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Rangers might use Raphael Diaz on power play

New York Rangers defenseman Raphael Diaz (33) looks

New York Rangers defenseman Raphael Diaz (33) looks on during practice before Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Photo Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — No single player can extend the Rangers’ season, which is dangling by a thread.

Even if Henrik Lundqvist allows only a single goal Saturday in Game 5 of the best-of-seven series, which the Penguins lead 3-1, the Rangers will need two to win.

For a team that has scored only seven goals in the first four games, more than two goals would be a bonus.

One of the focal points of the offensive struggle has been the power play, which is 1-for-16. In an effort to keep the season alive and force a Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, coach Alain Vigneault is considering all options.

That includes deploying righthanded defenseman Raphael Diaz, who played all season in Hartford but has played in 201 NHL games with four teams, on the point at CONSOL Energy Center for the must-win matinee.

“That’s a possibility I’m looking at,” Vigneault said after Friday’s practice, which included plenty of special-teams drills. “Raffy is a guy that has played the power play before. We all know right now that our power play and penalty-killing are not at their best, so I’m looking for solutions.”

Diaz had four power-play goals for Hartford this season. He played only 37 games because of various injuries.

“He’s not a total unknown. It’s not like I haven’t seen him play before,” Vigneault said. “Unfortunately, when we wanted to call him up this year, he was injured. I know what he can bring to the table.”

Diaz was on a power-play unit with Dan Boyle, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello Friday in practice. Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh manned the points on the other unit, with forwards Eric Staal, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.

“We have to find a way to be a little more sure of ourselves so we can make plays at the right time,” Yandle said. “We have to work together as a unit and help each other get out of it. We know we can do it. It’s not going to be handed to us; we’re going to have to earn it.”

A Rangers loss — Saturday or later in the series — figures to trigger a series of moves that shed contracts and create cap space. Boyle’s two-year, $9-million contract will end, and the 39-year-old defenseman is expected to retire. Dom Moore and Viktor Stalberg also will be unrestricted free agents and are unlikely to return, saving an additional $2.6 million in cap charges. Staal, acquired at the trade deadline, and Yandle also will be UFAs. Dan Girardi (who remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury) has four years and $22 million left on his deal and might be a buyout candidate. Trades also are possible.

But first the Rangers have a do-or-die game to play.

“To a man, in that room, they all know that they can play better than they’ve played so far,” said Vigneault, who is weighing experience and recent performances. “I’m going to play the guys that I believe and our staff believe gives us the best chance to win because we have no other chance after [Saturday]. We’ve had a lot of our group that have been in this situation before and performed extremely well, so definitely we’re taking that into account. But look at Oscar [Lindberg]. Putting Oscar in the lineup [for his NHL playoff debut in Game 4], he was one of our better forwards.”

Forward Kevin Hayes, a healthy scratch in Game 4, also could suit up.

The Rangers have come back from 3-1 deficits twice recently, against Pittsburgh in 2014 and Washington in 2015. Said J.T. Miller: “We’ve been in this position before. You can’t think about the result. We understand the spot we’re in. We have to have a good start and go from there.”


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