Home ice may not be an advantage for Rangers against Canadiens

The New York Rangers will face the same issue Sunday night in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series that they encountered throughout the regular season — finding a way to win at Madison Square Garden.

Although the Rangers lost 4-3 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 on Friday, they still stole home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series by virtue of their 2-0 victory in Game 1.

But playing at MSG hasn’t been much of advantage. The Rangers own the worst home record of the 16 postseason teams and lost both regular-season games at home to the Canadiens.

The Rangers won their final two regular-season games at MSG but lost eight in a row before that.

“I think regular season we had our struggles, but this is a new season once playoffs come around, and everything that’s happened before is erased,” Rangers forward Rick Nash said to the New York Daily. “Our fans, I think the building is gonna be loud and we’ve got to be ready for the start of the game.”

One thing that can’t be erased is the Rangers’ inconsistency on defense, which proved to be a problem in Game 2.

The Canadiens poured 49 shots on Henrik Lundqvist in the final two periods and 18 minutes of overtime. With the Rangers leading 3-2 in the final seconds, Tomas Plekanec scored the tying goal after defenseman Nick Holden broke his stick while slashing Plekanec and was unable to prevent the winning deflection from near the crease.

So if the Rangers want to turn the page on their regular-season struggles at home, it will start with the back end turning the page on the struggles it had in Game 2.

“I think like any team, you make the playoffs and it’s kind of a clean slate, both individually and as a team,” captain Ryan McDonagh said to the New York Post. “Good season or not so good season individually, it’s a fresh start, and that goes for the team as well. We have to just focus on playing well as a group, no matter where you’re at and the situation you’re in.”

The Canadiens had issues of their own defensively. Nikita Nesterov found himself glued to the bench after a mistake that led to Michael Grabner’s breakaway goal in the first period and has been shaky in both games. Alexei Emelin would be in Nesterov’s place usually, but he’s out with an injury and did not travel to New York.

While Emelin won’t play in Game 3, he has not been ruled out for Game 4.

“He’s day to day,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said to the Montreal Gazette. “The word I got is that he’ll skate (Saturday) or (Sunday). We left him in Montreal because he’ll be able to skate and get better treatment there.”

One change that seems more likely — center Alex Galchenyuk being moved permanently off the fourth line, which happened during Game 2. Julien would not disclose his lineup Saturday, but Galchenyuk, who assisted on the tying goal at the end of regulation, could find himself on the third line or playing top-six minutes in Game 3.

“I thought Alex had a real good game,” Julien said to Sportsnet. “You need to reward guys who are having good games.”

The Rangers will look to reward their fans that have endured a rough season on home ice.

“We look forward to playing in front of our own fans,” Lundqvist said to the New York Daily News. “That’s exciting. We expected this to be a tough series. They’re a good team; they’re a fast team; they create a lot. It hasn’t changed. We go home and get ready for a game.”