Resting Rangers know they have to be sharp for start of Stanley Cup Final
Taking the long road to the Stanley Cup Final isn't enough for the Rangers. They want to raise the trophy at the end of the journey. But it could take more than two weeks.
The record for most playoff games by an NHL team is 26, held by the Flames in 2003-04 and Flyers in 1986-87. The Rangers could get to 27 with a seven-game Final against the Kings or Blackhawks -- whichever one wins Sunday's Game 7 in the Western Conference finals.
"It's an amazing achievement to be able to play for the Cup, but these 21/2 weeks go by real quick, and you don't want to get caught behind to start the series," said Brad Richards, who won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. "We have to stay sharp. I know it sounds crazy, but you can't let it slip. We have to be ready and better than we were [Thursday] in Game 1 to try to get into the series quickly."
So the Rangers, having clinched the Eastern Conference title in Thursday night's Game 6 against the Canadiens, rested Friday. When they return to the ice, presumably for practice on Sunday, their goal will be to prepare to match the intensity and structure from that 1-0 clincher.
The blueprint for success, which the Rangers couldn't nail down early in the season when the transition to Alain Vigneault's up-tempo system began, involves rolling four lines and having the proper personnel to execute it.
When the Rangers began 3-7, three of their swiftest skaters were not ready. Carl Hagelin was sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery, Chris Kreider was with AHL Hartford and Mats Zuccarello was inconsistent and benched for the Oct. 24 game against Philadelphia.
But all three were major contributors later in the season, and when you throw in Rick Nash's return from a concussion and Martin St. Louis' quickness since his arrival in March from the Lightning, the look up front has been decidedly different. They are not the same team that had 34 points after 36 games.
But in the Final, as in Game 6, the engine will have to hum. No knocks.
Not only will the fourth line, anchored by Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle, need to contribute more, but the proficient trio of Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Zuccarello will have to stay the course. In Game 6, for example, the Rangers outshot the Canadiens 26-13 at even strength; the Brassard line was 11-1.
The penalty kill has been dominant, ranked second among all playoff teams, but will be tested. The Kings, who score 3.4 goals per game, have a 25 percent success rate on the power play. The Blackhawks are at 18 percent with the man-advantage.
Notes & quotes:Defenseman John Moore will miss Game 1 of the Final on Wednesday, serving the second game of his two-game suspension for the head shot on the Canadiens' Dale Weise. Raphael Diaz, who played 11:35 (including 2:04 on the power play) in Game 6, presumably will dress again . . . Dan Carcillo's appeal of his automatic 10-game ban for his elbow to linesman Scott Driscoll in Game 3 was heard Friday. He has served three games . . . Derek Stepan, who shared a hug on the handshake line with former teammate Brandon Prust, who broke his jaw with a blindside hit in Game 3, will remain on a soft diet for six weeks. "[Prust] feels bad about it. He knows it was late. We move on," Stepan said.
A TV hit.The Rangers' series-clinching victory over the Canadiens Thursday night averaged 8.5 percent of homes in the New York area, the highest NHL rating ever in the market for NBC/NBCSN. The previous mark was 7.1, set Tuesday for Game 5.