GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Down two games in a best-of-seven playoff series? The Rangers have been there and done that already this month, and they came back to win. So forgive them if they’re not overly stressed about trailing the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 in their second round series after Friday’s 2-0 loss.
“We’ve got a lot of belief in this room,’’ fourth-line forward Kevin Rooney said Saturday, as the Rangers returned home to prepare for Game 3 Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. “We’ve got a great group, and our leadership group has done a tremendous job, especially this postseason.’’
Fifty-two of 391 NHL teams (13.3 percent) who have fallen behind 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have rallied to win the series, according to hockeyreference.com. That’s a better chance than the Rangers had when they fell behind Pittsburgh, 3-1 in the last round. Only 9.5 percent of teams down 3-1 rally to win those series, which the Rangers did. So, statistically, at least, the Ranger are in a better place than they were 10 days ago.
“You're down two games,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “You're in a hole, but it's been two road games. So we’ve just got to make sure we take care of our home ice now. We’ve got to make sure we win tomorrow… and then we'll worry about Game 4.’’
Of course, the Hurricanes, champions of the Metropolitan Division in the regular season and one of the teams considered to be on the short list of contenders to win the Stanley Cup, present a stiffer challenge than did Pittsburgh, which finished behind the Rangers in the standings in the regular season.
The Rangers managed only one goal in two games on the road in Raleigh, and so the task Sunday, and the rest of the series, will be to find a way of generating more offense without sacrificing what they’re doing at the defensive end of the ice, where they’ve allowed four goals – one of those an empty-netter – in six periods, plus one overtime.
Gallant, who was pleased with his team’s defensive effort in Games 1 and 2, almost grudgingly admitted the Rangers may indeed have to sacrifice a little of their staunch commitment to defense in order to create more offense. He just doesn’t want to change too much.
“We didn't win the games, so yeah, I mean, to a point,’’ he said. “But I don't want us to change a whole lot. I want us to win the hockey game. We could have won those games (in Raleigh). We had chances to win that Game 1. I mean, we were the better team, in my opinion, in Game 1. We had an open net that we miss (by Kaapo Kakko), it would have made it 2-0. (And) we had some other real good chances.
“Sometimes, the hockey gods, that's the way they are,’’ he said. “Game 2 was a solid game… a 1-0 hockey game most of the way -- they score with a second left. So we battled hard; we competed hard. Hopefully, we'll get more energized in our building and get some more offensive chances. Hopefully, we'll take advantage of some power plays.’’
The power play went 0-for-4 in Game 2 – including a four-minute opportunity in which ex-Ranger Brendan Smith scored the shorthanded goal that turned out to be the game-winner. And the Rangers will need some production from the top two lines, as the likes of Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano have been kept off the scoresheet to this point.
Gallant is also counting on a boost from the Garden crowd, which will get its first chance to roar Sunday.
“Look at the last series, the Pittsburgh series,’’ Gallant said when asked if the crowd can help. “Look what (the Carolina fans) did for them in those games. Look what (the Garden fans) did for us in our home games. So it's a huge, huge factor. It gets your players revved up, and your building helps you. The crowd, the atmosphere, helps you.’’