To-do list for rangers in game 5: get the offense untracked
Two remarkable statistics: The Rangers are 0-7 during the Stanley Cup playoffs when they have a series lead; 9-1 when a series is tied.
Those records suggest that the Rangers and Coach John Tortorella will have an effective response for the Devils on Wednesday night in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden after they were tactically outfoxed in Monday’s 4-1 loss in Newark.
Still, Tortorella seemed at a loss Tuesday about how to ignite his slumbering offense.
”Pray,” Tortorella said. ”I don’t know what else to tell you. We’re going to have to keep on trying to play, pray, and, hopefully, something good happens tomorrow.”
The Rangers will need more than divine intervention and the resilience that Tortorella said ”defines our team” if they are to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Rangers, though, have one player they can always count on, the superb Henrik Lundqvist. He has stopped 280 of 290 shots in the 10 playoff games when a series is tied, a remarkable .966 save percentage.
Lundqvist said he did not feel the weight of carrying his team. ”I feel more excited,” he said.
In Game 4, the Devils tied their highest single-game output this postseason. Coach Peter DeBoer shuffled lines, reuniting Dainius Zubrus with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, a successful combination from years past. DeBoer moved Ilya Kovalchuk down to the second line, shuttled Patrik Elias from center to wing, benched Petr Sykora and inserted Jacob Josefson.
Tortorella’s tactics? He put Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel on the ice late in the game to rough up the Devils to, as they say in hockey, send a message.
”It’s a series,” Tortorella said.
On Tuesday, Tortorella’s invocation of prayer was hardly the sum total of his strategic approach. The Rangers had planned an optional practice, but instead they staged a full, energetic 40-minute session, while across the Hudson the Devils stayed off the ice.
The Rangers’ practice was preceded by a lengthy meeting. No video of the 4-1 loss was shown, however, because the key after suffering a debacle, Tortorella said, was to ”move by it; you need to have a short-term memory.”
Brandon Prust skated, having served his one-game suspension for elbowing Anton Volchenkov in Game 3. He will be back for Game 5, probably replacing Bickel.
Brandon Dubinsky and Mats Zuccarello — both nearly recovered after long injury absences — also skated, raising the possibility that one might replace John Mitchell, who has no goals and one assist in 18 playoff games. Tortorella declined to say whether they would be available to help counter the Devils’ consistent territorial advantage.
”We don’t have the puck enough,” Tortorella said. ”Jersey has the puck a lot more minutes than we do. I think that’s something we need to try to change.” He said the Rangers needed to get out of their own end cleanly and maintain possession of the puck in the Devils’ end.
There is also the scoring brownout among the Rangers’ top six forwards. Chris Kreider has scored three goals in the series and Ryan Callahan an empty-netter. Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin have none.
Presumably, the Rangers will have a response beyond simply putting Rupp out to punch Martin Brodeur. Rupp took a swipe at Brodeur on Monday night as he skated to the penalty box for roughing defenseman Peter Harrold.
”I just responded in that moment,” Rupp said Tuesday in his first public comment since the incident. ”It was just a reaction.”
Rupp said he was surprised that he was called for roughing on what he thought was a clean check. He was asked if should let go of the need to be emotional on the ice.
”I don’t really feel like it’s anything I need to let go, or our team needs to let go,” he said, adding that the Rangers would need ”more than incidents like that” to win.
”We know what we’ve got in this room,” Rupp said. ”We just have to get to our game. That’s our goal.”
That approach worked against Ottawa and Washington. The Devils are a different story. Callahan said Tuesday they’re ”probably the hardest forechecking team” the Rangers have faced this spring.
”I knew that they would come harder than the other two teams we played in the playoffs,” Lundqvist said.
But Lundqvist was upbeat. ”It’s 2-2, conference final, two out of three at home,” he said. ”We feel pretty good. We should see this as a great opportunity to do something right.”
The N.H.L. announced the schedule for the Stanley Cup finals, which will begin May 30 at the home of the Eastern Conference champion. The Rangers and the Devils had more regular-season points than Los Angeles and Phoenix, giving the East winner home-ice advantage.
PHOTO: The Devils’ Zach Parise, left, and the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan battling for the puck in Game 4. (PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)
Late Edition – Final
By JEFF Z. KLEIN