Here’s my column from The Journal News and lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
It’s now or never for the Rangers.
Forget about the ridiculous schedule and the excuse of fatigue, however legit it might be. Forget about the power play struggles (is that even a strong enough word anymore?), forget about waiting for Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis to do what they’re supposed to do, forget about the number of shots on goal.
Just win. Get it done. Or prepare for an unpleasant handshake.
The Rangers must win Game 4 at the Garden on Wednesday night to even the series at 2-2, because — though it’s been done, and done plenty over the last 25 years — they are not coming back from 3-1 down against this Pittsburgh team.
They just aren’t.
On the other hand, even it up and it’s anybody’s series.
The Rangers have so many holes in their lineup, in their game, and the Penguins have patched and fixed so many holes in theirs. Sidney Crosby has played the last two games like the best player in the world, which he is. Marc-Andre Fleury has played the last two games like Henrik Lundqvist.
And still … coach Alain Vigneault is absolutely correct that despite the witness-protection status of his top scorers, despite the embarrassing 0-for-34 power play, despite the better goalie not being better, despite multiple blunders (like the three breakaways immediately following failed power plays), the Rangers have not been outplayed, or at least not by much, in seven of the nine regulation periods. And they won the brief overtime in Game 1.
That said, they also have not outplayed the Penguins by any significant margin since the first period of the first game.
The Rangers took the day off Tuesday, after playing five in seven days, six in nine. Vigneault thought the three guys inserted into the lineup (Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, Raphael Diaz) brought energy and fresh legs. But he didn’t commit to keeping any of them in the lineup for Game 4.
He even said that Chris Kreider, whose speed, shot and size are sorely missed, was to see a doctor “shortly … and I think we’re going to know in a short time frame — I don’t know if short is a day or a couple” about his return.
“He would bring a lot to our lineup, there’s no doubt there,” Vigneault added.
In Game 3, a 2-0 loss, the Rangers hit three pipes behind Fleury, who has not allowed a regulation goal in eight periods.
“It was a much better effort in terms of making life harder for him,” Brian Boyle said. “He answered though.”
Vigneault said Penguins owner Mario Lemieux told his longtime teammate and friend, Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson, “anything Fleury can catch he will catch.”
“So,” Vigneault said, “maybe if we stay away from that mitt a little bit our chances might become a little bit better.”
Fatigue’s not a factor any longer. It can’t be, or they might as well start putting the equipment in the Hefty bags now.
It’s a one-game season for the Rangers, who throughout the last three playoff seasons have won a lot of games they have needed to win. They also lost a few of those — to the Devils in ‘12, to Boston in ‘13 — that put their season on the brink of elimination.
Then they got out the Hefty bags. That’s what they face in Game 4. Now or never.