On the surface, the strategy seems slightly askew: Win so you can tie.
But that’s what the Rangers hope to accomplish on Thursday: Summon up the resolve in what coach Alain Vigneault called “the most important game of the season for us” to hold serve at home and even the Eastern Conference semifinals at 2-2 and force at least a sixth game against the Ottawa Senators.
“In the end, all we’ve done is win one game, that’s all we’ve done,” said Vigneault. “So we’re going to need a better effort, a complete game.”
There’s no grey area. Drop to 3-1 and the Blueshirts would have to win three straight to advance to the conference final against either Pittsburgh or Washington.
The idea, after all, was to take this route: Finish with the first wild-card, avoid a meatgrinder in the Metropolitan Division, cross over to the Atlantic, knock off Montreal and Ottawa and then try to upset either the Capitals or Penguins to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four seasons.
Both Canadian clubs have made it difficult. Montreal wasn’t eliminated until the sixth game and the Senators took the first two games in this series.
“I think it’s [Game 4] going to be a more challenging game,” Henrik Lundqvist said after practice at the Garden on Wednesday. “It’s a big one, we’re trying to tie it up here . . . It’s a lot better position to go up there [to Ottawa for Game 5] 2-2 than 3-1. Right now, it’s important that we not think about the series as a whole, just take tomorrow and make the most of it.”
Injuries to Bobby Ryan and Zack Smith (day-to-day) will force Senators coach Guy Boucher to alter his lines. And Chris Wideman might come in on defense. The Rangers will stay the course.
On defense, for example, Vigneault said that Ryan McDonagh “will play more [minutes] than the other five just by what he can do on the power play and penalty killing, the rest [will play] depending on what I’m looking for in matchups.”
For his part, McDonagh predicted a closer game than the 4-1 finish on Tuesday. “I’m sure it’ll be a little tighter as far as the scoreboard goes,” he said.
Expect veteran Tanner Glass, (three hits, and a shot block in 10 minutes on Tuesday) to stay in the lineup, but he downplayed suggestions that his aggressive style has energized his teammates. “It has nothing to do with my game,” he said. “It’s up to each individual to prepare the way they need to do to have success. Our skill players showed what they can do, and I thought we were really tenacious in our own zone.”
But Glass didn’t deny that physical play is a factor in the postseason. “Every bump is like a making deposits in a new bank account,” he said. “You keep hitting those guys, it’s going to pay off sooner or later.”
Notes & quotes: Rick Nash did not practice Wednesday, but Vigneault answered “yes, yes” when asked if he would be ready for Game 4. “He could have practiced today, just talked it over with [trainer Jim Ramsay], probably will skate Thursday morning and be good to go.” . . . With Pavel Buchnevich scratched in Game 3, Derek Stepan moved from the second power play unit to the first as a second righthanded shot. “There’s different lanes that might be open, different shot selections,” said Vigneault. Vigneault liked J.T. Miller’s play on the fourth line with Glass and Lindberg, and added, “it doesn’t matter if he plays on 1, 2, 3 or 4 . . . He’s a power forward that’s got to play to those strengths, he’s got to make room for himself out there.” . . . Lindberg said he doesn’t have the puck from his first NHL playoff goal. “I don’t know what happened to it,” he said.