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Are Rangers better when playing from behind?

Rangers center Kevin Hayes reacts after he scores

Rangers center Kevin Hayes reacts after he scores a short-handed goal past Ducks goaltender Chad Johnson late in the third period at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

With as much trouble as the Rangers have had protecting leads this season, is it possible they might be one of those teams that is simply better coming from behind? Could it be that there’s something about a lead – particularly an early lead – that may over-relax coach David Quinn’s group, to the point where they stop working hard at doing the things they need to do to be successful?

Kevin Hayes, who scored the game-winning, shorthanded goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over the Anaheim Ducks, doesn’t think so.

“I don’t think that plays into anything, to be honest,’’ Hayes said of the Rangers’ seemingly being better at coming from behind than they are at playing from in front. “Heck, everyone wants to score every shift. I think you can get to that point if you score a couple, and you’re giving up leads – you’re up three going into the third – it’s just human nature, wanting to relax. But I don’t think scoring first (is a problem).’’

Few teams would prefer to play from behind if they had a choice, of course. Statistically, though, the Rangers are 8-6-5 in games where they score first, and 7-7-0 in games where they allow the first goal. That means they’ve lost three more than they’ve won in games where they’ve scored first, while they are .500 when coming from behind. In the five games they played prior to Tuesday, the Rangers scored the first goal in each of them, and their record in those games was 1-1-3, including two blown 3-0 leads. And the one win in that stretch was via the shootout against Florida, in a game where they blew three leads – of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3. (In fact, the shootout has kept them in the playoff hunt so far; they are 5-1 in the one-on-one-versus-the-goalie tiebreaker.)

Hayes certainly wasn’t about to advocate the Rangers should spot opponents an early goal as part of their game plan going forward, but he was willing to concede that there is a certain desperation that the Rangers play with when they are behind.

“Yeah, you are desperate if you’re down; you have to take chances,’’ he said. “But that’s every team. You can’t play lax when you’re down, because you’re not going to get anything. So, yeah, you can definitely play more desperate in the third (period).’’

The key then, is trying to replicate that kind of desperation in games where they aren’t actually down on the scoreboard. But that isn’t necessarily easy, because it’s harder to rationalize trying risky plays a desperate team might try in a game when the score is tied.

Roster freeze begins. The NHL's Christmas roster freeze begins Thursday. No player on the current roster can be traded or sent to the minors until the freeze ends Dec. 28.

New York Sports