Rangers' big boys are coming up small

Arthur Staple

Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school

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The big-boy pants fit the Penguins just fine again in Game 3. The Rangers' big boys are still searching -- pants, goals, you name it.

Alain Vigneault, master of the mild quote, has made a few strong proclamations in the past 24 hours, starting with questioning why any of his Rangers would be tired after the stellar performance Henrik Lundqvist produced in Game 2.

Before Game 3 Monday night, Vigneault again spoke strongly, this time about his missing stars and how they were outshined by Pittsburgh's best on Sunday.

"Their big boys put on the big-boy pants," Vigneault said. "I need mine to do that."

He's still waiting.

On a night when Sidney Crosby put all of Penguins fandom at ease with his first goal in his last 14 playoff games and had another solid night, none of the Rangers' headliners could match him.

Or even Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins' oft-maligned goaltender, who barely got credit for pitching a Game 2 shutout, got plenty of credit for tossing another goose egg in the Penguins' 2-0 win in Game 3.

It was the first time since 1937 that the Rangers -- who lost 3-0 a night earlier -- were blanked in consecutive playoff games.

Fleury was sharp when he needed to be with 35 saves, lucky when he needed to be (the Rangers hit two posts and a crossbar) and better than Lundqvist, which is a recipe for defeat no matter what anyone else is doing.

Those big boys who play in front of Lundqvist weren't bad, necessarily. The Rangers carried the play in Game 3, throwing shots on Fleury and generating enough at even strength to say they were the better team, even with the "stupid schedule" Vigneault referred to after the Rangers played their fifth game in seven nights.

The big boys earn their playoff stripes by taking advantage of opposing miscues. When James Neal raked his stick across Jesper Fast's mouth late in a scoreless first period to earn a double-minor for high-sticking, it was time for the Rangers' big guns to step forward.

They very nearly did, but nearly isn't what counts. Marty St. Louis rang a shot from the left circle off the post early in the second period as the four-minute minor wound down, but Rick Nash, who now owns the only 14-game playoff goal drought on either side of this series among the stars, said it best on Sunday.

Asked about his line, with Derek Stepan and St. Louis being close to breaking out, Nash said, "This time of year, close doesn't really matter." That observation is the sharpest Nash has been this series.

Vigneault tried to juggle some depth bodies to get fresh legs, adding Fast, J.T. Miller and Raphael Diaz, who was a big boost to the still-scoreless power play (0-for-13 this series, 0-for-its-last-34). Vigneault also shuffled Nash off to play the opening 35 minutes with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, putting Miller with St. Louis and Stepan.

But there still was nothing except a few pings off the iron and a bunch of good saves by Fleury.

Nash may lead the NHL in postseason shots on goal and be among the best in Corsi and Fenwick -- two measures that show how much he and his linemates have had the puck -- but as he said, there's only one thing that matters at this time of year.

Crosby knows it. His breakaway goal had to lift a huge load off him.

"He's challenging us," Ryan McDonagh said of Vigneault, "and we need more from everybody."

The Rangers' big boys, goal-less and winless yet again, need to find those big-boy pants. Time is growing short.