The New York Rangers have lost two games in as many nights and now find themselves trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in their best-of-seven series. Each team has two days off before Game 4 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
While it’s not an elimination game for New York, the Rangers must win Game 4 if they want any chance of advancing to the Eastern Conference Final. A loss in Game 4 would mean a three-game losing streak with two of them coming at home.
It would also mean a commanding 3-1 series lead for Pittsburgh. In NHL history, teams that fall behind 3-1 in a playoff series have come back to win less than nine percent of the time. If those odds aren’t bad enough, New York will need two road victories in Games 5 and 7 if they fail to draw even on Thursday night.
It’s too soon to think about later games, New York needs to focus solely on winning Game 4 and also breaking a team-scoring drought that has lasted more than six periods. The last time the Rangers were shutout in back-to-back playoff games was over 80 years ago.
So how can the Rangers win Game 4 and even up the series? For starters, the Rangers need to get the power play piano off their backs. The power play showed signs of life in Game 3, but New York failed to capitalize on five power play chances, including a four-minute power play it earned in the first period.
The Rangers need to move the puck quicker on the power play and execute when they get their scoring chances. New York had chances, but Marc-Andre Fleury played very well in goal and the Rangers also hit the post or crossbar three times in Game 3.
Execution cannot be overlooked in this situation. The Rangers were arguably the better team throughout Game 3, they more than doubled the Pens in shots on goal, but Pittsburgh executed when it got chances. The Rangers keep waiting for players like Rick Nash and Brad Richards to step up and score, but at this point it could be any Ranger.
The line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot continues to play strong and New York will need them to keep it up. Even when the line isn’t scoring, they’re very good at puck possession and cycling in the offensive zone. That helps to wear down the Penguins’ defense and also forces Pittsburgh’s skill forwards to work hard on defense. The Rangers want to keep Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as far away from Henrik Lundqvist as possible.
Defensively, the Rangers don’t need to change their approach much. Holding this Penguins team loaded with talent to 15 shots in Game 3 was impressive, but they have to avoid giving up the big play. The Penguins had at least three breakaway opportunities against Lundqvist in Game 3 and they scored twice.
New York needs to continue its solid defense, but avoid making the one or two mistakes that seem to end up in its net. Bad luck happens in hockey, but the Rangers need to stop making unforced errors. Against a team like the Pens, New York can’t make mistakes that lead to odd-man rushes or worse. The team is too talented.
Getting the first goal will be very important at home for the Rangers. It doesn’t matter how they win Game 4, they’ll take it any way they can get it, or be forced to the brink of elimination.