Whether you agree with the coach or not, Alain Vigneault has tied the New York Rangers' postseason success to his veterans. He has limited ice time for some of his good young players and even scratched one of them for a veteran with very little skill.
It's those decisions more than anything else that have the Rangers facing elimination when they host the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their second-round series on Tuesday night. New York trails the best-of-seven series 3-2 after a second collapse in Ottawa led to a second overtime loss in the series, and both losses had much to do with the team's older players.
In the Rangers' Game 5 loss on Saturday, it was again defenseman Dan Girardi on the ice for a crucial goal against -- the overtime winner by Kyle Turris -- and blue-liner Marc Staal out there for Derick Brassard's tying goal in the final minutes.
Forward Tanner Glass, who has taken the place of Pavel Buchnevich during this series, also was on the ice with the game on the line when Brassard sent it to overtime.
None of those names or roles appears likely to change for Game 6.
"Our group of veterans have a lot of experience," Vigneault said to the New York Daily News. "Not just NHL experience, but some guys have won the gold medal at the Olympics; some guys have played in World Cups. There is a lot of experience, and they have to use this experience right, first of all to get themselves ready to go out on the ice and execute and play hard and play well. And if they do that, then it's definitely in my mind going to rub off on the rest of our group that might have a little less experience but are leaning on those players to show them the way.
"That's the only thing right now that we can control, and that's what we need to focus on for Tuesday's game."
Vigneault felt his veteran core was "average" in Game 5, but that aptly defines those players at this stage of their careers. So with that unlikely to change, that leaves goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in his usual position of having to carry New York into the next round.
In his last 11 games at Madison Square Garden with the Rangers facing elimination, Lundqvist is 10-1 with a 1.05 goals-against average, .965 save percentage and two shutouts. He will look to build on that after a second straight overtime setback and third overtime loss in the playoffs.
"Right now, there's nothing that he can do about it or our team can do about it," Vigneault said to the New York Post. "His mind and the rest of our players' minds have to be on getting ready and performing well Tuesday at home."
The Senators, meanwhile, will try to solve the issues they've had at Madison Square Garden in this series.
In two road games, Ottawa suffered a pair of 4-1 losses that weren't close.
"Lots (has to change). Our desperation has to be better than Game 3, that's for sure," said Senators winger Alex Burrows to the Ottawa Sun. "We have to be smarter, make better reads without the puck. No matter what, we've just got to block everything. Whether it's MSG or Canadian Tire Centre on the outside, it shouldn't really matter.
"The play is the same, the game is the same, the same players on the other side and it shouldn't matter that the fans are going to be cheering on the other side ... We've got to close everything in and focus on what we have to do to be successful. We have a clear game plan about how we can beat this team and we're going to try to put it on display (Tuesday)."
The problem for Ottawa in Game 3 was the lack of desperation with the Senators leading the series 2-0, and that didn't change much in Game 4 with the Senators up 2-1 in the series. With the Rangers facing elimination and Ottawa having the safety net of a potential Game 7 on home ice, how do the Senators avoid a repeat performance for a third time?
"They're going to be in desperation mode. They're going to give it their all," Burrows said to the Ottawa Sun. "You think of how hard they came out in Game 3, it's probably going to be 10 times harder."
"It's do-or-die (for them). I know they're confident, especially coming back home," Senators winger Clarke MacArthur to the Ottawa Sun. "It's been a homer series and, for us, it will be just capitalizing on the mistakes. Hopefully, they have some nerves.
"When your back is right up against the wall, you can't help but think they're going to be a little jittery. They're going to have that mindset to go and get us right out of the gates here. I've been in Game 7s and this is a Game 7 for them. Any little mistake or any one play could cost you the game and that's always in the back of your mind."