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Rangers coach challenges top line to match efforts of Penguins stars

| Monday, May 5, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

NEW YORK — Alain Vigneault challenged, then changed his team.

The result, though, was not what the New York Rangers' coach hoped for.

Prior to Monday night's 2-0 loss to the Penguins in Game 3 of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Vigneault called out his top line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis.

“Their big boys put on the big boys pants,” Vigneault said of the Penguins' stars performance in Game 2 Sunday night. “I need (my stars) to do that.”

When general manager Glen Sather hired Vigneault to replace John Tortorella as coach last June, it partly was due to the Rangers having tired of the tone in which Tortorella's unrelenting message was delivered.

In calling out his top line in the manner he did, Vigneault channeled Tortorella.

With reason.

The Rangers' top line — the trio of Nash, Stepan and St. Louis — has 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in New York's first 10 playoff games. However, the line has accumulated only two points — both assists — dating to Game 5 of the first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Nash has four assists, all coming in the first three games against the Flyers. Stepan and St. Louis have not recorded a point in their last five games.

Not content to solely express his discontent, Vigneault overhauled his lineup as he sat left wing Daniel Carcillo, right wing Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore for J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Raphael Diaz. Vigneault also reconstructed his lines and started the game with Nash on a line with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, while Stepan centered Miller and St. Louis.

“I'm not going to get into all the reasoning why,” Vigneault said of the changes. “(It's) probably easy to say the schedule and fresh legs.”

The new lines lasted all of two periods. Before the end of the second and with the Rangers trailing 2-0, Vigneault put Nash and St. Louis back with Stepan.

Vigneault suggested his top players “picked up” his challenge of matching the Penguins' stars production. The scoresheet showed Nash finished with eight shot attempts, and Stepan and St. Louis had four and three, respectively.

“Our whole team, I thought, (played) a strong game,” Vigneault said when asked to asses the Nash-Stepan-St. Louis line. “We didn't give them much in the way of opportunities, and we had some real good looks. Just couldn't score.”

And now, after the Rangers were shut out for the second game in a row, their season is two losses away from ending.

Denis Gorman is a freelance writer.

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