By VIN A. CHERWOO, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — J.T. Miller and the New York Rangers don’t want to hear about how their struggles on home ice. They’re only focusing on playing better in Game 4 to try to even their first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.
With their 3-1 loss in Game 3, the Rangers have now dropped six straight at home in the playoffs, dating to the 2015 Eastern Conference finals. New York, which had the league’s best road record this season, finished with just 21 wins at home — the fewest among all the playoff teams.
The Rangers also lost eight straight (0-5-3) at Madison Square Garden down the stretch before winning the final two home games of the regular season.
“We don’t really have time to get caught up in our past record at home,” Miller said Monday after the Rangers practiced in preparation for Tuesday night’s Game 4. “All we can focus on is a good start tomorrow.”
New York coach Alain Vigneault also stressed he isn’t thinking about the previous postseason struggles at home, including three losses to Tampa Bay in the East finals two years ago, and two to Pittsburgh in the first round last year.
“In 2017 in the playoffs we’ve had one loss (at home),” Vigneault said. “Different group, different year. Obviously we didn’t pick a good time yesterday to have a very ordinary game, but tomorrow we’ve got an opportunity to make this series 2-2.”
The Rangers were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead Friday night before Tomas Plekanec tied it with 18 seconds left and Alexander Radulov won it midway through overtime. Now, after struggling to generate many chances in Game 3, the Rangers need a win Tuesday to avoid going back to Montreal in a 3-1 hole.
A year ago, New York trailed Pittsburgh 2-1 going into Game 4 at home and was shut out 5-0 before the Penguins closed the series in five games en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
“We’re down 2-1 and they have to win two more games,” center Derek Stepan said. “We’re looking at it as we have to be better, no doubt about it, in all areas of the game. … This thing’s far from over.”
Montreal captain Max Pacioretty expects the Rangers to play with more intensity Tuesday night and believes his team will be ready for that.
“We know their biggest adjustment will be their compete level,” he said. “We know that they’re going to come out and play their best game of the series. That’s just the way it goes in the playoffs. It’s up to us to try to limit that and also try to stick to our game plan.”
So far, that strategy has prevented the Rangers from using the up-tempo style they’re best at, with the Canadiens clamping down defensively and forcing New York to dump and chase. The Rangers managed just 21 shots on goal in Game 3 and had 21 giveaways, including 10 in the first period.
“It was execution,” right wing Rick Nash said of the turnovers. “You got to make your passes — can’t be at guys’ feet, can’t be behind guys. It’s gotta be on the tape in order not to turn the puck over.”
Nash also pointed to the poor forechecking as a problem, saying “there’s too many one-man, two-man forechecking. You need all five guys to get the puck back.”
When that didn’t happen after a dump in, the Canadiens were able to quickly get the puck and move it back the other way. The Rangers also struggled on special teams, giving up two power-play goals and failing to score on their three chances to fall to 0 for 10 in the series.
While Vigneault acknowledged he needs to make some tweaks, he doesn’t envision major changes to the focus on speed and transition that made his team successful this season.
“We’ve been playing a certain style this season that’s permitted us to get into the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve shown in this series in moments we play that way we’re a hard team to play against.
“You make minor adjustments as far as making a read or a puck decision that could help your game, but as far as the overall way of (changing) how we’ve played or how we’ve had success, obviously that’s not going to happen.”
Vigneault played defenseman Kevin Klein in place of Nick Holden in Game 3, and said he’s contemplating more changes for Game 4.
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