It’s time again for some key Rangers to answer the bell.
Coach Alain Vigneault declared Sunday that “too many guys brought an average game” to the 5-4 overtime loss to the Senators on Saturday that put his team in a must-win situation Tuesday night in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Forwards Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who collectively were held to a single point in the damaging loss, were mentioned to Vigneault on a conference call Sunday, and Vigneault spread the blame around.
“Experience is good, but it’s only good when you play well,” he said. “For me, the players you mentioned had real strong games at home in [Games] 3 and 4, and for whatever reason — and I don’t want to single out those players, as I said — we had quite a few who had an average game, and it wasn’t an appropriate time. At this time of the year, against a good opponent, you can’t bring an average game to the table. There’s nothing we can do about it now. What we can do is get ready for Tuesday and make sure we have a strong game. This is going to be an opportunity to respond.”
Stepan (assist, three shots in 20:22) and Zibanejad (four shots, one hit in 19:18) won only 17 of 45 faceoffs in Ottawa on Saturday. Power forwards Nash (two shots in 19:07) and Kreider (three shots, one hit in 17:07) were not effective. Others also could have been mentioned in that group for some defensive lapses, including J.T. Miller, Tanner Glass and defenseman Marc Staal.
Yes, the Rangers have blown two-goal leads that led to the overtime losses in Ottawa in Games 2 and 5, and they haven’t had some bounces go their way. But the oddest thing about this series is the underlying numbers, which favor them everywhere but the win column.
* In the five games, the Rangers have led for 179 minutes, 52 seconds and the Senators have been ahead for only 13:10, yet lead the series 3-2.
* The Rangers have scored first in every game and have outscored the Senators 18-15, including 4-1 on special teams.
* The Blueshirts have scored five, four, four and four goals in the last four games and lost two of them.
* Senators goalie Craig Anderson has a 3.30 goals-against-average and an .890 save percentage.
* The Rangers, the best road team in the NHL during the regular season, have lost all three games in Ottawa.
“We haven’t won in Ottawa yet, but in my mind, we took two games to overtime and played some pretty good hockey — in spurts,” Vigneault said.
In the postseason, however, each game in a series is like a miniseries, and the Rangers have a bit of a track record to lean on.
Since the 2012 playoffs, the Rangers are 15-5 in elimination games, and Henrik Lundqvist has a 1.74 GAA, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts.
At home in the playoffs this season, the Rangers are 4-1 (2-0 against the Senators and 2-1 against the Canadiens).
In the series-clinching Game 6 win over Montreal at home last month, the Rangers fell behind 1-0, but Mats Zuccarello scored twice — once on the power play — and the Rangers held on to the one-goal lead until Stepan’s empty-netter with 18 seconds left. Lundqvist made 27 saves.
Said Vigneault, “We had that one game coming back from Montreal where we didn’t respond well [Game 3, a 3-1 loss in which the Blueshirts managed only 21 shots on Carey Price], but in the playoffs, we’ve always been a good home team in front of our fans, and we’ve got an opportunity to even up this series. Our mindset has to be on playing smart and playing hard and competing.’’