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Rangers believe desperation will bring out the best in them

New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello (36)

New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) shoots on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) during practice before game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday April 20th, 2016. Photo Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

For the Rangers, resiliency has been a watchword both during the regular season and in the playoffs in recent years.

That ability to rebound will be tested again after they lost, 3-1, to the Penguins on Tuesday in Game 3. Simply put, the Rangers need a win in Game 4 on Thursday to tie the best-of-seven series at 2 or Pittsburgh will return home for Game 5 on Saturday with an opportunity to eliminate the Rangers.

“This group has, in my estimation, found a way to be resilient and play hard and compete,” coach Alain Vigneault said after Wednesday’s optional practice at Madison Square Garden. “We’re down by a game and the next game for us is the most important, so I believe with what’s at stake, we’re going to see a high compete and battle level . . . Our whole group loves playing in this building; we’re going to bounce back tomorrow.”

There’s some evidence for Vigneault’s declaration.

Since the start of last year’s playoffs, the Rangers are 6-2 in games after a loss and have won their last five playoff games when trailing in a series, dating to Game 5 of the second round last year against the Capitals. And the Rangers are 9-2 in Game 4 at home of a playoff series since the start of the 2007 postseason.

“There’s so much potential in this group,” goaltender Antti Raanta said. “We haven’t put everything on the table yet . . . It’s a good thing that during the regular season, we always came back from a bad game or a bad period.”

In fact, they were 15-1-0 in games following their last 16 regulation losses during the regular season. At one point, Derick Brassard said that the Rangers “play better when we’re desperate,” and that time has come again.

Dwelling on past accomplishment can take one only so far, and the Rangers will have to improve their special-teams play, create more offense against a speedy Penguins club that is expected to have rookie goalie Matt Murray in net again, and not let their emotions take over when things don’t go their way.

For example, Vigneault was unhappy with the reaction after Matt Cullen’s goal early in the third period on Tuesday. “When they made it 2-1 on an unfortunate bounce,” he said, “I didn’t like the way we responded after that; we should have had a push and we should have challenged them a lot more than we did.”

And after Chris Kreider’s goal in the first period was wiped out by a coaches’ offside challenge, Brassard called it “a momentum killer for our team” and the Penguins clamped down on defense afterward.

“Every time we were dumping the puck in, every time we’d go through the neutral zone, their D was going to bump you” he said. “It’s hard to play with speed and energy when you’re spending all of it on chasing it, chasing it, trying to establish your forecheck. We have to forecheck as a unit of five . . . There’s nights like that, but our whole overall game has to be better.”

Notes & quotes: Injured Dan Girardi, who practiced, is still day-to-day, Vigneault said, so the defenseman will miss his third straight game . . . Doesn’t sound as if rookie defenseman Brady Skjei is leaving the lineup. “He’s played extremely well for a young man,” Vigneault said. “Talent has no age, and for the most part, other than a couple decisions with the puck, his overall game has been very solid.” . . . Seven players were called up from Hartford for the taxi squad: forwards Chris Brown, Nicklas Jensen, Daniel Paille and Jayson Megna and defensemen Mat Bodie, Ryan Graves and Chris Summers.


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