GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Bulletin-board material from Alain Vigneault's podium? Nah. From players at the team's training center? Nope.
Sparks may fly when bodies start colliding Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series to determine whether the Rangers or Washington Capitals advance to the Eastern Conference Final. But Wednesday, the comments were measured, respectful and repetitive. Why strike a match when you know the fire is creeping toward you anyway?
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On televisions and laptops, the Rangers kept abreast of the rugged first-round battle between the Capitals and Islanders, which featured more hits than the Billboard charts. They don't envision the Capitals changing their stars and stripes.
"Washington plays an honest, physical brand of hockey," Vigneault said. "We know what to expect from them. I don't think they're more physical than any team we've seen, we've played physical teams. We're going to try to play to our strengths, play a fast game, a quick north-south game."
So there's the game plan, as if anyone sensed otherwise. Lightning versus thunder. Speed versus speed bumps. The Rangers want to run; the Capitals want to slow them down.
Historically, NHL teams who win Game 1 in a second- or third- round seven-game series win that series 70 percent of the time, according to whowins.com, a website that tracks such data. For the optimistic, the Rangers, who ousted the Penguins in the fifth game last Friday, are 29-11-1 in Game 1s at the Garden, and have won five straight.
"It feels like a long break here," Henrik Lundqvist said. "We've seen this team a lot; they have the same core group, but they play differently. We have a good feeling starting the series."
When the puck drops, the Rangers will be missing an important piece, small but fearless winger Mats Zuccarello, who had 49 points during the season and has been sidelined and secluded since being struck in the side of the head with a hard shot in the first period of Game 5 against the Penguins. He is listed as out indefinitely; however, he has not been ruled out of the series, Vigneault indicated.
But the Rangers will have their top six defensemen, including Kevin Klein, on ice for the first time since March 11. Klein has been out with a broken left arm from Alex Ovechkin's shot.
There are always intangibles when teams who are familiar with each other play every other night, which is the landscape for early May. Right now there is confidence, which will be tested, and in the end one team's will be broken.
"Our program is at a stage where we think we can challenge for the Cup," Vigneault said. "That being said, the only way to handle those things is a game at a time. We're playing against an opponent that believes they can beat us and we believe that we can beat them."