The old sports adage states that a team is not in trouble into the playoffs until they lose a home game. Well, that my best the case for some teams, but given the New York Rangers struggles at Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts might be in for some trouble come Sunday afternoon – especially if they can’t do better than one goal in almost seven periods of hockey.

In Game 1 it was a pair of Alexanders that did in the Rangers. In Game 2, it was a fateful 117 seconds that spelled the end to the Rangers hope of stealing a game at the Verizon Center.

I don’t know if it is reality or just a figment of my imagination, but it always seems that whenever the wheels come off the Rangers it happens in the second period. It could be somewhat understandable given that the Rangers have the long way to make player changes – a crucial element to their game plan in order to get Marc Staal and Dan Girardi out against Alexander Ovechkin. However, that was not the case in Game 2.

I don’t know what Bruce Boudreau told his team during the first intermission, but it sure had the same effect as Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech.

The Rangers ratcheted up their physical play and forecheck and those improvements helped power a more productive offense with 13 shots. The main problem is that they did not get nearly enough traffic in front of Michal Neuvirth.

The second period started with the two teams each pulling a 180 degree turn in style and efficiency. Everything the Rangers did right in the first period, they did wrong in the second period. The Caps quick start rocked the Blueshirts back on their heels as Washington started to dictate the tempo.

To me, the real sticking point is that the Rangers never managed to match Washington’s intensity level in the second period.

During the third period, Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti lamented the loss of Ryan Callahan by saying it was his type of game. While it is apparent that Brandon Dubinsky looks lost without Cally, the Rangers problems go beyond just one player as the rest of the team has not been able to step up in his absence during these first two games.

When the Capitals needed a goal to tie Game 1, their best player stepped up and found a way to knot the game. Sadly, the Rangers best offensive player, Marian Gaborik, has had offensive chances but still has no goals in his last 11 games.

Quite frankly, no one threw the Pittsburgh Penguins a pit party when they lost Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Instead, the Pens found a way to hold on to the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and managed to find a way to win Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As the series comes north to the Garden, the Rangers have to start finding ways to win. Of course, that is easier said than done when your offense has gone missing yet again.

Micheletti made it a point to keep saying that Henrik Lundqvist was in Washington’s head. That might be true, but it is becoming apparent that Neuvirth is playing mind games with the Rangers’ heads as well.

You have to admit that the Washington Capitals are the team the New York Rangers want to be. The Capitals’ mid-season turnaround transformed a run-and-gin team into one that concentrates on their defensive responsibilities and then capitalizes (pun intended) on their offensive chances. In addition to having more firepower the Rangers, it is their ability to bury their chances that has made the difference in this series.

While Jason Arnott is a veteran with 31 playoff goals, no one is ever going to mistake Jason Chimera for a sniper.

Hmm, I am noticing a pattern here. In Game 1 it was two Alexanders that did in the Rangers. In Game 2, it was two Jasons. I suppose it will be either a pair of Matts (Bradley and Hendricks) or, God forbid, a pair of Johns (Carlson and Erskine) that spell doom on Sunday.

I am not sure what lineup changes, if any, Coach John Tortorella will make for Game 3. He did not seem to enthusiastic with the idea of Mats Zuccarello seeing much ice time in the playoffs at this point.

Torts expressed concern to Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com as to “whether he can handle the size and the overall consistency of playoff hockey, I’m not sure.”

However, given the Rangers inability to score, a later comment by the coach might leave a glimmer of hope for Zuccarello.

“It’s still an open book for him as to where he sits as a National Hockey Leaguer. He sees the ice. He makes some plays that some players don’t see,” Tortorella admitted.

While there will be some question as to what could be done with the forwards, there is one lineup change that definitely needs to be made. Bryan McCabe is giving the Rangers nothing on offense – especially on the power play – and has become more of a liability on defense. It is time for former Capital Steve Eminger to see playing time and add a little grit on the blue line.

The Rangers must approach Game 3 as a “must-win” game along the same lines as the final game of the season against the New Jersey Devils. Perhaps the result of the first two games in general, and Game 2 specifically, might have been different if they entered the game thinking it was a “must-win” scenario.

During Friday morning’s press conference, Tortorella offered up the following answer to a question from Larry Brooks of the NY Post in reference to whether the Rangers had their backs against the wall.

“I never think our backs are against the wall,” was the coach’s response. According to a transcript from Newsday’s Steve Zipay, Brooks and Tortorella engaged in yet another round in their ongoing verbal jousting.
Kind of makes you wonder how the post game press conference will turn out.

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