GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Alain Vigneault had a distinct edge to his comments Friday. He was charged up.

A day before the critical second game in the second-round series against the Capitals, the Rangers' coach challenged his team to compete, play smarter and respond to Thursday night's stunning 2-1 loss in the opener at Madison Square Garden.

In the waning seconds of the third period, Dan Boyle was hit from behind by Nicklas Backstrom at the corner boards, and when he went down, the Rangers seemed to freeze. That allowed Alex Ovechkin to pick up the puck and feed Joel Ward in front for the winner with 1.3 seconds remaining.

"There's definitely things we can learn," Vigneault said Friday. "We can't stop playing on a play. That's what happened on that last play. The standards have been set for what's allowed as far as hitting from behind: Ovechkin on [Thomas] Hickey [in Game 7 against the Islanders], last night on Boyle. We know what those standards are; play up to those standards. Their top line, I could say they had their way with us; they probably had more than two-thirds of their scoring chances. We need to do a better job. Even though I thought we created some good looks, one goal won't cut it."

Rick Nash, with 43 regular-season goals but only one in the playoffs, said forwards need to "get to the inside, get traffic; they're a team that likes to box out. We've got to work through that."

Vigneault called Nash "one of our key contributors all year long. He's a good person, but like anybody that's wearing a Rangers uniform right now, he's got to step it up. Simple as that."

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Vigneault also took exception to one of Derek Stepan's remarks about the five-day stretch between the two series. "The rest was definitely a good thing for our group," Stepan said. "But at the same time, maybe we showed a little rust on the execution on the offensive side."

Vigneault responded: "They should not have been rusty."

According to Vigneault, whose team has scored three goals in regulation in the past three games, defensemen need to join the rush. "We need to finish," he said. "Our guys are aware of it. You can talk about sticks being tight, et cetera. We need some help from our back end, to get them to chip in."

But defensemen have to make the correct decisions. "You've got to make some reads," he said. "When 19's [Backstrom's] line is out there, don't do it, because they had so many good looks [Thursday] night."

Notes & quotes: Boyle, who practiced, said he got his "bell rung pretty good" on Backstrom's hit that led to Ward's goal and was "pretty dazed and confused." He said he was trying to kill the final seconds by protecting the puck along the boards. "But once he hit my head,'' he said, "there's not much else I can do."