GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The team that lost its way while skating on California ice hopes it found its way again this week while skating on Garden ice, taking two steps toward home-ice advantage in the first round with wins over Florida and Boston.
The Rangers now will get a back-to-back shot to take two more steps toward their goal, facing the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday night and the Penguins at home Sunday night.
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For all their rough edges and inconsistency, the Rangers remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division at 92 points with eight games left. The Penguins have 88 points and the Islanders have 87; both teams have nine games remaining.
“We’re looking at the standings and it’s pretty tight,” center Derick Brassard said after yesterday’s practice. “We just want a checkmark beside our name for the playoffs, but at the same time, if we can get home-ice advantage, that would be good for our team . . . There’s urgency in our game. That’s really positive for our team.”
The power play has been a positive, scoring eight goals in the last 10 games.
“There’s no doubt our power play is making some confident plays and some confident decisions,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Our penalty-killing is making positive strides. I still think there’s room for improvement.”
Vigneault seems to be thinking the same thing about two of his lines. In this practice, he dropped Jesper Fast from first-line right wing to Eric Staal’s third line, with Kevin Hayes moving from right to left wing, and elevated Chris Kreider from third-line left wing to Brassard’s first line, with Rick Nash shifting from left to right wing. But Vigneault wasn’t ready to proclaim these changes definite for Montreal.
“It’s all about looking for the right chemistry,” he said.
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to be in goal against Pittsburgh. Antti Raanta, a winner in five of his last six starts, gets the Canadiens.
Notes & quotes: Vigneault said forward Oscar Lindberg, a healthy scratch the last five games, will play again “shortly.” . . . Vigneault said defenseman Dylan McIlrath (knee), out the last eight games, should be available in “maybe five to six days at the most.”