In a game the New York Rangers knew they had to have in order to regain precious momentum in their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the star players were unable to come through in the clutch.
That was the main talking point following New York's 4-2 defeat in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and a theme that continued during the team's optional skate at its training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., on Thursday afternoon.
The only player absent was left wing Carl Hagelin. Coach Alain Vigneault said Hagelin is fine and should be in the lineup for Game 5 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS), with the Rangers down 3-1 in the series and facing Stanley Cup Playoff elimination.
The coach also shuffled his line combinations at the skate. According to The (Bergen) Record, Derek Stepan was centering the top line with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, and Brad Richards centered a line with Rick Nash and Daniel Carcillo, who might very well have been holding a placement for Hagelin.
"I'm looking at all possibilities right now," Vigneault told The Record. "We've had a fair amount of success by being consistent [with the line combinations]. With [Kreider] coming in [for Game 4], we basically mixed two lines; [Kreider] went in on one and we took Marty [St. Louis] off that line. So we did make some changes [Wednesday] and those didn't work out to our advantage. So we've got the whole night to think about it and try and come up with a plan."
The changes were expected following the loss Wednesday when Richards, St. Louis, Stepan and Nash combined for no points, seven shots and a minus-2 rating.
"We didn't throw the kitchen sink at them and we're sitting in here confused today," Richards said. "That's one game probably in the last 30 or 40 that we've played that badly all over the ice."
Most of the fan frustration was directed at Nash, who now has two goals in 27 career playoff games and just one goal in 23 postseason games with the Rangers. Still, it should be noted the Rangers generated a season-low 15 shots and Nash had four of them, so he isn't the sole culprit of this sudden state of confusion.
"You know, we're putting him in situations where he's had success," Vigneault said of Nash. "He's getting great looks. We've just got to stick with him and, hopefully, he'll be able to come out of this funk."
The Rangers also committed 25 turnovers and were dominated in the faceoff circle. They were once a team that looked so strong 5-on-5 against the Philadelphia Flyers in a first-round series triumph, but have been anything but against the Penguins, who have outscored them 11-5 in four games.
Then there's the power play, which continues to inexplicably provide the opposition with momentum, now having gone without a goal in 36 straight opportunities. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has played well in stretches of this series, but his counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury is playing better.
"[Lundqvist] is like the rest of our team; he's going to focus on [Friday] and he's going to come up with his best game," Vigneault said.
Defensively, Ryan McDonagh notched his first point of the playoffs in Game 4, an assist on Carl Hagelin's goal that at the time pulled the Rangers into a 1-1 tie 5:30 into the second period. But McDonagh now has one assist and a minus-5 rating in 11 postseason games after producing 14 goals, 43 points and a plus-11 rating in 77 regular-season games.
"Ryan hasn't had, he'd be the first to say, the playoffs to his expectations and to ours," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's got an opportunity [on Friday] to change that."
The Rangers have never rallied from a 3-1 series deficit.
"[On Wednesday], a lot of our mistakes were execution, and our execution, we've proven in the past, can be a lot better than it was, and that's what we're banking on," Vigneault said. "We've been a solid road team all year long. We've been able to win in that building, so we need to win one game and that's what we're going to try to do."