Dejected Rangers vow to go out swinging

NEW YORK -- Maybe it was to serve as a reminder of what they are still playing for heading into Game 4. Maybe it was simply an oversight, a function of a bleary-eyed staff misplacing a rug in the aftermath of yet another demoralizing loss.

The New York Rangers’ logo was left uncovered Tuesday, spanning a wide swath of their immaculate dressing room floor.

And when people began trampling over the pristine patch of carpet -- a forbidden act among hockey purists -- there wasn’t even a forceful, threatening warning to stay off (this is the norm), just one respectful plea.

Is this the way the Rangers will go out? Without putting up a fight?

When players dutifully faced the media Tuesday afternoon in the wake of a 3-0 shutout loss in Game 3 the night before -- a defeat that leaves them trailing 3-0 in their Stanley Cup finals series against the Los Angeles Kings -- optimism was in short supply.

Sure, players talked about the belief that remains, the adversity already vanquished in what has been an emotional spring. But platitudes and clich├ęs aside, it wasn’t hard to discern how the Rangers were feeling.

It was evident on their faces, their measured words, their slightly slumping shoulders. Despondent. Sullen. Defeated.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” de facto captain Brad Richards said. “It’s pretty much impossible to be upbeat.”

Richards was only saying what was abundantly clear. The sense of regret, frustration, anger even, was hanging thick in the air Tuesday. The team is tired, frustrated and staring at a daunting task ahead. They are in no mood for positivity and they will make no apologies about that.

“We’re down 3-0. We’re all lacking sleep. This is tough,” said an agitated coach Alain Vigneault. “Excuse us if today we’re not real cheery. But tomorrow, I can tell you we’re going to show up.”

No griping about puck luck or bad bounces. No excuses, period. Henrik Lundqvist has to play lights-out. Rick Nash has to finish. Richards has to lead, not just off the ice, but on it as well.

The Rangers will have to show up and more Wednesday against a Kings team waiting and willing to pounce, ready to shove their second Stanley Cup championship in three years down the Blueshirts' throats. No doubt the Kings can sense the fragility in the opposing dressing room. They can understand it, too, considering seven weeks ago the Kings were in the same position, trailing the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in their first-round series.

So they will show no mercy to the battered Blueshirts, and the Rangers have to be similarly unwilling to budge.

“We don’t want to end our season losing a game at home and give the Stanley Cup to their team,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “It’s not going to happen that way.”

The Rangers will have to remember that logo, what it means and what it represents, when they don the sweater in Game 4 and try to avoid a sweep at the Kings' hands on home ice. No matter how surprising and successful this run has been for the team, a sweep carries both stigma and shame. It would cast a dark shadow over what has otherwise been a sensational, inspiring postseason.

Now, it must come down to nothing more than pride. Pride in the logo, pride in their performance, pride in one another.

“We definitely don’t want to get swept in the Stanley Cup finals, and we don’t want to lose in front of our home fans, either,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “That’s not the way we want to go out.”