If I put the same effort into recapping Game 4 as the New York Rangers put into playing it, I would be finished writing. Okay, I might be overdoing the hyperbole, but when Mike Rupp is one of your best players – at least until his third period meltdown – then the Rangers did not exactly bring their “A” game to the table.

As a result of the Rangers 4-1 loss in Game 4, the Blueshirts face their third best-of-three situation.

Normally teams do not face a “must-win” game until they face elimination. However, the Rangers better consider Game 5 to be a “must-win” because they are not going to go into the Prudential Center and win down three games to two like they did in 1994.

Unfortunately, the 2012 Rangers do not have a player like Mark Messier who can take the team on his shoulders and will them to win – no disrespect to Henrik Lundqvist.

For the seventh time in the playoffs, the Blueshirts had an opportunity to take a two-game lead in a series and failed. Last night also marked the third time they lost Game 4. Unlike the previous two fourth games than resulted in 3-2 games, the Rangers were never in this game.

“It was a struggle for a number of our guys. We have to move by it [and] we have to have a short-term memory. I thought we gained some traction as game went on. [We’re] still not making a big offensive play when we need to,” Rangers coach John Tortorella admitted after game.

Give the Devils their due because they came out with a passion, fire and urgency that the Rangers never matched, despite Tortorella believing his team gaining “some traction”.

New Jersey took advantage of a couple of Ranger mistakes about midway through the first period.

For the 12th consecutive Rangers playoff game, the team scoring the first goal won the game.

Bryce Salvador’s innocent shot from the left point found its way through traffic in front and deflected in off of Anton Stralman’s left skate. Once again the Rangers defensive game plan of dropping their forwards deep in the defensive zone came back to haunt them as no Ranger was near Salvador prior to his shot.

Less than four minutes later, the Devils cashed in on a turnover and bad decision by Michael Del Zotto at his own blue line. Del Zotto got caught trying to step up at the blue line, but Devils captain Zach Parise raced past Del Zotto to set up Travis Zajac for a one-timer that Lundqvist never had a chance to stop.

The play pretty much epitomized the horrible game that Del Zotto had – one that is understandable given that he lost his grandmother on Saturday. Normally one of the leaders in terms of ice time, Del Zotto played just 11:39.

“It was a struggle for him,” Tortorella explained. “He hasn’t had many games like that this year. We had an extra defenseman [Stu Bickel] dressed, we figured we’d take a little pressure off of him and let him watch.”

The ironic thing is that Del Zotto probably would not have been on the ice for the Zajac goal had Ryan McDonagh not received a fighting major for his “fight” with Adam Henrique – a tradeoff the Devils will take again and again.

Interestingly, the game could have gone a different way if the Rangers managed to capitalize on a couple of Devils mistakes.

About six and a half minutes into the game, the Devils turned the puck over in their own end and Marian Gaborik shot wide from the right circle.
Less than a minute before Zajac’s goal, Carl Hagelin nearly tied the game when he hit the post following a New Jersey giveaway.

Outside of those two chances and a late flurry on the power play t the end of the first period, the Rangers spent most of their night chasing after the puck as the Devils controlled the puck possession a game – a part of the game that must change moving forward.

“The most important thing is we have to have the puck more,” Tortorella lamented. “Again, it goes back to we have to have to hold on to some pucks, we had opportunities, we had the yips with it, we gave it back to them, they progressed with their forecheck and momentum went there way. It was a struggle for a number of our guys, we have to move by it, have to have short-term memory.”

Tortorella has stressed over and over that being tired is not an excuse for his team. With that said, last night the Rangers looked like a tired team – whether it is a mental fatigue or physical fatigue. If that is not the case, then there are 18 hockey players who need to look in the mirror and figure out why they could never match the Devils level of play.

Whether it was fatigue or frustration, but the Rangers seemed to be fighting the puck as much as they were “fighting” the Devils. It all culminated in an undisciplined game from the Rangers as they played their worst game since the season finale against the Washington Capitals – which was the last time the Blueshirts allowed more than three goals in a game.

Their undisciplined play came to a head during Rupp’s rampage through the Devils zone six minutes into the third period.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Rupp’s penalty would not have been called if not for the Rangers 3-0 deficit. One of the NHL Network’s analysts (it might have been Craig Button) said that Rupp did not deserve the initial penalty for the hit on Peter Harrold behind the net.

As for the shove to Martin “Olivier” Brodeur, Rupp deserved everything he got – even though Marty did embellish it.

Tom Gulitti tweeted this morning that the NHL will not be holding any disciplinary hearings for any of the shenanigans that went on last night. As a result, Rupp appears to be getting a pass for his actions, Gaborik will not be called in for his “elbow” to Marek Zidlicky and Ilya Kovalchuk will face no discipline for spearing Ryan Callahan – even though his spear was inexplicably called a slash.

Looking ahead to Game 5, the Rangers must find a way to heed their coach’s desire to win the puck possession battle. To accomplish that feat, they must tighten up their defensive zone coverage and adjust their system so that one or two forwards spend more time shadowing the point men – thus eliminating the free back pass to the defense.

On offense, the Rangers must find a way to give the Devils a taste of their own forechecking medicine. Some of that starts with not being content to dump the puck into the Devils zone. They need to keep Brodeur from doing what he does best – handling the puck. They are going to have to work a lot of cross-ice dumps with hard pressure on the puck.

The Blueshirts need to remember that every playoff game in this series has mirrored every other playoff game they have played. At one point every game could have swung the other way but didn’t because of a key save, a missed check or bad bounce.

Tortorella needs to be able to make a similar statement following Game 5 to the one Peter DeBoer did following Game 4 in terms of his best players.

“Your best players have to be your best players,” DeBoer told Mike G. Morreale of nhl.com. “I know it’s [a] cliché, but it’s critical this time of year and I knew [Parise] would respond. He was playing well, getting opportunities. I thought he had some really good chemistry tonight with [Zajac and Dainius Zubrus].”

The Devils have been in this situation (tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven) 19 times and have posted an 8-11 series record. The Rangers have an 11-11 series record in this same situation.

“Must-win” or “Really-need-to-win” situation aside, Tortorella is confident in his team’s resiliency and ability to bounce back.

“It’s a three game series and this team has been there before. I am very optimistic. I still see some things some guys are close to getting their game. I don’t think all of us are there,” Tortorella offered.

“As I’ve said all year long with this club, when we get in these situations and we’ve been trading all playoff season, they always find a way to find a good game so I’m truly confident we’ll answer the proper way.”

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