Home is usually where the heart is, unless you are the New York Rangers.
Sunday night’s 3-1 Game 3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens was the Blueshirts’ sixth-consecutive home playoff loss at Madison Square Garden dating back to the 2014-15 postseason.
Their last victory came in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was a series they lost in seven games.
Over those six losses — which included three to Tampa Bay, two to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round last year and Sunday night against Montreal — the Rangers offense has been nonexistent having been outscored 21-4.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has carried the Rangers at times throughout his postseason career, has not been his usual stellar self during that stretch either with a .873 save percentage.
“We have to give more at home in the playoffs or we aren’t going to win,” Lundqvist said after Game 3. “We need more. It’s as simple as that.”
No one was exempt from his criticism either.
“Every little detail matters,” Lundqvist said. “Every play … We’re going to need our best.”
It has left head coach Alain Vigneault and his team facing a 2-1 series deficit ahead of Tuesday night’s Game 4 at Madison Square Garden and frustration has slowly crept into the New York locker room.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this group of players wants to do well in front of their fans,” Vigneault said. “Right now, we’re fighting it without a doubt. That should be evident.”
Right-winger Rick Nash certainly felt it.
“Yeah [I feel frustrated],” he said. “I mean, any time you’re not having success and you’re getting chances and opportunities, there’s definitely some frustration.”
Center Derek Stepan acknowledged that struggle as well.
“We can’t let it happen,” he said. “Just can’t have any panic in your game.”
It was clear that there was something off about the Rangers’ play during Game 3. Despite having the home crowd behind them, New York looked hesitant to attack the Montreal goal and passed up a number of shot opportunities.
The lack of aggression saw the Rangers record just six shots apiece in the first and second periods. They tallied just 21 shots all game, making Canadiens goalie Carey Price’s job far easier than Lundqvist’s.
Through the opening three games of the series, Lundqvist has already faced 29 more shots than Price, which is an entire game’s worth.
There have been plenty of chances for the Rangers to bombard the Montreal net too, especially on the man advantage. However, that tentative play has left the Rangers snakebitten and 0-for-10 on the power play so far this series.
“We don’t get a lot of shots. A lot of one and dones,” defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh said. “We’re not making passes in the offensive zone, just making hope plays.”
Vigneault honed in on his best players and laid some of the blame on them.
“At this time, right now, our fourth line is our best line,” Vigneault said. “So our top players need to find their game and they obviously don’t have it right now.”
The Rangers did indeed feed off the energy exhibited by the fourth line. Center Oscar Lindberg had New York’s best chance in the first period on Sunday when his wrister hit the post while Tanner Glass and Jesper Fast provided a high-intensity style of play during their limited time on the ice.
New York’s first line of Chris Kreider, Stepan and Mats Zuccarello have accounted for just one goal through the first three games of the series. Third-line winger Michael Grabner already has two.
At the end of the day though, it’s only a one-game deficit for now. A strong showing on Tuesday night can rectify any reservations surrounding the team and allow them to seize momentum for their trip back to Montreal for Game 5.
“This is the playoffs,” Nash said. “You have to figure out what you’re doing wrong and get over it.”