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Rangers banking on home ice

| Monday, April 28, 2008

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gave New York agitator Sean Avery an unwelcome parting gift to take back to Manhattan along with the Rangers' 2-0 series deficit.

Fleury choked up on his stick and administered a quick chop to the back of Avery's legs as the final buzzer sounded in the 2-0 Penguins' victory. The slash sparked a fracas behind the net, as skaters from both teams paired off for a few minutes before leaving the ice. No penalties were assessed.

"I don't know. The guy was there slashing behind my legs," Fleury said. "I thought I'd give him a little bit. It's the playoffs. You deal with it. My defense came in and took care of him pretty good."

It was the final insult for the Rangers, who are a blown three-goal lead and a quick whistle on a Martin Straka rebound shot away from perhaps heading home with a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Penguins.

Instead, those numbers are reversed after the Penguins' Game 2 victory. But the Rangers were surprisingly upbeat as they head home for Game 3 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

"They made the adjustment, they did a good job, and it's the playoffs," New York Rangers forward Scott Gomez said. "They've got a lot of guys over there that, they're young but they get it. They played great. ... they kept their home ice, and now we've got to keep ours."

On the surface, it may appear the Rangers are patronizing their rabid fans and posturing in the hope of putting a positive spin on what has, so far, been a dismal series for the Blueshirts.

Then again, the way the Rangers have played against the Penguins at Madison Square Garden, a 2-2 tie heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Sunday might be a foregone conclusion.

In four divisional games in Manhattan this season, the Penguins came away with a grand total of one point thanks to a 2-1 overtime loss in their last game at the Garden on March 31. They scored only five goals on a paltry 92 shots against goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (a .946 save percentage) as their power play went 1 for 16 (6.3 percent) in the four games and they are only 3-7-2 over the past three seasons.

"The most important thing is that we stay confident right now," Lundqvist said. "We know we can beat them, no question. But they're a very good team, and you can't hand them much because they will make you pay for it, and hopefully, we can play better at home and feel more confident and put more pressure in front of their net and score more goals."

Not only do the Rangers have the Penguins' number at Madison Square Garden, they also have experience coming back from a 2-0 deficit after losing the first two on the road. They did it in the second round last season, when they dropped the first two in Buffalo and won the next two at home.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, they then dropped Games 5 and 6 and were eliminated, as the Sabres moved on to the Eastern Conference finals. But they know they have the wherewithal to come back and make a series out of it.

"You just have to go back home here and still feel confident we can beat this team," Lundqvist said. "Go back home and get two wins and come back here. It's going to be pressure on them, so we'll go back to New York, we'll get it by ourselves, we like playing at home, and we'll get two wins."

Still, they uncharacteristically allowed the Penguins to get back into Game 1 after weathering an early storm and jumping out to a 3-0 lead, then watched as the Penguins used their own game plan against them with a stifling counterattacking defensive setup that saw the Rangers outshot for the first time in 10 games by their Atlantic Division rival.

Though home ice advantage can only do so much, it may be enough for the Rangers considering how badly the Penguins have fared in their building.

"We're going home," Straka said. "They won two and that's what we have to do now."

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