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Rangers aim to tighten up in Game 2

by Dan Rosen

Brendan Shanahan would like to see the New York Rangers get back to playing the type of defense they did against the New Jersey Devils in the first round when they meet the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday afternoon in Game 2 of their series.
PITTSBURGH — The redundancy of the words being spoken inside the New York Rangers’ miniscule dressing room was a tell-tale sign that they’re a team that knows exactly why they lost Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

“We looked at some video today and I think defensively we just weren’t doing the things we were doing in the first round of the playoffs,” forward Brendan Shanahan said Saturday. “I don’t know if it’s from the time off, but it’s some little things like stopping and starting in our own end and being a little bit tighter in the neutral zone. We were a little bit fragmented defensively and sometimes that little inch here and there is enough to make a difference.”
For all that, Shanahan doesn’t believe the Rangers should at all feel robbed that their 3-0 lead, built less than 24 minutes into the game, evaporated and resulted in a heartbreaking 5-4 loss.

“Even though we were up 3-0, I don’t think we were playing our style of hockey,” Shanahan said. “We were thinking about playing offense instead of playing Rangers hockey, which is taking care of our own end first. I don’t think we were totally in sync defensively.”

Rangers hockey this season was all about defense. New York’s 2.32 goals-against average during the regular season led the Eastern Conference and was fourth overall in the League. They scored only 2.5 goals per game, good for 25th in the League.

However, in their last four playoff games, the Rangers have surrendered 15 goals after allowing just two in the first two games of the first round against the Devils.

The difference now is the Penguins have incredible quick-strike ability with their big guns, while the Devils were more of a defensive team. Even 3-0 leads, as the Rangers found out, are not safe against Pittsburgh.

“We were chasing each other up and down the ice,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “We have to lock it down, chip the puck in, and make them have to attack 200 feet rather than 100.”

The Rangers didn’t discount the notion that they took themselves out of their defensive-first system by building a 3-0 lead. Scoring goals became enticing, and that’s when sound defensive teams make mistakes — something that can become deadly against powerful offensive teams.

“It’s funny, we got a three-goal lead and it was dangerous because we wanted to get more now,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “I think if there is one thing our team is guilty of, it could be that.”

Added defenseman Michal Rozsival: “Maybe it was the mindset we had when we had a 3-0 lead. Definitely, I think we played a little undisciplined in our system. I can’t tell right away on the ice, but that’s my impression after watching the tape.”

The tape doesn’t lie. The Rangers know that, which is why they expect to be much better against the puck Sunday rather than with it. If they can somehow get the Penguins into a tight-checking game, it will play to their advantage.

A shootout? That’s not something these Rangers ever want to do again against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa and the rest.

“Obviously it’s enticing, but that’s where you have to be a mature team,” Shanahan said of getting into a shootout with the Penguins. “We can certainly get offense and promote offense while still having a third guy high. Sometimes the third guy high is the most dangerous offensive weapon, yet on a quick turnover he’s there to backcheck. We got away from that a couple of times last night and they burn you.”
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