GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Regardless of whether New York Rangers coach John Tortorella is just trying to preserve some positivity around his club after a pair of losses in Boston, his message for how he feels going into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Bruins on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS) was crystal clear.
"I'm very optimistic as far as where we're going as a team here," Tortorella said following practice Monday.
The Rangers again find themselves in an 0-2 series hole coming back to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4. They dug out of it against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and won the series in seven games, but no team in NHL history has won back-to-back series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing the first two games.
"We've been here before," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "We're playing a good team, but we're confident that we can turn this around. That's our mindset. It has to be. To come home to play in our own building, I think we'll be better."
If they are going to be good enough to win Game 3, here are five things the Rangers must do:
1. Handle Boston's speed
The Bruins scored their last three goals in Game 2 because they transitioned from defense to offense with a lot of speed and the Rangers essentially backed off, creating problems with their gaps and coverages in front of Lundqvist. It came as a surprise to Tortorella after he broke down the game film because it's not something he typically sees from his team.
"We made some mistakes that we very rarely do on simple coverage," Tortorella said. "I mean, the third and fourth goals, they're simple coverages and we beat ourselves. I'm not disrespecting Boston by any means, but we hurt ourselves in our play away from the puck and I think that's one of the biggest strengths we have. I'm very confident we'll get back into that, and hopefully we'll continue the other part of the game."
The Rangers worked on their offense-to-defense transition game in practice Monday. They worked on getting the puck into the offensive zone, turning it over and backchecking like bandits to counter the Bruins' speed.
"Obviously we had a couple of breakdowns, losing coverage on the backcheck, stuff like that, stuff that is real easy to fix," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "That's the thing we worked on [Monday] in practice so no, I'm not worried about that part."
But it's not just the defensemen. Rick Nash said the forwards have to do a better job backchecking to help the blueliners.
"Our forwards coming back have to pick up guys," Nash said. "Sometimes we're over-backchecking, sometimes not picking up their third or fourth guy. That's where we've got to correct some things."
They think they can.
"We feel we have covered those areas before and we just have to get back to that," Ryan McDonagh said.
Girardi was on the ice for all five Boston goals in Game 2. It definitely was a forgettable afternoon for the veteran blueliner.
He invaded Lundqvist's line of sight with screens on goals by Torey Krug and Johnny Boychuk. Gregory Campbell scored after Krug's shot from the point hit Girardi's skate. Brad Marchand beat Girardi badly to gain inside position for a re-direct from the slot. Instead of staying on his feet to potentially clear the puck away, Girardi slid through the slot and right out of position on Milan Lucic's goal.
Girardi finished minus-4 (he was on the ice for Nash's goal in the second period). It was the second minus-4 game of his career (March 26, 2009 at Atlanta).
"He's going to have a great game in Game 3," McDonagh told NHL.com.
McDonagh probably will get the opportunity to help Girardi. They were reunited as a pair at practice Monday after being split up for the two games in Boston.
3. Score on the power play
Say this much for the Rangers' power play in Game 2 -- at least it didn't generate any momentum for the Bruins. That's a small victory considering what happened in Game 1, when the Bruins' penalty killers generated at least as many quality scoring chances as the Rangers' power players.
So the power play appears to be getting better, with more zone time and better puck movement, but still is 0-for-8 in two games against the Bruins and 2-for-36 in the playoffs. It's still killing them.
"That's the obvious one," Nash said. "The power play has to be better. We have to create more opportunities off it, more momentum."
4. Help Hank
Lundqvist didn't attempt to make excuses for the five goals he allowed in Game 2.
"I could probably find excuses for the goals, but it's not going to help my game," Lundqvist said. "I just have to try to be better and work even harder to see pucks."
The Rangers could make it easier on him by getting out of his way and letting him see the shot. Sure, it goes against their philosophy, which is to block any shot they possibly can, but the problem in Game 2 was they were as guilty as the Bruins were of screening Lundqvist.
In particular, Girardi was in front of Lundqvist on two of the goals instead of working to clear the Bruins' player trying to be the screener. It makes it really hard for Lundqvist to track pucks when that is happening.
Twice in this series they have been beaten by two-man rushes by Patrice Bergeron and Marchand. Bergeron takes it at the defense, spreads wide and finds Marchand in the middle. The problem there is the Rangers are letting Marchand get position to receive the pass for a re-direct. The only way for Lundqvist to stop it is if he makes an unreal save.
5. Forecheck early and for 60 minutes
Ryan Callahan pointed to the first and second periods of Game 2 and said they were the Rangers' best in the playoffs so far because they were in on the forecheck and they were generating chances.
They never could get it going again in the third period after Marchand scored 26 seconds in.
"In the second period I felt like every one of my shifts I ended up in the offensive zone and that doesn't always seem to happen," McDonagh said. "We felt good going into the third and then they get that early goal, a little more confidence and it just didn't work out."
If the Rangers are going to win Game 3, they need to establish their forecheck early and stay relentless on it for the entire game. It's their bread and butter.
The way to do it is to play the way they did in the second period of Game 2, when they were winning battles off the dump-and-chase game. Eventually it opened the ice a bit for them and Nash was able to score off the rush.
"That's how we have to play to be successful," Callahan said.