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Rangers not concerned with struggles at home

Believe playing at Madison Square Garden will be advantage against Canadiens in Game 3

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers players and coach Alain Vigneault talk as if their late-season problems winning at Madison Square Garden are behind them, as if the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs meant the end of something that as recently as two weeks ago was a huge concern.

"Everything that's happened before is erased," forward Rick Nash said.

It's fair to wonder if Nash and the Rangers actually believe that or if they're simply saying what they're supposed to be saying.

They have a chance to prove it one way or the other against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference First Round series on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, MSG). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

"We have a lot of confidence in this building and it hasn't changed because of our record," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said.

Their record at the Garden this season (21-16-4), especially in their past 10 games (2-5-3), including 0-5-3 from Feb. 21-March 31, suggests otherwise.

It has been a growing and unfriendly topic of conversation since Feb. 21, when the Rangers lost to the Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout, starting their eight-game home losing streak.

The Rangers won their last two regular-season home games, but now they're back here for the playoffs. And as much as they would like it to go away, the storyline is back.

"It doesn't [mean anything]," center Mika Zibanejad said. "I mean, we lost three [games] against Montreal in the regular season and it doesn't seem to matter now. We're 1-1 here."

True, but it doesn't help that the Rangers also have lost five straight home playoff games.

Their last home playoff win came in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. All they needed was one more win at the Garden in that series, including Game 7 at home, to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year. They lost 6-2 in Game 2 and then 2-0 in Games 5 and 7.

The Rangers lost both of their home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round last season.

"We get a chance now to really capitalize on a decent two games away in Montreal," Zibanejad said. "We're excited to be back home. I'm excited for [my] first playoff home game at MSG. I'm just really looking forward to it."

Part of the Rangers' struggles at home late in the regular season were mental. As their eight-game home losing streak built it became an elephant in the room every time they came back here.

The questions about it persisted and they were relevant because of how odd it was that Madison Square Garden didn't give the Rangers a home-ice advantage.

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Even when the Rangers would play well here, like they did against the Lightning on March 13 and the New York Islanders on March 22, they'd lose in regulation. They'd get the game to overtime, as they did against the Florida Panthers on March 17 and the Penguins on March 31, and still lose.

"We played some good hockey over that streak, we just didn't win," Vigneault said. "But we won our last two home games."

They ended their home losing streak with a 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 2, but that was closer than it needed to be. The Rangers had a 4-1 lead going into the last three minutes of the third period. The Flyers cut the deficit to one and had the puck as time expired.

The Rangers defeated the Penguins 3-2 on April 9, the last game of the regular season, but the Penguins played without several regulars, including Sidney Crosby. The Rangers dressed the majority of their regular lineup minus Henrik Lundqvist, with third-string goalie Magnus Hellberg getting his first NHL start.

"Hopefully it's not something that is stuck in our minds," McDonagh said of the issues at home late this season. "We can't allow it to be. We're a playoff team here and we have to use our strengths and confidence here and our crowd. I think that will help us play really well."

They better believe it.

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