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Rangers still can’t score entering must-win game

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A penalty shot by Rangers' Carl Hagelin is caught by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the third period.Alex Brandon/AP

A penalty shot by Rangers’ Carl Hagelin is caught by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the third period.

The Rangers are in a 3-1 series hole for plenty of reasons, but their inability to score stands right at the top.

The Blueshirts have just two goals in their last eight periods against goaltender Braden Holtby and a physical Capitals defense. While they’ve had chances, the Rangers have searched for the perfect pass far too often and lit the lamp far too little.

“We have to do our best to not be frustrated with it,” Derek Stepan said Wednesday via conference call. “Maybe it comes down to working a little bit harder to get on the inside and generate some more looks and maybe get a flukey one, one that bounces off a shin pad or something like that to open the floodgates.”

Last year, Chris Kreider opened those so-called floodgates in Pittsburgh when the Blueshirts also found themselves in a 3-1 deficit against the Penguins. Brad Richards’ wrister from the point was deflected in front before Kreider dove at the left faceoff circle and kept the Rangers’ power play alive. Ryan McDonagh launched a slap shot from the blue line that was turned away by Marc-Andre Fleury, but there was Kreider diving toward the post to put a rebound past Fleury at a sharp angle and put the Blueshirts ahead 1-0. The Rangers poured in four more goals that night, beating the Pens, 5-1, in Game 5 and eventually winning the series.

This is a new year, a new series and a new opponent, but the Rangers have had their backs against this wall before.

“I believe we’re real close,” Alain Vigneault said. “Sooner or later, you have to believe that by playing the right way, it’s going to pay off. This group’s got to believe that. We don’t have a choice. If we intend on pursuing our season, we have to get it done (in Game 5). . . . This is a different team, a different group (than last year), but the core is the same. The core has past experience in dealing with this situation. I expect them to pass on their experience and their leadership to the remainder of our group.”

A number of factors, including the death of Martin St. Louis’ mother, galvanized the Rangers last spring. Henrik Lundqvist was the obvious key to the turnaround, limiting the Penguins to just one goal in the final three games of the series. But last year’s comeback all started with that goal from Kreider in Pittsburgh. This year, the Rangers need another spark to keep their season alive.

“It’s tough to create words when you’re in a situation like we are, one loss ending our season,” said McDonagh, whose solid Game 4 performance was overshadowed by a dreadful neutral zone turnover that led to Andre Burakovsky’s game-winner. “As far as speaking up and saying things (as captain), I feel with the guys we have in this room, there shouldn’t be much that needs to be said.”

“The series and the season isn’t over,” he continued. “We try to control what we can. (Tuesday) night was definitely tough, but at the same time we still have a job to do, a job at hand (in Game 5).”

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