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Rangers suddenly looking for answers after two close losses

NEW YORK (AP) — After a pair of easy wins in their first two games across the Hudson River in New Jersey, the New York Rangers appeared to be cruising along to another postseason series win.

Not so fast.

Two tight losses at home later, the Rangers’ stagnant offense can’t seem to get anything going as they head back on the road for the next game.

A 3-1 loss to the Devils on Monday night evened the first-round series at two games apiece heading into Game 5 back at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Thursday night.

The Rangers, who reached the Eastern Conference final last year, opened this series with 5-1 wins in Games 1 and 2 at Prudential Center before returning to Madison Square Garden and falling 2-1 in overtime on Saturday and 3-1 in Game 4 on Monday night.

“They were perfect games, we’ve said that and we talked about that,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said of the first two games following the latest loss. “We come home, big crowds. The overtime game was a good hockey game, it could’ve gone either way. But tonight wasn’t, it was a close hockey game but we weren’t, we didn’t show up, we didn’t play hard enough, we didn’t compete hard enough. … lot of bad things tonight.”

Asked what’s gone wrong with his team’s play, Gallant wasn’t shy in giving his assessment.

“Offensively not competing and doing the right things,” the coach said. “Neutral zone again, too. First two games we chipped some pucks, we got pressure coming across and tonight our weakside winger was a little lazy and stayed on the other side of the ice and watched the play instead of supporting it. How many times did you see us whipping pucks across and them picking them off in the middle. … We didn’t have the support in the neutral zone like we usually do.”

New York’s power play has also been stifled after scoring four times on 10 chances — with all the goals coming from Chris Kreider — in the opening two games. The Rangers are 0 for 8 with the advantage the last two games.

“We weren’t sharp,” New York captain Jacob Trouba said of the Rangers’ play the last two games. “I think first two games we were sharper, a little crisper. I don’t think we had that the last two, so focus on getting back to that clean, crisp game that we had in Games 1 and 2.”

One area the Rangers haven’t had to worry about has been their goaltending, as Igor Shesterkin has remained at the top of his game. He has given up just six goals on 82 shots through four games.

At the other end, Devils rookie goalie Akira Schmid has had a lot to do with limiting the Rangers’ offensive production. The 22-year-old Swiss sensation has stopped 56 of the 58 shots he faced in the two wins after Vitek Vanecek allowed nine goals on 52 shots in the first two games.

“He’s been good, he makes the saves he can see,” Trouba said. “We got to get more traffic, more tips, more rebound opportunities.”


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Vin A. Cherwoo, The Associated Press