Elimination Day: Rangers look to turn back the clock

Since that awful 5-0 humiliation in Game 4 that put the Rangers in this mess, I haven’t bothered posting anything. I was too upset with the lack of commitment from this experienced team. In less than half an hour, the moment of truth arrives for what’s been a puzzling inconsistent team against a much improved Penguins, who look to wrap up the first round rematch in five games.

The Blueshirts have been here the past two years. In defeating the Pens and Caps back-to-back Springs, they became the only team in NHL history to rally from 3-1 deficits in two straight postseasons. Both came in the second round. This time, it’s round one. A worse predicament when you look at how well the Pens are playing. Sidney Crosby has done whatever he’s wanted. Evgeni Malkin woke up destroying them with two power play goals and two assists after his coach Mike Sullivan benched him in a Game 3 win.

Can you imagine Alain Vigneault doing that to any star player when his team is winning? We know the answer. Vigneault has decided Dan Boyle won’t play. So, Thursday’s debacle might have been his final game of a brilliant career. Kevin Hayes isn’t returning to the lineup either. I guess it took until the first three games of the playoffs for the coach to sour on the wildly inconsistent yet talented play making second-year forward. So much for his Corsi/Fenwick and chances created.

It’ll either be Dan Girardi or Raphael Diaz as the sixth defenseman. Well, it looks like it’ll be Girardi returning from his “everything” injury following a awful Game 1. He might even pair up with rookie Brady Skjei. I don’t know what that means for the other pairings ‘if’ true. Maybe Vigneault will just throw everything aside and have Keith Yandle play with Ryan McDonagh. Who am I kidding.

Update: Actually, it’ll be both. AV has decided to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. So, both Girardi and Diaz are dressed. Diaz will get power play time. Girardi mostly penalty kill and some shifts at even strength. By going with 11 forwards, that means he has thrown out his “roll 4 lines” failed strategy. It’s about the top three lines and this strategy I suggested:

The lines have been altered. Vigneault has decided to move Jesper Fast up to the top line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. They had success last year in the 3-1 comeback against the Caps. Not sure I agree. But by doing that, he’s created better balance for the top nine. Mats Zuccarello rejoins Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. Eric Staal gets real linemates in Oscar Lindberg and J.T. Miller. If he wants to extend the season, it’s advisable for AV to play the top three lines as much as possible. That means double shifting his best players. Shorten the bench.

As for the fourth line, Dominic Moore has been ineffective and looks old in this series. Tanner Glass has done his job but that doesn’t mean a whole lot because the team isn’t scoring. Viktor Stalberg rounds it out. I wouldn’t play the checking line more than 12 shifts. It’s about scoring early and getting to Matt Murray. If they don’t, you can forget about it.

Lastly and most importantly, Henrik Lundqvist needs a bounce back game. He can’t look mentally exhausted like Game 4. He is the best player on the team. He’s done it before to the Pens. Either he resembles the proven 34-year old with the track record or the season ends.

Here are my 3 key Rangers for winning Game 5 and saving their season:

1.Derick Brassard-absent last 2 games. He must score a big goal and be involved.

2.Chris Kreider-when he’s on, he impacts the game. Must hit the net and be on score sheet.

3.Rick Nash-I’ve felt he’s been our best forward. Needs to be the guy today.

Well, they drop the puck in 10 minutes or 15 or whatever because it’s NBC. We’ll see if your boys show up. It’s only their season on the line. Will they show urgency?

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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