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Rangers look for scoring in all directions before postseason goes south entirely

Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers

Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers celebrates his second-period goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with teammates Chris Kreider #20, Martin St. Louis #26 and Derick Brassard #16 during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden on Monday, May 18, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tyler Johnson of the Lightning scored three goals in the first two periods Monday night. The Rangers have scored three goals in a full game only three times in 14 attempts this postseason.

If that negative statistic did not grab you, how about this one: The Rangers have scored a total of 24 goals in regulation time in those 14 games.

So on one hand, they deserve enormous credit for somehow reaching Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals -- a position 26 other NHL teams wish they could be in -- tied at one game apiece with the Lightning.

On the other hand, this is getting a little ridiculous, and could well be fatal against a Tampa Bay team that proved during the regular season it could score, then reminded the Rangers of it in a 6-2 victory in Game 2 at the Garden.

Is this any way to win a Stanley Cup? In short: no.

Johnson has outscored Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis -- the Rangers' best and tied-for-second-best goal producers in the regular season -- 11-2 during the playoffs.

The Lightning has five players with at least 10 total points in the playoffs; the Rangers have one, Derek Stepan, who has 10 exactly.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

No matter how often coach Alain Vigneault and his players insist they are getting quality chances, quality chances are not the object of the game. Outscoring opponents is.

That goes extra for the single biggest individual culprit in this poorly timed drought: Nash, whose 42 goals doubled anyone else on the roster and led the Rangers to the league's third-best team scoring average.

Yes, Nash appears to be trying hard and has had his opportunities and remains his usual affable self in the dressing room.

But the man was brought here after the Rangers' playoff scoring troubles of 2012 to help fix that problem and now has six goals in the past three postseasons combined.

"He's working extremely hard, getting physically involved, he's getting some looks," Vigneault said. "Would I like him to finish on some of those looks? Yes. Do we need him to finish on those looks? Probably yes. He knows that. But this is a team game."

St. Louis, one of three players chosen to speak to reporters Tuesday at the team hotel, said: "It's about winning games. We've found a way to win games and be in a position that we're three wins away from a Stanley Cup Final.

"Do we want to score more goals? Absolutely. We're playing good teams. It's easier said than done, but we have to find a way. There's no doubt. We have to score more goals."

Ryan McDonagh, the team captain, publicly expressed anger with his teammates in the dressing room after Game 2, and still was frustrated after a night's sleep and a plane ride. He agreed the scoring woes cannot continue much longer.

"We have to find a way to take that next step and put it in the back of the net like they did," he said. "It's a lesson learned for sure . . . This series could wind up going south if we don't find a way to capitalize on opportunities."

It already has gone south -- literally -- to the arena of the NHL's winningest home team for Game 3 Wednesday night. The Lightning also was the NHL's scoringest team in the regular season.

Winning games 2-1 worked well for the Rangers against the Penguins and the Capitals, and even in Game 1 in this round. But they know winning seven more games that way is a stretch.

Their goal: goals.

New York Sports