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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Rangers still learning how to finish out close games

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The Rangers, who recently skidded through an alarming stretch of games in which they repeatedly blew multi-goal third-period leads, wasted no time in identifying the areas of their game that had lapsed to cause such a crippling trend. 

Aside from recognizing their tendency to play passively in the final frame, the Blueshirts criticized their puck management in the offensive zone and their overemphasis on defending the lead. As a result, the Rangers had to settle for one point in each of their overtime losses to the Canucks and Oilers earlier this month — in addition to having a sour taste left in their mouths after letting the Panthers score three unanswered goals in the third period of last Monday’s win. 

“I think closing games and winning games is learned,” Jacob Trouba told The Post this past week. “I personally went through it in Winnipeg a bit when our team transitioned. It’s something you’ve got to learn. A lot of guys haven’t been in those positions. We certainly weren’t all the time last year. 

“It’s a learned skill, more than anything, realizing the situation you’re in and what you need to correct. Some things you change, some things you don’t change. I think we’ll do well once we figure that out, which is a lesson. It’s not a huge red flag. Obviously, from the outside, it doesn’t look good. But it’s one small piece that you’ve got to fix. 

Rangers left wing Chris Kreider celebrates with defenseman Jacob Trouba after scoring against Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins at Nationwide Arena.
Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (r.) celebrates with defenseman Jacob Trouba after scoring.

“I’d rather have that than be trailing in games and trying to catch up all the time and we have one good comeback and feel good about ourselves. I’d rather do it this way.” 

The Rangers exploded for three goals in the span of 1:03 in their 5-3 win over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night in Columbus. However, the Rangers’ ability to not only weather Columbus’ game-high 17 shots on goal in the third, but combat it, was the most encouraging takeaway. 

Pouring on 13 shots of their own, the Rangers made good decisions with the puck and didn’t force anything. 

“Obviously when we’re [managing the puck in the offensive zone], we’re not in the ‘D’ zone and we’re not chasing around the ‘D’ zone,” Trouba said after Saturday’s win. “So I thought our ‘D’ zone was better, as a product of our ‘O’ zone being better. That’s how we want to play hockey. That’s how we want to look with four lines rolling and possessing the puck in the offensive zone and creating opportunities.” 

Mika Zibanejad pointed out after the Panthers game that doubt naturally crept into his mind when the visiting team started to rally. When you’ve had that many games unfold in the same fashion, it makes sense that the Rangers would fall into the habit of playing to prevent it rather than playing to their strengths. 

The Rangers, however, worked toward breaking that pattern on Saturday and ensured there was no apprehension in their game. 

“A lot of that stuff was self-inflicted by ourselves,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “So if we can stay away from that and play the way we’ve played the last two periods [Saturday night], I think I really like our chances.” 


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