GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Through the first three games of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bruins, the Rangers have spoken expansively about the need to get their forecheck going.
There have been times when it has clicked, but it certainly hasn’t worked in any sustainable way. That is one key reason New York finds itself on the brink of elimination.
Coming back from an 0-3 deficit is a daunting prospect, but the Rangers’ goal is to take one shift at a time, one period at a time, and hope to build on that during Game 4 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Their best chance to snap out of their offensive doldrums is to work smarter in the attacking zone.
“It’s one-on-one battles, turning your back on a puck, just sustaining hardness on a puck,’’ said coach John Tortorella. “I think we need to be more consistent there. I don’t think it’s an effort [issue], but I think there are levels of effort. I think we need to be more desperate in those areas.’’
In Game 3, the Rangers managed to take the lead on Taylor Pyatt’s second-period goal, but the Bruins’ fourth line generated a pair of third-period tallies to negate the outstanding play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers have averaged 1.66 goals per game, which isn’t going to win you many contests.
“I think our team is working hard, but we’re down, 0-3,’’ said Tortorella. “So we have to figure out another way to get to another level.’’
It doesn’t appear the Rangers have had the necessary level of desperation in the latter stages of games. Some of that, obviously, is the masterful job the Bruins are doing of defending in their own zone. But some of it is that the Rangers need to manufacture more determination with the game on the line.
Tortorella wants to see more desperation “in all regards, in all facets of our game. We’ve played good minutes but certainly not enough good ones consistently enough to beat a team like this.
“It’s hard to make the playoffs, it’s hard to win the first round. We’ve done that. You go to the next round, you’re playing better teams and more balanced teams, so your level of play has got to [rise]. I think it is for a few minutes but certainly not enough within a game.’’
The Rangers lost the services of mobile defenseman Anton Stralman, who was leveled by mammoth Bruins forward Milan Lucic in the second period of Game 3.
If Stralman can’t return for Game 4, Tortorella said, it will be incumbent upon others to step up their game.
“We’re down, 0-3, there’s no sense of feeling pressure,’’ he said. “Players that get to play [Thursday], and play more minutes than maybe they’re used to, in that case grab a hold of it and let it happen. Crap, if you lose, you’re done.
“That’s what I’m hoping for and I believe we will get from some of our guys.’’
One player who was particularly hard on himself after Game 3 was center Brian Boyle, who lamented his struggles in the faceoff circle. He won more than he lost in the first two outings (22-19) but Tuesday night was a disaster, as he lost all but four of the 21 draws he took.
If they are going to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Rangers are going to have to be much better in all the fundamental areas of the ice. They will need to prevent the Bruins from wheeling all over the ice with the puck.
“What has hurt us, not only forechecking, but I think having the puck more, it starts with getting the puck from the other team and that’s where we’ve struggled a little bit with our coverages in our end zone as far as them sustaining in the battles there,’’ said Tortorella.
“But again, not to enhance Boston, but they’re a pretty good team, too. That’s a big part of their game.
“At times we’re good at it, but we’re just not consistent enough. We’re trying to forecheck but you have to play good defense to get anywhere in playoffs and to even think about winning a championship.
“You have to play good defense. It’s not being just a defense-orientated team, it’s playing good, strong defense and I don’t think we’ve done that consistently.’’
Tortorella expects the leadership to shine through, as well as the innate character of his players. He promises they will lay it out there in an effort to extend their season.
“I like our team, we’ve got good people there,’’ said the coach. “We need to have more people playing more minutes consistently but I like the team.
“We’ll be ready to play. I hope we get to another level of desperation. That’s just not running around all over the place, it’s about winning those battles at key times, those neutral-zone battles. Just so we can try to turn the territorial part of the game around.’’