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Ottawa Senators v New York Rangers - Game Three Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Rangers road to the Eastern Conference Finals was not supposed to be this difficult. But the playoffs have a way of spoiling the best-laid plans of fans and pretenders.

For the first time in the 2017 Playoffs the New York Rangers face elimination.

If the Rangers don’t find a way to even up the series tonight at the Garden it will be handshake time. It will be another year of Henrik Lundqvist wasted. Another year of hoping for progress that has eluded the team for the past three years.

The Rangers can’t afford to let another lead slip away against a team with an inferior offense. They can’t afford to have chaos and misfortune derail yet another game.

If the Rangers were ever going to put it all together this year, tonight is the night to do it. Tonight is the night they have to do it.

All signs point to Alain Vigneault leaning on his veterans for Game 6. This shouldn’t surprise us. Vigneault is a coach who sticks with what he knows and who he knows and for him that means established players.

He’s had some issues with what he’s seen from some of his players, but he isn’t in a rush to grill them publicly.

"I don't want to single out those players, but for whatever reason we had quite a few that had an average game," Vigneault recently told members of the media. "It was not an appropriate time. There's nothing we can do about it. What we can do is get ready for Tuesday's game and make sure that we have a real strong game."

Some of New York’s veterans have been great. Some have been far from it.

What the Rangers need out of their most experienced players is composure, especially in the defensive zone both with and without the puck. Too many times have we seen the Rangers cough up leads late in games. Too many times have failed clears, zone exits and other defensive zone mistakes burned the Rangers.

That can’t happen tonight. We know that and every player in the Rangers locker room knows it. It’s time to tighten things up. It’s time for this team to get out of its own way.

We still don’t know if it will be Pavel Buchnevich or Tanner Glass in the lineup for Game 6. More mind games from Vigneault? It looks like it.

The sideshow of Chris Neil and Glass will be just that - a sideshow. The most important player for the Rangers tonight will be the same player it is almost every night.

Henrik Lundqvist is the team’s best chance at getting to Game 7.

Lundqvist has caught a lot of flak for how Game 5 ended. But it’s important to remember that he has posted a .930 Sv% in the 2017 Playoffs. Is it fair to expect much more from him? He can’t score goals and he doesn’t choose who’s on the ice in the final two minutes of the game.

The good news is that Lundqvist has a history of stepping up when the Rangers need it the most.

So long as there’s Lundqvist, there is always hope. Game 6 begins tonight at 7:30.

Let’s go Rangers.