NEW YORK – That the Rangers were able to survive past the first round against the Flyers with a non-functioning special teams unit speaks more about their first-round opponent than it does about themselves.
They’re not going to get so lucky this time. The Rangers power play is now 0-for-its-last-34 opportunities, while the penalty kill has been a not-good-enough 76% in the postseason.
Numbers like that are simply not good enough to beat one of the top teams in the conference. They got by against the Flyers, a team with a mixed bag of poor goaltending and defensemen, but they can’t survive against the dynamic Penguins.
It wasn’t good enough tonight, as the Rangers were blanked on five power-play chances during a 2-0 loss at Madison Square Garden in Game 3 of the Metropolitan Division finals. Pittsburgh leads the series, 2-1.
“You need everybody in the playoffs,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “You need your role players and your finishers and your playmakers to do what their strengths are. The guys that are on the power play and penalty killing have a responsibility to make plays and create things for us.”
“It’s been a struggle,” Mats Zuccarello said of the team’s fledgling man-up unit. “If you let it go to your heads it’s not going to get any easier. We just have to keep shooting. Hopefully, we’ll get a lucky bounce and then get some confidence. We created a lot of chances, even five-on-five, to win this game. You don’t win hockey games when you don’t score goals.”
Much of the narrative surrounding the Rangers has been fatigue. After finishing their first-round series with three games in four days, they’ve started this division final with three in four. Still, this game wasn’t about fatigue. The Rangers were plenty qualified to win this game. They outchanced the Pens by a significant margin, possessed the puck at a solid rate, and outshot them 35-15.
“We played a real strong game,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “That’s one of the best two-way teams in the league, a real strong defensive team, and we managed some real strong quality chances. We tried real hard. We were forced to play a stupid schedule, five games in seven nights. I’m real proud of how our guys handled it. They handled it real well, we put our best foot forward in every game.”
The Rangers had at least three shots ring off either the post or crossbar, including a chance off the crossbar by Zuccarello early in the second period that was reviewed by the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto.
Even when the Rangers had a solid man advantage late in the second period, it still hurt them. With Jussi Jokinen popping out of the penalty box, Zuccarello sent an ill-advised pass towards Brad Richards. Jokinen collected the puck all alone in neutral and beat Henrik Lundqvist (13 saves) on the breakaway to push Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-0.
“I’m sitting here trying to figure out why we lost this game,” Lundqvist said. “There are two plays where we just have to be a little more aware, I guess, but overall a strong performance. It’s hard to just name one thing as to why we lost this game.”
The Rangers were good enough in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden. If this was the regular season, you’d probably hear Vigneault talk about moral victories — the good things they did. But it’s bottom-line time. These are the playoffs. Either you win, or you don’t.
“It’s first to four wins,” Lundqvist said. “We just need to take a deep breath here and regroup tomorrow and get ready for the next one. This is definitely not over.”
“We’re going to score,” said Brad Richards. “It’s going to happen, and when we do we’re going to get some momentum and ride it.”
The Rangers were good enough at even strength. But it doesn’t matter, because the power play hasn’t mattered.
The Rangers were shut out in back-to-back postseason games for the first time since the 1937 Stanley Cup Final.
Rick Nash hasn’t scored this postseason, and has just one goal in 22 career postseason games with the Rangers.
Sidney Crosby scored the Penguins’ first goal, his first of the playoffs.
Adding shots on goal, shots blocked, and shots missed, the Rangers out-attempted the Penguins 69-38.
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: