Rick Nash has been very quiet during the playoffs. Credit: Getty Images
Head coach Alain Vigneault left no doubt what he expected from his top line.
During his afternoon press conference Monday prior to Game 3 of the Metropolitan Division finals, Vigneault said the trio of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis need to produce.
The Penguins' stars "put on the big boy pants," Vigneault said, alluding to the efforts of Sidney Crosby (six shots on goal) Evgeni Malkin (one goal and one assist) and Kris Letang (one goal and two assists) in the 3-0 loss in Game 2 loss Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
"I need [my stars] to do that," Vigneault said.
The Nash-Stepan-St. Louis line has only two assists dating back to Game 5 against the Flyers. And Nash, brought in to be a game-deciding force, has been anything but in his second playoffs with the Rangers. Nash has four points in nine games entering Monday night's game, but he has not scored a playoff goal as a Ranger since Game 2 of the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston.
Along with the top line, Vigneault also stressed his top two defensive pairs needed to improve.
"Both [of] our 'D' pairs playing against their top line had a tough night," Vigneault said of the Dan Girardi-Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal-Anton Stralman pairings. "I'm expecting both those pairs to rebound.
"I don't want to take anything away from Pittsburgh. They came at us with everything that they had. Their top players played like elite players. But I know our guys can play better. They need to play better."
Never let up
One of the themes Vigneault has stressed throughout the playoffs has been the importance of playing "whistle-to-whistle" hockey.
In Sunday's loss, a momentary lapse cost the Rangers a goal.
Trailing 1-0 at the 15:08 mark of the third period, Derek Dorsett boarded Chris Kunitz following a whistle. On the subsequent power play, Jussi Jokinen scored to essentially decide the game.
"At the end of the day, [Dorsett] put himself in that position," Vigneault said. "I'm not sure how strong of a call it was, but they made the call. We have been very disciplined but we're not perfect. We're going to try to be disciplined."
Around the NHL ...
» Game 5 of the Penguins-Rangers series is set for Friday at 7 p.m., the NHL announced Monday.
» The Hurricanes fired head coach Kirk Mueller and assistant coaches John MacLean and Dave Lewis, the team announced in a statement Monday.
“We thank Kirk, John and Dave for their time and effort during the past three seasons,” said Ron Francis, the Hurricanes' executive vice president and general manager. “Kirk and his staff worked very hard, but we feel that the team is in need of a fresh start at this time.”
As part of the coaching staff overhaul, goaltending coaching Greg Stefan was reassigned to the professional scouting department. Assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour retained his job.
» EA Sports and the NHL announced a cover vote for the NHL 15 video game. Fans can vote on NHL.com for one of eight players: Boston's Patrice Bergeron, San Jose's Logan Couture, Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, Colorado's Matt Duchene, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, Toronto's Phil Kessel, St. Louis' T.J. Oshie and Montreal's P.K. Subban. The winner will be named at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 24.
» The NHLPA announced Monday morning that Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf and Flyers center Claude Giroux were named the finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award, the MVP awarded by the players. Crosby, Getzlaf and Giroux were named Hart Trophy finalists for MVP last Thursday by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter@DenisGorman.