Losing 7-4 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night reminded Dan Girardi of other crazy games at Bell Center with previous Rangers teams.
"Gong Show," the Rangers defenseman said.
The Rangers still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 with a chance to wrap it up Thursday night at home, but they certainly will need a tighter defensive effort, more shots on goal and better goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, who was yanked in the second period with the Blueshirts trailing 4-1.
The Rangers battled back to tie the score with three second- period goals -- by Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and a power-play goal by Chris Kreider -- in 4:24, but Rene Bourque finished an odd-man rush with a shot from the slot that beat Cam Talbot less than a minute later for a 5-4 lead. Bourque completed his hat trick at 6:33 of the third to make it 6-4.
"It wasn't the game plan we talked about," Girardi said. "We had a great opportunity in front of us, we battled back after being down three. If we could've found a way to get through the second 4-4, maybe it would've been a different game."
But it wasn't, and now the pressure is on the Rangers at home. They have won 10 of 16 Game 6s when leading 3-2, but need to regroup and return to the system that has guided them past Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the postseason.
"We've been doing a great job of making them come 200 feet," Girardi said, "but when we can't get pucks deep or turn them over, they had four-on- threes and three-on-twos, and they make you pay. We just didn't re-gather the troops after they scored."
Coach Alain Vigneault, who said he pulled Lundqvist with 11:02 left in the second period to try to generate some momentum and send a message, said he did not consider putting Lundqvist in the game in the third. Lundqvist, who made 15 saves, agreed with the decision. "No . . . It was better to get a little break and start thinking about the next one," he said. "I was hoping for us to get back in the game and we got close, but we're going to a Game 6 at home and it'll be a challenge for us."
Rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski, who had allowed four goals on just 16 shots, kept the Rangers at bay in the final 20 minutes, stopping 11 shots.
A frustrated John Moore effectively killed any chances of a comeback with a high hit on Dale Weise, drawing a five-minute match penalty, which carries an automatic suspension.
"We've got to play smarter, first of all," Brad Richards said. "You've got to give yourself a chance to win. We were playing with fire from the beginning. We weren't playing in five-man units and we paid for it."
It was the worst possible start for the Rangers, who were called for eight penalties on Sunday and were whistled for eight more Tuesday night. Kreider tripped P.K. Subban at the 22-second mark and when Mats Zuccarello failed to clear up the boards, Andrei Markov (three assists) slid the puck cross ice to Subban, whose blast deflected off Alex Galchenyuk at 1:48, with the Bell Centre deafening.
The Rangers tied the score when Stepan, playing with a protective guard over his fractured jaw, took a 45-foot wrister that went off the post and in at 10:44. Tomas Plekanec fired a low shot past Lundqvist's glove for a 2-1 lead at 12:24, a goal that Lundqvist probably wants back.
In retrospect, the Rangers probably want the entire game back.