NEW YORK – New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t feel the need to impart a sense of urgency to his team.
Heading into Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to close out the club’s first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Rangers’ desperation shouldn’t be lacking.
“I got a feeling they know,” Vigneault said after practice Monday about the upcoming game’s implications. “It’s an opportunity for us to move on to the next round. There's not a player in that room that doesn’t want to do that.”
Even so, the Rangers recent inability to wrap things up quickly in the post-season does highlight some cause for concern. The Blueshirts have dropped 11 straight games with a lead in the series, an alarming statistic that underscores the team’s trouble with delivering the final dagger.
Knowing they still have a shot to win the series if it goes to Game 7, at Madison Square Garden no less, even if Philadelphia takes Game 6 doesn’t help matters. The Rangers will have to rely on veteran experience to avoid such a mental letdown.
“They’re going to be desperate and human nature is to say: ‘We’ve still got a chance if we lose. We still have another game’,” said alternate captain Brad Richards. “When that creeps into your mind, you don’t play as desperate as they will. They don’t have another chance. It’s really experience or going through it that you know how important it is to close this out.”
Though last spring the Rangers were unceremoniously bounced in the second round by the Boston Bruins, the Blueshirts went all the way to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, with their sights set on much more. The New Jersey Devils ultimately ended their Stanley Cup aspirations, and it was hard not to wonder if two seven-game series in the first two rounds -– both of which should’ve been handled much more expeditiously -– played a factor.
“I think our preparation will be better than two years ago for the guys that have gone through it and know how hard it is to finish out the series,” said Richards, who won a Stanley Cup Championship in Tampa Bay in 2004. “It’s always the hardest game to win.”
The Rangers have been the better team this series, outplaying Philly for the most part and dominating the puck possession game. Their goaltending has an irrefutable edge and their defense appears superior as well, especially given the Flyers’ loss of veteran blue-liner Nicklas Grossmann.
But the Flyers have not rolled over. That has not been their way this season, as they battled to overcome an atrocious 0-7-0 start that got their head coach Peter Laviolette fired just three games into the year, and they turned their season around to secure a post-season spot.
Wells Fargo Center, with its raucous crowd and ear-splitting atmosphere, will be no easy venue to complete the task, either.
“It’s tough,” said winger Carl Hagelin. “It’s a do-or-die for them, but we should have that mind-set, too.” In recent years, the Rangers haven’t had that mind-set. It's been costly. Learning from past mistakes may be this team’s most valuable lesson moving forward if they can spare themselves a Game 7 on back-to-back nights.
The Rangers have, for the most part, played a smart, simple game, which has aided their winning efforts even when they have failed to blow the doors off with offensive firepower. Sticking to that game-plan, and executing it for another 60-minute effort on Tuesday night will be the key.
“Playoffs, it’s a mind game. It’s all about controlling the mind,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “In a game where you can close a team out, you don’t want to think too much.”