Rangers Livelihood At Stake Tonight

Rick Nash (seen above) will return to practice with the Rangers tomorrow. He shouldn't be rushed under any circumstances.

Rick Nash scored his only postseason goal against the Bruins last year. The pressure is on him and the Rangers top players in Game 7 tonight.

It’s officially a pressure cooker tonight. Everything comes to a standstill. On a big day of three Game 7’s to conclude the first round, the Rangers host the Flyers at what should be a chaotic MSG. The newly renovated building isn’t as loud. But with it all on the line, that won’t be a problem. The issue for the Rangers is whether they can feed off the emotion and repeat history. They’ve never lost a Game 7 on home ice.

There’s plenty of experience from the last three series clinchers which included a seventh game rout of the Capitals in D.C. Over the last two years, they’ve gone the distance ousting the Senators, Capitals and again those same Caps. Nine players experienced all three wins. Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Carl Hagelin and Brian Boyle. Including last year, you can add Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, John Moore, Derek Dorsett and Mats Zuccarello. That’s 14 Blueshirts. Chris Kreider is injured. Martin St. Louis won Game 7 over the Flyers in ’04 en route to a Stanley Cup with the Lightning. Also won in seven.

What’s at stake is their livelihood. When the puck drops, you can toss out all the fancy statistics. If you went strictly on puck possession for Game 6, the Rangers prevailed. Unfortunately, they wasted a good first period by not scoring. Benoit Pouliot’s holding minor was the turning point. It was a miserable performance by Girardi and McDonagh, who were the main culprits on Wayne Simmonds’ hat trick. They can’t have a repeat. Neither can Lundqvist, whose baffling indecision lead to Flyer sub Erik Gustafsson scoring a crucial third goal that followed a Steve Mason glove stop on Pouliot.

Alain Vigneault stated that whoever’s top players perform well will prevail. That means getting anything out of Nash. It’s ugly. He remains without a goal in six and has only 1 in 18 postseason games as a Ranger. When asked about it, to summarize he said he’s trying his best. That doesn’t cut it. Fans don’t want to hear that. They want a guy Glen Sather sacrificed Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov for to go out and produce. Nash spent the majority of Tuesday in the Flyers’ zone. He has four assists. They came in the first three games. That must change.

McDonagh is without a point in the series. One of the best defensemen in the game, he clearly isn’t himself. He missed the final five games of the regular season after sustaining a left shoulder injury. The Rangers have looked to him for offense from the blue line. In six games, he has nine shots and is minus-two. How bad has his slump been? Vigneault replaced him and Girardi with Moore and Klein in the offensive zone trying the third pair with the top line. Truth be told, it made no sense.

Off such a quick turnaround, will the Flyers ride the momentum into a Game 7 upset? After securing a 4-0 cushion, they banged around the Rangers. Afterwards, Simmonds told Pierre McGuire that they had to continue grinding them down and playing physical. He seemed pretty confident. Why not? Since Mason returned as the starter, they’ve taken two of three with the Flyer number one delivering clutch saves in both wins.

Prior to the series, we emphasized special teams. I gave the Flyers the edge because they count on their power play to score. In their three wins, that’s held true netting five power play goals. While they have done their part, the Rangers man-advantage has failed miserably. Since producing a pair of PPG’s in a Game 1 win and one in a Game 2 loss, they’ve been shutdown. Dating back to the conclusion of the second game, they’re 0 for 20. For the series, they’re 3 for 28. It’s the same old script. The Flyers have gotten away with taking bad penalties while making the most of their opportunities. If the Rangers are to prevail, they must stay disciplined and take advantage.

Obviously, one of the biggest stories is Mason. For whatever reason, he raises his level against the Rangers. Entering the series, he brought a 4-1-1 record with a 2.49 GAA and .928 save percentage versus them. In three starts, he’s 2-1 with a 1.95 GAA and .939 save percentage. Interestingly, Mason has never won at MSG. He enters o-2-1 with a 3.85 GAA in four career outings. He’s outplayed Lundqvist, who hasn’t had to be great yet. After giving up four on 23 shots, he was pulled. Lundqvist enters with a 2.31 GAA and .910 save percentage. He usually turns it up in Game 7. The last three are all wins including nail biters over Ottawa and Washington in 2012 plus a shutout of the Caps last year.

In what’s been an unpredictable series with no rhyme or rhythm to each game, it’s hard to predict what will happen. The Rangers have gotten large contributions from their fourth line. Ironically, Dominic Moore was nominated for the Masterton and deserves to win it. He and Brian Boyle have been instrumental in two of three wins. The one thing they have going is four lines. However, you have to think logic will finally prevail. The pressure is on the Rangers’ best players to deliver. If they don’t, it’ll be a long offseason.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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