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Rangers not ignoring home struggles entering Game 7

by Dan Rosen /

TAMPA -- If players and coaches truly believe that statistics from previous games don't matter once they get to Game 7, then the New York Rangers have to be as willing to throw away the numbers that show how they've been almost unbeatable when facing elimination as they are those that show how they've been largely ineffective at Madison Square Garden against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Since nobody seems willing to forget that the Rangers are 15-3 when facing elimination since 2012, 6-1 in Game 7s with Henrik Lundqvist as their goalie, and 7-0 in Game 7s at home, nobody can ignore the fact that they have scored four goals in three home games against the Lightning heading into Game 7 at the Garden on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The best-of-7 series is tied 3-3; the road team has won four of the six games. The Rangers are 2-1 with 17 goals at Amalie Arena; they're 1-2 with four goals at the Garden.

"It should be the other way around, but we're a pretty good road team," Rangers center Derick Brassard said.

The Rangers set a franchise record with 28 road wins in the regular season. They are 5-3 on the road in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Those are two stats that are in fact meaningless and can be forgotten heading into Game 7.

"It seems like we don't have anyone to impress [on the road]," Brassard said. "Maybe at home we're trying to impress our fans, trying to impress people."

The Lightning might be guilty of the same thing. They have clearly played a much better defensive game, particularly in their 2-0 win in Game 5, at Madison Square Garden as opposed to Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop has a .957 save percentage and 1.34 goals-against average at MSG in the series; he has an .808 save percentage and 5.27 GAA at home.

That, plus the fact that Bishop is 6-1 with a .945 save percentage and 1.42 GAA in games after a loss in the playoffs, suggests to the Rangers that they better not forget about their offensive struggles at home in this series.

Forgetting in this instance would be equivalent to ignoring, or worse yet, not working to fix it. That's not the Rangers' M.O.

"I'm very confident that our group is going to go on the ice, make the plays that need to be made against such a strong opponent," New York coach Alain Vigneault said. "There are some plays that we know we need to make against that team to have success, and hopefully we'll be able to execute them."

Vigneault didn't elaborate, but he might be talking about plays with and without the puck through the neutral zone, which has been an important area of the ice in this series. He might also be talking about quick passes out of the defensive zone so the Rangers don't get caught in a turnover situation against the Lightning's forecheck.

The Rangers have been better in those areas on the road against the Lightning. They have by no means been great because the Lightning have still pushed hard for long stretches.

Tampa Bay had 19 shots on goal in the second period of Game 4, and 13 shots on goal and several odd-man rushes in the second period of Game 6. Lundqvist stood tall against each of those surges, and the Rangers responded with a flurry of goals.

They scored five goals in the third period of Game 6; that's one more than they've scored in nine periods at the Garden in the series.

"It seems like we know when we're [in Tampa] we're going to get a big push from the other team, and we're going to make sure we're defensively sound," Rangers left wing Rick Nash said. "I think sometimes at MSG, we're just worried about getting offense, getting opportunities, getting chances, and then we get exposed defensively."

To avoid that happening again, the Rangers have to bring their road attitude into their home building. It's not going to be easy to do because it's Game 7, and the Garden crowd will be amped up and the Rangers will be riding that adrenaline.

But to ignore how they got to this point and instead just rely on the fact that their experience suggests they'll win would be a critical error in judgment.

"We just have to show up Friday and play the same way [as we did in Game 6], be confident," Brassard said. "They're going to be loud. The atmosphere's going to be great, and we just have to take those emotions and put it in a good way."


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