On paper, it’s not over yet. It says so in black and white on page 202 of the Rangers’ Playoff Guide, which shows them having overcome 3-1 deficits in second-round playoff series in both 2014 and ‘15.
No team in NHL history had come back from 3-1 in consecutive postseasons before, so why not make it three?
Alas, the Rangers’ current series is being played on ice, not on page 202, and after Thursday night’s flop at Madison Square Garden, a 5-0 loss to the Penguins in Game 4 of the first round, there is no apparent reason to believe they have a chance.
Well, there always is a chance. But unless the Penguins’ power-play unit decides to switch to roller skates for Game 5 Saturday and beyond (if necessary), the Rangers likely will fail to survive the first round for the first time since 2011.
In 2014, they were down 3-1 and heading to Pittsburgh, then won three in a row by a combined score of 10-3. In 2015, they trailed the Capitals 3-1, then won three in a row, two in overtime.
But those were better Rangers teams than the way this one looks, sputtering badly at the worst time after what was an inconsistent regular season.
They now have lost three games to goalies who entered the series never having appeared in the playoffs before, most recently 21-year-old Matt Murray’s shutout in Game 4.
They have scored one goal in their past 13 periods in home playoff games dating to last spring — and that one was shorthanded by Rick Nash in Game 3.
Most glaringly, the Penguins are dominating on special teams, a point of emphasis for coach Alain Vigneault entering Thursday night that only got worse after a day of extra video study.
The Penguins were 3-for-7 on power plays, the Rangers 0-for-6. Evgeni Malkin had three of his four points — two goals and an assist — on power plays. No wonder he had gushed after the morning skate about how much he enjoys being, and playing, in New York.
What is wrong with the penalty kill? “I don’t know, exactly,” Tanner Glass said. “If we did, we’d fix it.”
Even future Hall of Fame goaltender Henrik Lundqvist could not rescue them. He had an off night before being yanked by Vigneault in the second period.
After the game there were plenty of blank stares in the dressing room, but the players did the only thing they could in talking about a performance that spoke for itself. They looked ahead, hopefully.
“You can’t try and dwell on it, get frustrated about it,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “You’ve just got to think in small increments.”
“You have two choices,” Chris Kreider said. “You can mope, but at the end of the day we’re down, 3-1, and we move beyond that context real quickly and focus on the next game. That’s all you can do.”
Said Lundqvist, “You can’t at this point overthink it. You just have to move on and make sure in the next one you’re in the right place mentally and physically.”
Adding to the malaise is the fact there are changes looming for an aging core whose Stanley Cup window might be slamming shut.
Game 4 might well have been the last playoff game at the Garden this year. The bigger picture question is whether there will be any next year.
But that is a discussion for another day. For this day, as Vigneault said, “We just picked a very bad night to have a very bad game.”
One last let’s-move-on quote, from Mats Zuccarello: “This game is forgotten right now. Stay positive. We’re not going to get any better by thinking negative.”
The rest of us will take care of that for them.