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Rangers count on experience for boost vs. Senators in Game 6

New York leaning on veterans to extend series after overtime loss

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

"Average" and "experience" were the two words that stood out among those used by New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Sunday.

"Average" because that's how Vigneault felt some of his top players played in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday, when the Rangers lost 5-4 in overtime against the Ottawa Senators to fall behind 3-2 in the best-of-7 series. "Experience" because that's what the Rangers now have to lean on when they prepare for Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (TBD).

"There is no doubt in my mind [Saturday] that our players came with the best intentions, but we had too many guys that just brought an average game," Vigneault said. "At this time of the year against such a good opponent, and all opponents right now that are in the playoffs are good teams, you can't bring an average game to the table."

Forward Rick Nash did not have a point and was limited to two shots on goal. Forward Chris Kreider had no points and three shots. He had a breakaway at 9:02 of the third period, but couldn't convert. Center Derek Stepan had an assist, but played on the periphery too much and was 9-of-22 on faceoffs.

Video: OTT@NYR, Gm4: Anderson robs Nash with blocker

Center Mika Zibanejad had no points and was 8-for-23 on faceoffs. Forward J.T. Miller couldn't back up his performance in Game 4, which was arguably his best game in the playoffs. He was minus-2 with no shots on goal.

Forward Mats Zuccarello was minus-1 with two shots on goal. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored one goal but was on the ice for two by Ottawa, including Kyle Turris' in overtime. McDonagh's partner, Dan Girardi, was beaten by Turris on that overtime goal.

Henrik Lundqvist gave up five goals on 37 shots, including four on 31 in regulation. He has allowed 11 goals on 71 shots in the past two games in Ottawa, including three goals in the final four minutes.

"I don't want to single out those players, but for whatever reason we had quite a few that had an average game," Vigneault said. "It was not an appropriate time. There's nothing we can do about it. What we can do is get ready for Tuesday's game and make sure that we have a real strong game."

Experience will help them do that, Vigneault said.

The Rangers have an abundance of experience. No team has played more Stanley Cup Playoff games than the Rangers' 61 under Vigneault since 2014.

Lundqvist is the Rangers' all-time leader in postseason games played with 127. Girardi is the franchise leader among skaters (forwards or defensemen) with 121 games played, including 110 in a row. Marc Staal has played in 103, Stepan in 96 and McDonagh in 95. Nash and Kreider have each played in 76.

Video: NYR@OTT, Gm5: Lundqvist shuts down Ryan's rush

Vigneault said he leans on Staal and Girardi along with McDonagh and Brendan Smith in key situations, such as late in games when the Rangers are trying to protect a lead, more than Nick Holden (17 playoff games) and Brady Skjei (16) because of their experience.

It hasn't worked out; the Rangers have allowed 6-on-5 game-tying goals late in regulation three times in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with either Staal or Girardi on the ice for each. That doesn't mean the coach will stop trusting them.

"They've been through the games and the battles and the change of momentums," Vigneault said. "These guys have seen it before and in the past a lot of times they've responded real well. So, [I] put a lot of faith and trust in how they're going to play in those pressure situations and that's it. I've got a lot of faith in these guys' abilities to get it done."

They've gotten it done along with Lundqvist, McDonagh, Stepan, Nash and Kreider a lot when faced with adversity in the playoffs. All but Nash were part of the rally against Ottawa in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, when the Rangers won Games 6 and 7 to win the series.

They were all part of it when the Rangers won three straight games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014 after falling behind 3-1 in the second round. They did the same thing to the Washington Capitals in the second round in 2015.

"They have to use this experience right first of all to get themselves ready to go out on the ice and execute and play hard and play well," Vigneault said. "If they do, then it's definitely in my mind going to rub off on the rest of our group that might have a little less experience but are leaning on those players to show them the way."

The Rangers also remember how they played in Games 3 and 4 against the Senators at the Garden. They dominated those games, pushing through the neutral zone with speed, having no problem with the Senators 1-3-1 setup. They won each game 4-1 and had 4-0 leads in each.

"We'll look to do the same," Staal said. "Come back in our building and play our best hockey."

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