance early in Game 2 that maybe he should try closing his eyes to change his luck.

The Rangers, as has been written here time and time again, are a team of grinders. When they score goals and win games, no Ranger dominates. This is a good thing when all 18 skaters are pulling in the same direction, but not so hot when all 18 are squeezing their sticks into sawdust.

Tortorella made the right call in putting Sean Avery in the Game 2 lineup, then using a very fresh-legged Avery to try to generate some forechecking and some of his Avery-ness in the third period Friday. If Avery can do the same with more shifts from the start Sunday, that's something no one else can really contribute.

Dubinsky is another of those Rangers who can bring something unique to Game 3. He's thrived this season as Ryan Callahan's linemate but also as a burgeoning Mr. Everything, winning key faceoffs, hitting and occasionally fighting opponents and sticking his nose in the corners and in front to score goals. But he hasn't done enough of that yet.

Dubinsky, like Callahan, is a restricted free agent at season's end. Callahan, out with a broken ankle, already has proven himself indispensable to these Rangers, a captain-in-waiting who does it all for the sake of the team. Dubinsky has been trying too hard, thinking too much about what he needs to do with Callahan out and his team struggling to score.

Sunday is a chance for Dubinsky to prove his worth. The first move is to not think so much.

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