Gene Collier: Rangers goal drought far from trivial


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NEW YORK -- Regardless of how it looked to an increasingly cranky Madison Square Garden sellout Monday night, the New York Rangers are not only fully conscious, but very much encouraged about the playoff series that resumes on the back end of this evening’s Manhattan rush hour.

All they’ve got to do to level this Metropolitan Division final at two games apiece, I kept hearing Tuesday, is to continue to do the little things well.

“Sometimes the result on the scoreboard is not gonna be there,” Rangers agitator Dominic Moore said. “You keep doing all these little things and playing the right way, playing the game we know we can. You just trust that things will turn out the way they should.

“We have a focus on doing the little things right. I thought we did the little things well in Game 3.”

They just didn’t do any of the big things well, like putting the puck in the net, which, despite galloping metric analysis, is still a pretty big thing, hockey-wise.

It has been a mere 120 minutes of ice time since a puck has gotten past Marc-Andre Fleury, which is, well, no little thing.

Whether the Penguins can grab this series by the throat tonight depends on what you consider the reality of New York’s situation, which very frankly lies somewhere between two distant spectral points of Rangers trivia.

The Blueshirts probably aren’t playing as well as some of them think and say they are, but they did outshoot the Penguins, 35-15, the other night, and 9-1 in the third period. Part of that had to do with the fact that the Penguins were being very, very careful with the two-goal lead their white-hot goalie was protecting, but this was the second game this postseason that the Rangers had held the opponent to only 15 shots.

That’s trivia point one: Prior to this postseason, the Rangers had not smothered a playoff opponent on as few as 15 shots in 40 years, or since April 25, 1974, in that game suffocating the Philadelphia Flyers.

Here’s trivia point two: Among the banners draped from the refurbished Garden’s ceiling is one honoring Elton John, whose 64 shows at the venue are the most by a single artist. The thing is, on those unequaled 64 performances in the world’s most famous arena, I’m pretty sure Sir Elton scored twice on the power play.

Yes, it’s comically bad right now, almost irredeemably 0-for-the-last-34 bad on the part of the Rangers, and 3 for 42 in the postseason, but to hear them tell it, well, here, hear them tell it.

“I don’t sense any frustration on our part,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We know the type of hockey we can play. I think we can do a better job with some of those looks. Coaches got together early [Tuesday] morning. Working on a few adjustments.

“It’s like Mario Lemieux told [Vigneault assistant and former Penguins player] Ulfie [Samuelsson Monday], ‘Anything Fleury can catch, he will.’ ”

I’m not sure the Penguins owner would much appreciate Vigneault trafficking in Lemieux quotes, but nobody’s going to talk the puck past Flower right now. Someone’s going to have to bang it through traffic, and, to his credit, Vigneault so far has blamed himself for being unable to find the right “trigger points.”

“I’m not worried,” veteran sniper Martin St. Louis said. “We have plenty of guys who can put the puck in the net and we’re going to keep working for it. You just stay at it. I think we’ve played a lot of hockey lately. We’re going to come [up] for air here, regroup a little bit and get ready for Game 4.”

The Rangers rang pucks off the goal cage thrice on five power plays Monday night. That’s one kind of thing that won’t go on forever.

“We should feel good because we got a lot of good looks,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We had the puck a lot more in their zone, a lot more possession. We have to continue to put more pucks to the net. It’s just a matter of crashing the net and making it hard on him as much as we can.”

The Rangers player who probably came closest to beating Fleury in Game 3 was Rick Nash, who represents the other thing that just can’t go on much longer. Nash is without a goal in 13 consecutive games, and, when he came hard at Fleury out of the right corner, it was evident how dangerous he can be.

“Rick is handling it as best as he can,” Vigneault said. “He’s a proud individual and a very hard-working guy. He knows for us to have success and win games and move forward, he has to find a way to contribute on the score sheet. He’s doing everything he possibly can to do that. He’s too good of a player for those good looks not to go in, sooner rather than later.”

Vigneault had no problem saying he thought the Rangers had the better of the play in “seven and a half” of this series’ nine periods so far (plus a brief overtime). That might come from some wishful analytics, but if he’s merely saying the Rangers won’t go quietly from this entanglement, I would say that’s right.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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