Rangers can't let Neil distract them from what they need to do

Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators scores the Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators scores the overtime winning goal at 1:17 of overtime against the New York Rangers. (April 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football. ...

OTTAWA

The Rangers are mad. But that isn't the way to get even.

A few things became clear Sunday as the Rangers prepared for Monday night's must-win Game 6 here:

Brian Boyle, the Rangers' best player outside of Henrik Lundqvist in the first half of this series, likely won't play because of a concussion.

Chris Neil, the Ottawa player who gave Boyle the concussion in the third period of Saturday's Game 5, will play.

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Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's player safety chief, declined to hold a hearing with Neil, determining that the hit that John Tortorella labeled "dangerous, dangerous [and] cheap" was perhaps the first two but not the third.

So the Rangers, without admitting it Sunday, are steamed. But they could do well to take a page from their opponent, which lost one of its better players to a concussion in Game 2 and promptly won three of the four games Daniel Alfredsson has missed, counting the remainder of that Game 2.

Alfredsson, by the way, might return Monday night to a raucous Scotiabank Place, just to add to the injustice the Rangers feel from the top of the organization on down after Boyle's concussion. The Rangers lost talented rookie Carl Hagelin to a three-game suspension for the hit on Alfredsson (he'll be back for Game 6), but Neil, who looks as though his mug shot should hang in Shanahan's office -- and this is a guy who's been responsible for more than one concussion in his 10-year career, though he's never been suspended -- won't be disciplined.

But Neil playing or not shouldn't matter to Tortorella and the Rangers. The temptation will be to dress John Scott to exact the sort of revenge that the Senators tried with Boyle in Game 2. Ottawa's players have been crediting that over-the-top violent display with getting the Senators to within a win of advancing, but the real reasons the No. 8 seed is that close to bouncing the top-seeded Rangers have nothing to do with fighting.

The Senators' collection of young forwards have outplayed the Rangers' forwards by a wide margin. Other than Game 5, when the Rangers were pretty relentless in their attack, Ottawa's unknowns have outworked the Rangers, beaten them to pucks and beaten them on faceoffs, doing enough little things to give the Senators their current edge.

The Rangers may want Neil's bullet-shaped head on a platter in Game 6, but they need to score a goal. They need to win a faceoff. They need to convert a power play. If they need Scott or Mike Rupp to beat down Neil to motivate themselves to do those other things, this series is lost.

They should be angry at themselves, to be sure, for allowing the Senators to seize control of the series with what are supposed to be the Rangers' hallmarks of hard work and great goaltending.

The Rangers have had a five-minute power play (Game 2) and then three power plays in each of consecutive games (Games 4 and 5) in the first periods of the games they've lost, golden chances to blow any of those games open and goad the Senators into chasing them.

Boyle, who played the heel the last time the Rangers were here, said the smartest thing so far. "This is about us," he said before Game 4. "It's always about what we do."

His teammates should heed his words. This is about the Rangers and what they do to save their season, not about exacting revenge.

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If they forget that Monday night, just forget everything they've worked so hard to achieve this year.

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