Derick Brassard and the Rangers look to come out the way they did in Game 1 as they head to Pittsburgh tied 1-1 with the Penguins.
PITTSBURGH — Alain Vigneault’s Rangers never lack confidence playing in the Steel City, or anywhere on the road for that matter, thanks to a commitment to consistency and what captain Ryan McDonagh on Sunday called an “us-against-the-building mentality.”
They won three of their four games at CONSOL Energy Center in last season’s second-round playoff series. They went 1-0-1 this regular season, and they built an NHL-best 28-11-2 road record overall, tying the 1998-99 Devils for the most road wins by an Eastern Conference team in league history.
“We don’t really want to change the way we play just because we’re on the road,” McDonagh said Sunday afternoon at the team hotel with this first-round series knotted at one game apiece. “But we kind of have that us-against-the-building mentality when we go on the road, and sometimes that helps you stick together and go through the ups and downs a little bit better.”
So in the spirit of Martin St. Louis’ measured approach articulated to the Daily News last week — “It’s never as good as you think it is, and it’s never as bad as you think it is” — the Rangers are learning what they can from Saturday night’s disappointing 4-3 loss in Game 2 at the Garden and sticking to the details that got them this far for Game 3 on Monday night.
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Namely, as speedster Chris Kreider said several times on Sunday, the Blueshirts “had some trouble getting through the neutral zone” in Game 2 that fed the Penguins’ quick transition game.
McDonagh reiterated the significance in the defensive zone of supporting each other to encourage simpler, high-percentage plays, or not “cheating” away from a puck-carrier, as defenseman Dan Boyle described it.
“It’s about getting through the neutral zone, generating a forecheck, getting set up in their defensive end, and trying to get some pucks to the net,” Kreider said of how to tilt the ice and make life harder for Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Rangers’ solution for their 2-for-12 power play compared to the Penguins’ 2-for-5 unit is not as clear.
Derek Stepan had said after Game 2 that “a lot of guys (on the power play) are gripping the stick” too tightly. Boyle was asked if he can feel that hesitance on the power play, too.
“I don’t know,” Boyle said. “I mean, I think on the power play you need to score a goal or create momentum, and I think early on (in Game 2) it didn’t really happen. ….
Each individual’s gonna respond differently, but pressure’s pressure. You’ve got to enjoy it and channel it the right way.”
Vigneault and his players were adamant, however, that the Penguins deserved credit, too. Centers Brandon Sutter (goal, assist) and Sidney Crosby (two goals) dominated Saturday at the Garden. McDonagh said he thought the Rangers “made (Crosby) defend more in the first game,” a 2-1 win on Thursday, and that Crosby got more confident with more touches of the puck in Game 2.
Vigneault bristled when asked if effort had been a problem for his team on Saturday or if they simply weren’t skating well because they didn’t have the puck.
“I don’t think we’re gonna win all the foot races and all the battles against that team,” Vigneault said. “I mean, they’ve got some pretty good players over there. So there are going to be some 50-50 pucks that we’re gonna get to, and there are going to be some 50-50 pucks that they’re gonna get to.
“Do I think that as a team we need to play better? There’s no doubt,” the coach added. “It’s been very hard-fought so far. The execution at some points has been good. At other points, give them credit. They’ve got some top-end players that are playing real well.”
The Rangers’ recent road history says they’ll shake it off. NHL history, unfortunately, says 28 road wins in the regular season means nothing.
That 1998-99 Devils squad? They lost in the first round, in seven games, as the top seed to the eighth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
KLEIN AND WAIT: Defenseman Kevin Klein (broken left arm, day-to-day) is on the trip but will not play in Game 3 on Monday night. He has not played since breaking his forearm blocking a shot by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin on March 11. His timetable for recovery is 4-6 weeks, and Wednesday is the six-week mark. Game 4 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh … Vigneault said he hadn’t decided yet whether he intends to make lineup changes for Game 3. His lone option would be to dress forward James Sheppard, who has been a healthy scratch the first two games.
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