It has been a long time since a Rangers loss, especially a playoff loss, has aggravated me so much.  That was the case after the Rangers Game 2 loss at Buffalo.  It annoyed me so much that has taken me a couple of days to finally put my thoughts into words.  I know that sounds kind of weird, but there is a reason behind it all.

The loss in Game 1 did not hurt as much because the Rangers eventually did enough wrong things that they deserved to lose.  That was not the case in Game 2.  The Rangers almost played well enough to win, but just missed out on the victory – as they did in three of the four regular season games.

The Rangers are learning that in addition to being a damned good hockey team, the Sabres are also a very opportunistic team.  At time in the playoffs, opportunistic teams can be more dangerous than good teams.

There are ways to beat good teams.  A hot goaltender, a well executed game plan, or a bounce here and there can make the difference.  These things do not defeat an opportunistic team.  An opportunistic team waits for their opponent to make a mistake and they makes their opponent play for their mistakes.  The New Jersey Devils have thrived and survived on just that – as well as great goaltending and a solid defensive system.

In Game 1 the Rangers undoing was based on undisciplined play which translated into power plays for Buffalo and an inability for the Rangers to get any flow.  That tendency towards undisciplined play cost the Rangers in Game 2 as well.

Buffalo’s first goal was a direct result of an undisciplined penalty by Petr Prucha who was caught for tripping while backchecking.  The Rangers compounded that mistake by getting caught out of position on the Sabres power play goal.  More specifically, it was Marcel Hossa who drifted over to the left point leaving the Sabres right point wide open for the first of two “give back goals”.

The Sabres tied the game at 2-2 on yet another “give back goal” as the Rangers could only enjoy a lead for a couple of minutes.  It was yet another undisciplined play as Marek Malik threw a soft blind pass up the middle of the ice rather than take the safe play off the boards.  It was the second such play Malik made.  His first foray into poor passing occurred late in the second period when he had the puck outside the Rangers blue line and threw an dill-advised cross ice pass rather than make the safe play up the boards.

The final Buffalo goal came as a result of the Rangers getting caught running around in their own end and as a result of Karel Rachunek being undisciplined by not taking the body on a Sabre player behind the net.  Rachunek was guilty of the same type of play with six or so minutes left in the second period when he was completely undressed by Thomas Vanek because Rachunek was caught looking at the puck rather than playing the body.

The Rangers had an opportunity to redeem themselves with their power play late in the third period.  However, once again, lack of discipline reared its ugly head.  Rather than clog the shooting lanes and cause havoc in front of Ryan Miller, the Rangers wasted their chance after pulling Henrik Lundqvist.  After scoring two power play goals by getting traffic in front of Miller and putting the puck on net, the Rangers power play reverted to working the outside in search of the one perfect pass for the one perfect shot.  They compounded that problem by refusing to play dump and chase when the Sabres cleared the puck and the Blueshirts wasted time looking to skate through the lines of Buffalo defenders at the blue line.

While the task is still not hopeless, the Rangers are inching closer to critical mass.  A playoff series is not out of reach until you lose a home game.  However, some things have to change.  First off, Rachunek needs to sit in favor of Thomas Pock.  It is no coincidence that Rachunek has struggled since returning from his injury.  It is hard enough to get back into the flow of the game without any type of rehab assignment.  It is even that much tougher to do it on the playoffs and against a team like the Buffalo Sabres.

Secondly, the Rangers need to get some traffic in front of the Sabres net.  Yes, Ryan Miller has been at the top of his game, but take a look at the majority of the Rangers shots.  Miller is getting a clear look at the shots and the Rangers are firing pucks about waste high – thus limiting their rebound chances or even deflections if they were so inclined to bump ugly in the slot.

By contrast, take a look at all of the shots and near misses the Sabres have had against Henrik Lundqvist.  It seems that Buffalo always manages to get inside the Rangers defense while the Sabres keep the Rangers to the outside.

While Lundqvist has played well, the Rangers need him to literally steal a game.  He has to make the types of saves that will bring the Garden to its feet and leave the Sabres shaking their heads.

On offense, the Rangers need to drop their Euro-centered attack.  It is that style of puck possession and obsession to pass their way to a goal that is limiting their scoring chances.  They need to get the puck deep and go to work on the Buffalo defense with a hard forecheck, get traffic in front of the Buffalo net and look for some screens, deflections and rebounds.  This style is crucial when the Rangers are on the power play.  The Rangers power play needs to step up and provide some offense and become a deterrent to the likes of Dainius Zubrus who was hitting everything in red, white and blue.

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