By winning the Presidents’ Trophy this season, the Rangers assured themselves home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Lately, however, Madison Square Garden has failed to bring out the best in the Blueshirts’ offense.
Perhaps it’s simply the nervous energy of a building that sees so many nail-biting performances by a team that rarely makes things easy, but the numbers speak for themselves. The Rangers have scored 19 goals and allowed 21 in 10 home games this postseason. In eight games on the road, they’ve scored 26 goals – 21 in the last four games – and allowed just 18. The totals have been even more lopsided in the Eastern Conference final, where the Rangers have totaled 17 goals in their three contests in Tampa Bay, including a seven-goal outburst in Game 6.
In their 10 games at the Garden, the Rangers have scored over two goals just once with three goals in Game 2 against the Capitals. So how do they rally to win another decisive Game 7 at home and advance to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final?
“I think it’s a matter of playing better defense and getting our offense from that,” Rick Nash said Wednesday morning at the team’s hotel in Tampa. “It seems like we know when we’re here (on the road), we’re gonna get a big push from the other team, we’re gonna make sure we’re defensively sound. And I think sometimes at MSG, we’re just worried about getting offense, getting opportunities, getting chances, and then we get exposed defensively.”
That was certainly the case in Game 2, when the Rangers fell, 6-2, at MSG by surrendering three power-play goals by committing careless penalties and literally falling over themselves twice to begin a pair of Lightning rushes. They’ll need a much cleaner Game 7 if they hope to move on.
“The games at MSG have been a little different, how they’ve laid themselves out. But this is Game 7, and I’m very confident that our group is going to go on the ice and make the plays that need to be made against such a strong opponent,” Alain Vigneault said. “There are some direct plays – this is going to be our seventh game in a short amount of time against this team – there are some plays that we know that we need to make against this team to have success, and hopefully we’ll be able to execute them.”
Ryan Callahan scored the Lightning’s first goal on Tampa’s first power play. It was earned on a Chris Kreider cross-check of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos had boarded Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh with a nasty hit in the corner. Kreider made a crushing reverse hit on Stamkos later in the shift, then gave Stamkos and extra shot to the back as the Lightning scorer tried to rise from the ice.
Alain Vigneault had an intriguing answer when asked Wednesday morning about his tolerance for Kreider’s costly penalty. The question posed was that “Obviously you don’t want Kreider to pick up the penalty, but are you OK with the response on the Stamkos …”
Vigneault finished the sentence.
“On the non-call?” the coach said. “Yeah. I mean, I think 90 perent of the people watching that hit (by Stamkos), the numbers (on McDonagh’s) are there (facing Stamkos), (he takes) five or six strides, (and drives) face into the boards. You’ve got to play through that.
“At this time, I mean, as much as I thought to some point you’re happy that a player protects a teammate,” he added, “at this time, not knowing what the guy’s calling or gonna call, I’m more tempted at saying let’s turn the other cheek and let’s play.”
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