As coaching challenges go, Alain Vigneault now is confronted with one of the most pressing of his long major league career, which began 20 years ago.
Having watched his Rangers give up another late-game lead on Saturday, the coach must orchestrate a victory on Tuesday night at The Garden against Ottawa or the Blueshirts season will disappointingly be over.
None of this is breaking news to A.V. After two decades in the business, he knows the score.
What remains to be determined is precisely how he compensates for the manner in which his team responds and wants the game as much as his foe — if not more.
After all, on Saturday, the Senators rebounded in Game 5 from a 2-0 deficit in the first period to take the lead. Then he watched a back-and-forth match with his club nursing a lead in the final moment; the tying goal, eventually leading to the sudden-death loss.
During a conference call Sunday, Vigneault addressed a number of pertinent issues that will determine the Rangers fate in their three-games-to-two deficit with their backs to the playoff wall.
Most pertinent of all was — and is — the issue of getting more mileage, effort and production from those who have delivered the goods before. Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad were names brought up to A.V. by a questioner.
“I don’t want to single out anyone,” he insisted, “but (on Saturday) we had too many playing just an average game. (On Tuesday) They can’t bring an average game to the table.
“For us to win, we have to execute and play to our level. We have experienced players but experience is good only if they’re playing well.”
Vigneault said he expected to be “rolling four lines and six defensemen” before the home crowd.
He allowed that the spate of losses at The Garden late in the regular season was an aberration and that he expects the capacity crowd to ignite his skaters.
“We’ve always been a good home team in front of our great fans,” he said. “In Ottawa, we played pretty good hockey in spurts.”
Questioned about such defense veterans as Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh using their experience to rub off on the younger players, A.V. acknowledged that players on his roster have competed in the Olympics and World Cup games.
“Our vets have a lot of experience,” he replied, “but they have to use this experience right — play hard and play well. Do that and it will rub off on those with less experience. They must get ready and be sure they play a strong game.”
When I asked Vigneault what positives he extracted from what was a (Saturday) game with only a goal difference, he responded, that there were bright moments.
“It was a close game and we had chances to close it out (J.T. Miller‘s hit crossbar and Michael Grabner‘s disallowed high-stick goal). When we were down 3-2 we played some of our best hockey. But now we need quite a few to perform better.
“Our team now has an opportunity to respond to a pressure situation. We have to control all the elements we can control.”
Another reporter asked whether A.V. believed that Henrik Lundqvist puts too much pressure on himself in the sudden-death periods; and was that a factor in overtime losses?
Vigneault: “Henrik wants to excel anywhere he plays. He’ll be getting ready to perform well at home.”
Reflecting for a moment on Game 5, the coach acknowledged that on Saturday his club moved closer to the playoff precipice.
“At the end of the day,” A.V. averred, “you have to give the Senators credit for playing a good game.”
Can his team win Game 6 at home? The Maven has the answer:
Why not? They did it before and they can do it again.
“For us,” Vigneault repeated, “it’s a matter of playing to our level.”