The Rangers Defense Must Be Cemented By Friday


All’s not well with the Rangers; especially the defense and — for two games at least — Henrik Lundqvist.

With the Eastern Conference Final now tilted — two games to one — in Tampa Bay’s favor, Alain Vigneault‘s skaters must fix the goal dam that has burst around them.

Losing 6-2 at The Garden in Game 2 was bad enough, but collapsing 6-5 in sudden-death overtime on Wednesday night in Tampa Bay has stunned the New Yorkers to the core, and that goes for Ryan McDonagh as well.

“We provided them with quite a bit of chances,” lamented the captain. “We need to work on [this problem.]”

That opportunity will come on Friday night, as the Blueshirts attempt to reverse what is now an alarming trend; the Lightning’s ability to score so bountifully against Lundqvist.

The 6-5 overtime goal by Nikita Kucherov capped what could best be described as The Goaltender Follies. Ben Bishop was no bargain for the home club, but at least he got the W.

Making this defeat stick in the craw more than most is that it negated yet another New York eleventh-hour comeback.

Dan Boyle‘s late third-period score that tied the count at five apiece seemed to be the perfect entree to what loomed as yet another amazing Blueshirts comeback.

It also shoved back into the shadows a sparkling two-goal performance from right wing Jesper Fast who’s now regularly doing what had been expected from Rick Nash.

Again held without a goal, Nash is forcing the media microscope to zero in on him. The Big Fella, who was New York’s Red Light Menace all regular season, must start delivering on Friday.

Then again, you’ve heard that song before.

Nash’s counterpart on the Bolts, Steve Stamkos, got a big one for the Lightning after the Rangers jumped into an early 2-0 lead.

The Lightning’s captain still is remembered for going the entire first round without a goal. The Rangers know that the office of Stamkos, Inc. — down low on the left side — is regularly to be covered.

But now that Double S is scoring, the Blueshirts’ challenge to climb back into this series has become ever more serious. Plus, Tyler Johnson added to his heroics with yet another goal for the Bolts.

Another compelling case is ex-Rangers captain Ryan Callahan who was a 24-goal man for the Lightning during the regular season.

Returned from an appendectomy, Cally has sought to regain his scoring touch. If Ryan starts finding the back of the net — uh-ohfor the AV’s sextet.

But, really, heading into the Friday night affair, the real issue becomes Lundqvist  who has relinquished six goals in each of the last two games.

His Majesty’s 6.00 average over a pair of contests would seem to belong in Strange But True Hockey Stories. It is strange and, sorrowfully, true.

“The game was real challenging for me,” said King Henrik. “That is, the way they moved the puck and found open ice in the slot.

“I need to dig deep here to be more consistent. I have to be better. We will try to learn from it and move on.”

Henrik Lundqvist explains what happened on Nikita Kucherov's game-winning goal in overtime and how the Rangers plan to rebound after losing Game 3 to the Lightning.

Looking ahead to Game 4 on Friday night, the Blueshirts should be encouraged by the following:

  • JESPER FAST: Where Nash is failing in the Red Light Bureau, the Swedish right wing is coming of age faster than you can sayhooray.
  • THE COMEBACK: Granted that his club lost, but Dan Boyle seemed to have saved the game with his goal very, very late in the game. The defense is scoring; power plays are getting goals. And that ain’t hay.
  • BEN BISHOP: Even in winning two games, the Lightning’s goalie has been as vulnerable as Lundqvist. Bishop — not Lundqvist —  likely will continue to allow bad goals.

Alas, when it comes to what New York must do to tie the series, four obvious points say it all.

1. Lundqvist must re-find his confidence, adjust to a speedy, high-scoring team and fulfill his notices as a bounce-back goalie which he was not in Game 3.

2. New York’s defense, touted as among the best — if not the best — going into the playoffs, must tighten up big-time. There are no exceptions in this case, from the Captain on down.

3. Find a way to stop Tampa’s Triplets. Palat, Kucherov and Johnson have outshone the best forwards the Rangers have to offer. They’re a collection of Kid Lightnings but that does not mean that they cannot be deflated.

4. Nash, more than ever, must stimulate his game; however that may be.

It would be helpful if Vigneault found a way to break Jon Cooper’s code.

Conclusion: The Rangers have been in desperate straits before — and not very long ago. Each time they have shown the character and creativity to bounce back.

Soon we’ll see if they can pull that trick off again — against a team that so far has their number.

And can match their speed.