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For Rangers, home is where heartache is

New York has best road mark in NHL but can't figure out formula for success at Madison Square Garden

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The New York Rangers return to their house of agony Wednesday. They better figure out how to turn Madison Square Garden into a house of comfort soon.

The Rangers' next chance to end their slump on home ice comes against the New York Islanders (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). They are 0-4-2 in their past six games at MSG and 19-15-3 there this season.

To put it in perspective, the Rangers haven't won at home since Feb. 19. They are 6-9-2 at home since Jan. 1, and that includes a five-game home winning streak from Feb. 5-19.

"You can't fix the big problem in one game," Rangers forward J.T. Miller said following a 3-2 overtime loss against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Tuesday.

At least Miller admits the Rangers have a big problem.

Their inability to make home ice an advantage is the only reason they haven't been able to keep up with the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division.

 

[RELATED: Henrik Lundqvist to play this weekend for Rangers]

 

The Rangers lead the NHL with 26 road wins but are fourth in their division, six points out of third place. But their road record is the only reason they're in position to be the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Maybe in the end it will be better for them to cross over to the Atlantic Division so they get out of the Capitals-Penguins-Blue Jackets gauntlet. But maybe it won't matter if they don't start winning at home.

"We have to find our stride at home," forward Rick Nash said.

What's happening to the Rangers is similar to what the San Jose Sharks went through last season, when they led the NHL with 28 road wins but were tied for 23rd with 18 at home. The Sharks couldn't figure why they couldn't play with the same energy at home as they did on the road.

"It was odd," San Jose center Joe Pavelski said.

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They at least figured it out in the playoffs and went 8-3 at SAP Center before losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Penguins.

It wouldn't be shocking for the Rangers to do the same, but they'd make it a lot easier on themselves if they figured it out now as opposed to trying to do it in the Eastern Conference First Round.

"If we have the answers we'd switch it right up," Nash said. "But we've talked about it for well over a month now."

A lot of that talk has been about the mental part of the game. It's messing with the physical part.

"I feel like we try to be too cute at home," Nash said. "We don't get on the forecheck. We're always trying to make the nice play. On the road we keep it simple, we rely on our forecheck, we rely on the other team making turnovers."

General manager Jeff Gorton echoed a similar sentiment earlier this month, before the Rangers' home woes continued with losses against the Tampa Bay Lightning (3-2 March 13) and Florida Panthers (4-3 in a shootout March 17).

"We never really get rattled [on the road]," Gorton said. "At home sometimes on a bad power play, two bad power plays, and momentum shifts the other way. It's tough. The crowd, they want to see you win and the snowball gets bigger, bigger and bigger."

The Rangers have been booed off the ice at MSG. It's hard to blame the fans. Expectations are high. They want results.

And now it seems to be messing with the Rangers' heads. Minutes before calling it the big problem, Miller said the home record is not something the Rangers will worry about going into their game against the Islanders.

How does a team not worry about its biggest problem?

"We have to try to go in there and treat it like another game and just have a good start," Miller said. "You can't look past that, look at the second, third and the outcome. You have to worry about a good start and get the momentum in the game."

But the Rangers have been able to grab momentum by scoring first in three of their past four home games. They had a 2-0 lead against the Panthers on Friday. It still didn't lead to two points.

It's not getting easier, either.

Enter the Islanders, a team fighting to stay in the playoff race. They are three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs play at the Blue Jackets on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-O, NHL.TV).

"Every game is being approached as the biggest game for us," defenseman Travis Hamonic told the Islanders website.

The Rangers can't say the same thing and mean it. It's not their biggest game. It's not even close. Coach Alain Vigneault accurately points out they haven't clinched a playoff berth yet, but they have 16-point cushion on the Islanders. It's a matter of time.

So to manufacture the intensity necessary to compete with the desperate Islanders, the Rangers will try to turn to the rivalry angle.

They don't need to. Just getting a win at home should be enough motivation. That they haven't had one in more than a month should make the Rangers desperate to end the agony.

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