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Coach says Rangers won't win if Nash slump persists

by Dan Rosen /

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has stressed the need for more from his top players but has done all he can do to avoid calling them out by name in his two sessions with the media since the end of a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final.

But Vigneault couldn't duck the obvious in his press conference Tuesday.

Asked specifically about slumping left wing Rick Nash, who has two goals on 50 shots in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Vigneault basically said the Rangers won't win if they don't get more out of the player who scored 42 goals in the regular season.

"He's working extremely hard, he's getting physically involved, he's getting some looks," Vigneault said of Nash. "Would I like him to finish on some of those looks? Yes. Do we need him to finish on those looks if we intend to win? Probably yes. He knows that. But this is a team game, a team concept. We need all to be better from our goaltender out. Our defensive group needs to be better. These guys (the Lightning) have obviously got great offensive lines and our forwards need to challenge their group, not just Rick Nash."

Nash might as well be one of two poster boys for the Rangers' offensive struggles in the playoffs. Forward Martin St. Louis, who has no goals through 14 games, is the other.

The Rangers have 28 goals in 14 playoff games, 24 in regulation. They are fourth in scoring by a wide margin among the four teams still playing.

The Lightning are first with 41 goals in 15 games, including 21 from their "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Johnson scored a shorthanded goal, a power-play goal and an even-strength goal for a hat trick in Game 2.

Game 3 will be played at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN).

Two of the biggest reasons the Rangers are still playing despite averaging two goals per game are goalie Henrik Lundqvist and their penalty kill. Neither was good enough in Game 2, a game that prompted captain Ryan McDonagh to use words like "embarrassing" and "selfish" in his postgame remarks.

"I was really just being honest," McDonagh said Tuesday. "An honest assessment of our performance. ... I've never seen the group play like that."

Lundqvist allowed six goals on 26 shots for his worst playoff performance since he gave up six on 30 shots in his debut on April 22, 2006.

Three of Tampa Bay's goals came on the power play, matching the number of power-play goals New York allowed in the first two rounds. The Lightning are 4-for-10 in the series.

One of Johnson's three goals came on a 5-on-3 shorthanded breakaway.

"It was such an uncharacteristic game, so in that aspect I don't think we do lose much confidence because we didn't stay within our structure that we talk about, and we didn't play the disciplined way, which is a foundation for us, we didn't defend the way we need to," McDonagh said. "So, yeah, it's tough because it's uncharacteristic, but it at the same time it’s pretty clear-cut on what was the main reasons were for it. It's stuff that we can really control."

The pressure to control the game, to be perfect in all the areas McDonagh mentioned as well as strong on special teams (New York was 2-for-5 on the power play in Game 2 and is 4-for-14 in its past four games) wouldn't be so great if the Rangers could score more at 5-on-5.

They have 20 goals at 5-on-5 in the playoffs, an average of 1.42 per game. They averaged 2.21 goals at 5-on-5 in the regular season (182 in 82 games).

The Rangers' margin for error has been razor thin throughout the playoffs, evidenced by their 13 consecutive games decided by one goal before Game 2. They were 9-4 in those games, including 7-2 in games decided by a 2-1 score.

If the Rangers learned anything Monday it's that the Lightning will make it harder on them to survive and advance if they don't start scoring three goals per game at the very least.

"It wasn't for lack of opportunities or looks [in Game 2]," McDonagh said. "Gotta find a way to take that next step and find a way to put it in the back of the net like they did. It's a good example of taking advantage of your opportunities and a lesson learned for sure."

"This series could wind up going south if we don't find a way to capitalize on our opportunities."


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