Three things the Rangers need to avoid elimination

The New York Rangers have played the top seeded Washington Capitals tough through four games of their opening round series. Unfortunately for them, toughness doesn’t equal wins and after collapsing after a 3-0 lead in Game 4 to lose in overtime, they find themselves on the brink of elimination heading into this afternoon’s Game 5.

For the Rangers to turn their fortunes around, the answers seem simple but there are a few things in particular that they can do to help stave off elimination today and use to to perhaps mount a comeback in the series. If the Rangers are going to make the Capitals relive last season’s playoff nightmare they’re going to need to do these three things to make it happen.

1. Get the power play working

Despite all the bluster going on between coaches Bruce Boudreau and John Tortorella, the fact is the Rangers are getting their chances on the power play and they’re failing miserably. Through four games they’ve had 18 power play opportunities and they’ve come away with just one goal. Scoring on 5.6% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many or any games.

We understand that the Capitals are playing with more dedication to defense, but when you’ve got an extra player on the ice to score with you should be scoring more no matter what. The Rangers have the second worst power play in the playoffs (only Boston’s is worse) and they’ll need to get Bryan McCabe and Marian Gaborik going and helping them find room on the ice to score.

2. Make Michal Neuvirth uncomfortable

We’re not advocating that the Rangers crash the net with reckless abandon and go out of their way to run Caps rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, but they’re not doing enough offensively to get in his head. The Rangers are having a hard time scoring goals, period, and rattling Neuvirth with numerous goals hasn’t fazed him (just look at Game 4 again). Stepping up the pressure and turning the area around his net into a scene out of Mad Max would do wonders for New York and their efforts to put the puck past him.

Through four games, the Rangers have scored just seven goals. Averaging under two goals a game just won’t get it done unless your own goalie is pitching shutouts all series. Henrik Lundqvist is good, but he’s not good enough to score goals for the Rangers to get himself a win. Making Neuvirth work a little harder to make stops and perhaps get in his head could help loosen things up for the Rangers.

3. John Tortorella should take notes from the past

When Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 his message to the team that season in the final year of the dead puck era was that “safe was death.” That message to his team to help push the pressure and keep the offense dialed in and working hard. In those days giving up just one or two goals would mean the game was virtually over as coming back from that was hard enough.

The Rangers should adopt a similar mentality given how the Caps are playing them. The goals are few and they need to push the pressure. Yes, the Capitals have intimidating offensive stars in Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and the Rangers have been playing like a team full of goalies blocking shots and getting in the way of their stars, but not being afraid to break it out and let guys like Brandon Dubinsky get free to take some shots and the offense going would do them a world of good. Not to mention it might make them less susceptible to seeing another “el foldo” with a multi-goal lead.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.