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Rangers’ blueline defense has them in control going into Game 5

The New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators

The New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators square off late in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers have a blueprint of how to disrupt the Senators’ tight forecheck structure as they head to Ottawa for the pivotal Game 5 on Saturday afternoon.

It’s the Rangers’ own structure, one that has them forcing plays at their own blue line and quickly turning them into offensive chances. That has had the Senators on their heels, flustered at not being able to play deeper in the Rangers’ zone and looking lost against the Blueshirts’ transition game. It has produced roughly 20 odd-man rushes in Games 2, 3 and 4, games the Rangers controlled for long stretches.

“We are making plays we need to make with the puck. That’s enabled us to get out of our zone fairly clean, through the neutral zone, and we’ve been able to spend some time in their end,” Alain Vigneault said after the Rangers’ practice on Friday as the team prepared for its return journey to suburban Ottawa.

Neither of the past two games wound up particularly close, but when they were, the Senators simply did not produce the number of shots and chances they did in Game 1. In that opening game, a 2-1 win, Ottawa attempted 52 shots when the game was tied or within a goal either way. They generated only 28 shots in the same situation, tied or within a goal, in Games 3 and 4 combined, and only six attempts in Game 3 total.

That underscores how out of reach those games were fairly quickly for the Senators and how the Rangers kept Henrik Lundqvist free of traffic and pressure for two straight nights. That certainly was a help to the 35-year-old goaltender, who was busy and superb in the opening-round win over the Canadiens.

“We had really good structure the last couple games. We didn’t give up much,” Lundqvist said. “They play a pretty structured game and they can strike when you make a mistake, but we haven’t made too many mistakes the last couple games. But we expect them to come out harder tomorrow, being at home, with their crowd behind them.”

Vigneault said he’s been pleased that his players have focused on “whistle-to-whistle” play, a not-so-subtle dig at the Senators for their attempt to muddy Game 4 with some late-game scrums. Dion Phaneuf fought Brendan Smith and three other melees broke out in the final minute, thanks to extra whacks or shoves by Ottawa players.

“That’s just playoffs,” Kevin Hayes said. “No one wants to lose in the playoffs. I don’t think there’s any carry-over there.”

The Rangers have been the better team over the four games, trailing for only 4:11 of the 262:54 of game time, but Saturday’s game is too important to rely on what worked before.

“We were in a tough spot, we did our job at home and it’s 2-2,” Lundqvist said. “We’re not overexcited. It’s a lot of work ahead to try and win the series. We continue believing in ourselves and our structure, keep the focus we’ve had the last couple games.”

Notes & quotes: Lundqvist, Hayes and Mats Zuccarello were among the handful of regulars who skated along with the healthy scratches. Rick Nash, who missed practice Wednesday, did not skate, but there was no reason to believe he’ll miss Game 5.

New York Sports