Jason Brough

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Vigneault vows a better Rangers effort in Game 4

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It was only their third game of the playoffs, and already the New York Rangers looked out of gas.

Credit to the Montreal Canadiens, of course. The Habs smothered the Blueshirts Sunday at MSG, limiting their opponents to just 21 shots in a 3-1 victory.

But now it’s on the Rangers to show that they’re still in the series, that they do have something left in the tank. They were good in Game 1 at Bell Centre, a 2-0 victory, but they lost momentum in Game 2, a 4-3 overtime loss, and they couldn’t get it back in Game 3.

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For veteran forward Derek Stepan, it wasn’t a lack of effort that was to blame.

“I don’t think we worked smart enough,” Stepan said, per NHL.com. “I’ve been here for a long time. This group has worked extremely hard. We’ve put in solid work throughout the season and in the playoffs. No one is tougher on us than ourselves. We’re working so hard but I think we need to work a little smarter. I don’t think it’s a lack of effort. I think it’s a lack of brain power at times. ”

Meanwhile, it was a defiant Alain Vigneault who met with reporters Monday. The New York media was not kind to the Rangers in the wake of Sunday’s performance, and it sounded like the head coach had read what was written.

“Obviously, we didn’t pick a good time yesterday to have a very ordinary game,” said Vigneault. “But tomorrow we’ve got an opportunity to make this series 2-2. And anybody who believes that this group doesn’t want to play well, doesn’t want to win, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. We’re gonna go out and we’re gonna compete … and we’re gonna play a lot better than we did yesterday.”

Above all, Vigneault wants his team to manage the puck better, after turnovers become a problem in Game 3. He did not say whether there would be any lineup changes, though common sense says there could be.

The Rangers can ill afford to head back to Montreal trailing 3-1.

Alzner a game-time decision, could be replaced by Schmidt

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The Toronto Maple Leafs will be getting a top-four defenseman back tonight, and the Washington Capitals may be missing one.

Karl Alzner will be a game-time decision for Game 3 of the Leafs-Caps series at ACC. If he doesn’t play, it will be his first missed game in seven years.

The Caps did not say what was bothering Alzner, but he did not participate in this morning’s skate.

From the Washington Post:

Alzner owns the franchise record for consecutive games played with 540 consecutive regular-season games, and he’s also played in 59 straight playoff games. He had sports hernia surgery this summer after partially tearing a groin muscle in Washington’s last playoff game a year ago. Though Alzner didn’t miss a game during the regular season, the recovery from groin injuries is arduous, and it has occasionally hindered Alzner.

Nate Schmidt is expected to draw in if Alzner can’t go. Schmidt has not played much since Kevin Shattenkirk was acquired, but the 25-year-old did get into 60 games this season, scoring three goals with 14 assists.

“Nate has played really well,” head coach Barry Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “He’s a really good player. We’re real fortunate to have a guy that’s played in our top six all year that got bumped down to seventh. So we’ve got a lot of confidence in Nate. The last couple of years he’s really developed.”

Bruins could get Krejci back tonight

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The Boston Bruins could get a boost tonight with the return of veteran center David Krejci.

Krejci will be a game-time decision against the Senators. He missed the first two games of the series in Ottawa with an upper-body injury.

“We will see how it goes tonight,” Krecji said this morning, per the Ottawa Citizen. “I felt better yesterday and today I felt better than yesterday.”

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The Bruins may also have a defenseman make his series debut tonight. Tommy Cross has been called up from the AHL, and he could step in for Adam McQuaid, who was hurt in Game 2.

Cross, 27, only has three games of NHL experience, all of them coming early last season. But with McQuaid joining Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Colin Miller on the injured list, the B’s are simply running out of bodies on the blue line.

Via CSN New England, here’s what Boston’s lineup could look like:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak
Stafford-Krejci-Backes
Acciari-Moore-Nash
Vatrano-Spooner-Schaller

Chara-McAvoy
Morrow-K. Miller
Liles-Cross

The Bruins and Senators are tied one game apiece.

Werenski’s season is over due to facial fracture

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Zach Werenski is done for the season with a facial fracture.

Columbus head coach John Tortorella said so this morning, the day after Werenski took a puck to the face in the Blue Jackets’ 4-3 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

Though Werenski did manage to return to the game for the third period, wearing a full face mask for protection, the 19-year-old rookie defenseman was unable to see well enough to play the overtime period.

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Afterwards, he tweeted out the gruesome details:

The Blue Jackets trail the Penguins, 3-0, in their first-round series. Game 4 goes Tuesday at Nationwide Arena.

It goes without saying that not having Werenski hurts the chances of a Columbus comeback. Tortorella called the teenager “probably our best player.” So no, it doesn’t look good for the Jackets.

Fletcher went all-in at the deadline, and now… this

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The focus is naturally on Bruce Boudreau, the hard-luck head coach in the midst of another first-round nightmare.

But spare a few thoughts, too, for general manager Chuck Fletcher. He went all-in at the trade deadline, and now his Minnesota Wild are in danger of being swept by the St. Louis Blues.

The Wild, you’ll recall, sent a first-round draft pick and more to get forwards Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, both pending unrestricted free agents, from Arizona in February.

Watch Blues vs. Wild: Game 4 at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports app

“We’re just putting our chips in the middle of the table for this year,” Fletcher said at the time, per NHL.com. “We like our group and we think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete [and want to] see what we can do. Again, nothing’s promised and we know it will be tough, but I think our thought is we may as well take a swing and see how far we can go.”

The Wild were 39-14-6 when the deal went down, so it’s hard to blame Fletcher for his thought process. But barring a miraculous comeback, Minnesota will fall to 2-5 in playoff series under his watch. He’s been on the job since 2009, and despite a healthy payroll that includes $196 million worth of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild have yet to get past the second round.

The good news for Fletcher is that owner Craig Leipold did not expect to win a Stanley Cup this year.

“I don’t know, they could surprise me,” Leipold said in January. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet.”

Fletcher also saw four of his draft picks show well at the World Juniors — a nice feather in the GM’s cap.

But there’s no denying that his team is on the verge of a massive letdown. Hiring Boudreau was supposed to get the Wild over the hump.

Instead, it’s looking like another early playoff exit for both men.

Related: Chuck Fletcher is under pressure