Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 5/25/12

When the puck drops tonight in Newark, the New York Rangers will be facing elimination for the fourth time this postseason.  They have played their best this spring with their backs against the wall, and that will have to continue if they wish to push the Eastern Conference Finals to its limit.

Wednesday’s Game 5 loss was surely a disappointing one for the Rangers.  They chipped away and erased a 3-0 deficit.  They possessed all the momentum in the third period.  Then the air was let out of the balloon in Madison Square Garden when New Jersey’s Ryan Carter scored the eventual game-winning goal with 4:24 remaining.

The positive going into tonight’s Game 6 is that the Rangers were in this exact situation in the first round and they can draw from that experience.

The No. 8-seeded Ottawa Senators dished out a frustrating 2-0 loss to the Rangers in Game 5 to move up 3-2 in the series.  Paul MacLean’s club had the momentum going back home for Game 6, only to see the Rangers win a pair of one-goal games en route to the second round.  It was there that they edged Washington in Game 7 to advance to where they are now.

Nothing has been pretty or conventional for the Rangers this postseason.  Momentous wins have been followed up by dissatisfying losses.  Once you think they are ready to get on a roll, they take a step back and force Rangers fans to think about finding that panic button.  That panic button was found after a 5-3 Game 5 loss to the Devils on Wednesday, leaving the Rangers on the brink of elimination.

But time after time, the Rangers have dug deep to play their best hockey with their season on the line.  Can they do it again here in the third round against rival New Jersey?  Three things have to happen for the Rangers to win tonight and Sunday to meet Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup final.

1. Better starts

The slow start in Game 5, in which the Devils scored thrice in the first 10 minutes, killed the Rangers.  Although they did come back to tie the game, it proved to be too big of a deficit to overcome.  New Jersey is outscoring New York 6-1 in the first period in this series.  For John Tortorella and company, that is unacceptable.  They have to be better out of the gates.

2. Rise of ‘King Henrik’

Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t terrible in Game 5, but he also was nowhere near his best.  The first two goals the Devils scored, he could do nothing about.  But the third one, scored by Travis Zajac, was one Lundqvist had to stop.  The Rangers will need Lundqvist to channel his play from the three previous elimination games in which he gave up four goals.  Going up against a legend in Martin Brodeur, this will be Lundqvist’s biggest test yet.

3. Top players emerge as top players

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: the Rangers need their top players to rise to the occasion here.  Marian Gaborik has one goal in five games this series.  Brad Richards has three assists and has not displayed that clutch gene from Round 2.  To a lesser extent, Derek Stepan has zero points in the series.  If the Rangers wish to be hosting a Game 7 on Sunday evening, they’ll need their top players to step up big time.

So will the Rangers do it?  Will they fight off the fatigue and deliver another clutch effort tonight and if so, Sunday?  Will they fight off elimination twice more to advance to the Cup final?

There’s nothing to suggest they can’t do it, but you know the Devils are going to try to display a killer instinct tonight.  Many, including yours truly, still believe the Rangers will win this series.  But it’s impossible to know what to expect; this has been the most unpredictable postseason in recent memory.

Who will end up meeting the Kings in the final?  Will it be the Rangers or the Devils?  We could find out tonight; we will definitely know by Sunday night.

One thing is guaranteed: the Rangers won’t go down easy.

Photo credit: Getty Images
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