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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Rangers have only themselves to blame for losing grip on Game 2

New York Rangers left wing Jimmy Vesey (26)

New York Rangers left wing Jimmy Vesey (26) and the Rangers bench react after Ottawa Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored during the third period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Ottawa, Ontario. Photo Credit: AP / Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA

There was more tough luck, there were more bad bounces. So much so that no less an authority than the hero for the winning team said his side probably did not deserve this game.

Reality, though, said something different. The fact of the matter is that the Rangers have only themselves to blame.

Reality spoke volumes after the Senators’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored his fourth goal of the game 2:54 into the second overtime Saturday for a 6-5 decision and a 2-0 series lead. It said the Rangers had a two-goal lead with 3 minutes, 19 seconds left and possibly had this Stanley Cup second-round series in the palms of their hands — and lost their grip.

At the end of a day when many important things went right, the Rangers let everything go wrong. True, there were deflections and Pageau benefited from puck luck, but a team that has legitimate designs on the Stanley Cup needs to find a way to take charge of those final moments and get back into the locker room.

“I think it’s human nature,’’ said Derek Stepan, who was among the Rangers who broke out of a slump by scoring a goal. “It’s a tough thing to be able to play on your toes with a lead in the second round of the playoffs. It’s tough to understand that you’ve got to make those plays and you’ve got to be confident. I think you’re playing safe. You’re just trying to make sure you don’t get beat and give an odd-man rush. You just try and stay tight. And then you give them a little too much space.”

Also, you give them confidence. Senators coach Guy Boucher has gotten a lot of mileage out of saying that the Rangers are overwhelming favorites in this series, which is the sort of thing that might or might not work in boosting his own team’s morale. What works even better is the sight of the red light going on and fans (a full house this time, unlike Game 1) going wild.

For a second consecutive game, Henrik Lundqvist sounded stunned afterward. “We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” he said after this one. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly, they’ve gotten the bounces the first two games.”

He will get no argument from Pageau, the Ottawa-born center who scored two goals late in the third period before firing one home in the second overtime. “I don’t think we deserved that game today,” he said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted or I can say they really came out hard. They were playing a really fast game, putting a lot of pucks on net. I think that caught us a little bit.”

That is what makes it hard for the Rangers. Chris Kreider finally scored his first goal of these playoffs. Stepan scored something other than an empty-netter for the first time. Brady Skjei made a dramatic turnaround from an uneven Game 1 and scored two goals. His best sequence occurred early in the third period, when he broke up an Ottawa three-on-one and went down and scored for an encouraging 5-3 lead.

The ending was anything but encouraging. You can write off Game 1 to a flukey shot by Erik Karlsson. This was different. This time the Rangers had the game by the throat and let go.

Which is not to say they are done. The Rangers probably have more overall talent than Ottawa does. It would not be a shock if this series is tied by Thursday night. But the time for being hesitant or smug or both is over.

On Friday, Ryan McDonagh was dismissive when he was asked a serious question about why the Rangers play so well after defeats, curtly saying, “We just don’t like losing . . . losing again.”

This time they did lose again, with the captain on the ice for both of Pageau’s late regulation goals.

Also on Friday, Alain Vigneault was asked for his reaction to Boucher’s statement that the Senators had been motivated by the fear of being swept. He replied, “That’s a pretty good line. I’ll remember it for next time.”

Reality says he can use it now.

New York Sports