For the first time all year the New York Rangers truly have their backs against the wall. Maybe not at the do or die level yet -- as the saying goes: it's not time to panic until the home team loses -- but it's close.
The Rangers don't want to go down 2-0 in this series, especially against a Penguins team that's doing their best Dan Girardi impression by regenerating parts overnight. Evgeni Malkin practiced with the Penguins yesterday. Marc Andre Fleury has been rumored to be healthyish since the start of the playoffs. The Rangers lost to a depleted Penguins team in Game One and a stronger Penguins team isn't going to help the cause.
New York is making some changes of their own. Girardi will miss the first playoff game of his career -- whether or not he's actually hurt of a healthy scratch remains to be seen -- and will most likely be replaced by Dylan McIlrath. There were rumors of a Raphael Diaz callup, but that appears to be part of the playoff media games Alain Vigneault loves to play, since as of this writing he has yet to be called up.
There was also good news coming from the Henrik Lundqvist side of things (see the injury here if you somehow missed it) who should be good to go today for Game Two. As mentioned above, Vigneault treats playoff information on a need to know basis where no one needs to know. This isn't a bad thing at all, but it does make confirmations impossible (hence the tongue in cheek headline of the story linked above).
As we talked about, outside of the defensive breakdowns the Rangers didn't play a bad game in the loss. They dominated possession, were the better hockey team for the first 40 minutes but were sunk by really bad defensive issues at the top. Girardi was particularly exploited, and while replacing him with a rookie who hasn't seen all that much game action (that's on AV) might not seem like the best idea, it's not insane to expect an improvement.
If yesterday's pairings in practice are to be believed McIlrath with pair with Keith Yandle. That was a pairing that -- when played together briefly this year -- was a solid shutdown group. I know speed is a concern when it comes to the Phil Kessel/Carl Hagelin line, that duo could easily match up against the Sidney Crosby line and be an upgrade over the Marc Staal - Girardi pairing.
Staal was paired with Kevin Klein -- I'm assuming they'd see Crosby duty now -- which adds a little more stability to the top four. As for the third pairing: Dan Boyle and Brady Skjei were solid all 60 minutes of Game One. Skjei even got a brief look against the Penguins elite and looked fine. He might be slotted up at times, too.
Overall the Rangers are an improved roster going into Game Two. With a similar effort -- and hopefully a little more finishing -- the Rangers should be able to hold their own. And Lundqvist being back adds an entirely new level of comfort to the situation, too.
Now just make sure you're not going back to MSG down 2-0.