Tonight, the Rangers face all the pressure in a elimination Game 6 at home against the Senators. They have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament.
A second round series that should be over isn’t due to their ineptitude at protecting one goal leads late in regulation in Games 2 and 5. They have given up three tying goals with the opponent pulling the goalie for a six-on-five.
Whether you want to pin it all on Alain Vigneault or the players, it doesn’t matter. Fact is the execution was off in the final minute and a half in Games 2 and 5. It comes down to the five players and Henrik Lundqvist failing to close it out.
It’s easy to say the coach chose the wrong personnel in Game 5. However, who exactly has gotten it done in that spot? It’s up to the goalie who gets paid $8.5 million to keep pucks out and seal the deal. Lundqvist hasn’t played well in this series. He hasn’t had the same consistency like when he outplayed Carey Price in the first round. He must be better or there won’t be any hope of a comeback.
Derek Stepan can’t be floating around tonight if they want to win. The four points he has aren’t enough. From a consistency standpoint, he hasn’t been good. That includes defensively where he’s been frequently caught out of position such as Clarke MacArthur’s open shot which created Derick Brassard’s odd tying goal that took a good bounce off two players before slipping past Lundqvist with Marc Staal kneeling. Why do players do that?
This is about the team playing like the one we saw in Games 3-4. It’s about their best players stepping up. Not just Lundqvist, Stepan or Staal. But Chris Kreider doing more than having a couple of big shifts. J.T. Miller reminding us who he was this season.
You expect Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to bring it because they don’t know any other way.
They could use one of Mika Zibanejad’s big shots to hit the net and beat ex-teammate Craig Anderson. They could use Kevin Hayes to continue his play from Game 5 when he was better recording a pair of assists and nearly a third on a close call from Michael Grabner.
You expect Jesper Fast and the fourth line to do their part. They’ll bring the work ethic that has been lacking from the more talented players. You also figure to get a more inspired game from Staal and partner Nick Holden, who was a lot better than the veteran the other day.
If Brady Skjei is going well with Brendan Smith, then Vigneault must play both even if that means sending Skjei out in the final frantic five minutes to protect a lead. At this point, do whatever it takes. There is no tomorrow.
They want to be successful and force Game 7. That means not showing too much respect for Erik Karlsson. It means putting a body on J.G. Pageau. Limiting turnovers and Kyle Turris’ time and space. The same for Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan.
Do it and they’ll be fine. Do it not and there won’t be another game. They can’t just rely on MSG. They must rely on themselves. Play as a team.