You can’t sugarcoat it: The Rangers need to rally at home Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators or face elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs as soon as this week.
On Sunday, while the Rangers took a day off to ease the postseason pressure of being down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, coach Alain Vigneault and his staff huddled to game-plan for Game 3.
“Nearly the same situation [an overtime loss] happened in Game 2 in Montreal and we didn’t respond real well at home in Game 3. This is going to permit us to work on some areas,” such as defending against deflections, he said. “Everything’s on the table right now.”
In a conference call that focused on his personnel decisions during Saturday’s 6-5 double-overtime loss, Vigneault insisted that he wasn’t favoring experienced players over younger ones and that for him, ice time is based on matchups and how players are performing. “It’s not about veterans or younger players, it’s about how you’re playing, at what you’re doing in that particular moment,” he said.
Vigneault’s matchups are more defense than offense-based, but both Pavel Buchnevich and Oscar Lindberg sat in overtime. Rookie Jimmy Vesey played only 2:13. Vig neault said he “did shorten the bench up front. Probably had to do with two things: A, the urgency of that game, and B, maybe some of the younger players didn’t seem to have it for me.”
He also defended his choice to have the third defense pair, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, on the bench for the two late goals by Jean-Gabriel Pageau that tied the score in regulation and Pageau’s winner in the second overtime.
“We were looking for certain matchups, and sometimes with the flow, certain players get lost for a couple shifts or a couple minutes,” Vigneault said. “It wasn’t play-related. He [Smith] was playing a good game, he was playing with bite, it just happened that way . . . Not everybody’s game, on different nights, is the same. Some nights, certain players have their executions and ability to make plays.
“In Brady’s case, he had a pretty good night. He got caught on the four-on-four where he got beat wide and they scored, but he played some pretty good minutes . . . Right now, I like the looks of our pairs and I don’t see myself making any changes.”
On the Senators’ two-on-one winning goal, Vigneault said defenseman Nick Holden’s read was ill-advised. “If you pinch, you have to make sure you have [a forward back] and you get the puck,’’ he said. “There was no [forward back] and he didn’t get the puck; not the right decision. I thought he had some good moments, but him and Marc [Staal] got caught on a couple goals. Nick has played some pretty good hockey for us, but when pucks go in the back of our net, people have the right to analyze.”
Sens’ focus shifts to MSG. Senators coach Guy Boucher and his staff also were looking ahead on the off-day. “It’s not like the other series [with Boston],” in which the teams split the first two at Canadian Tire Centre, he said. “We won the games we have to win at home. We enjoy playing [at the Garden], but we know the kind of urgency they’re going to bring; they talked about re-loading, so we go back to the drawing board so we won’t be surprised at what they’re going to throw at us.” . . . Boucher said he is “pretty much predicting” that both Henrik Lundqvist and Craig Anderson will make Game 3 low-scoring, “something like 2-1.” . . . Injured forward Clarke MacArthur, who played only 7:39 on Thursday, feels better and will make the trip. Fellow forward Tom Pyatt, who played only four of the seven playoff games, “should be ready to go,” Boucher added.