ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s not the Big Dance — that’s another sport — but having lost two consecutive games for the first time since December and with a sense of urgency growing, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault decided on a Southern California shuffle.
For the three-game swing, backup goaltender Antti Raanta will start against the Ducks on Wednesday and Henrik Lundqvist will be in the net in Los Angeles on Thursday and in San Jose on Saturday afternoon. Vigneault mapped out the rotation because he wants Lundqvist to play two games with a day off between.
The next step was shaking up the lines and defense pairings. After two games on a line with Eric Staal, Rick Nash, who didn’t skate, will rejoin familiar faces Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. “It’s sort of going back to the well,” Vigneault said after practice at Honda Center. “He’s had the most success with Brass and Zukie; we need to get him going.”
After missing 20 games with a deep bone bruise in his left leg, Nash played back-to-back against Detroit and Pittsburgh, and with another set imminent, took Wednesday to rest. “There was a little bit of soreness,” Vigneault said. “It’s not an ideal schedule.”
Derek Stepan will be between Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast; Staal will center J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes. Tanner Glass, who missed Monday’s loss with a lower body injury, practiced and is expected to return to the fourth line with center Dom Moore and Viktor Stalberg. “Viktor been one of our better players, but one of the reasons I put him there was for better balance,” Vigneault said. “We’re going to have to play four lines, especially with three games in four days.”
The blueliners also have a different look, with struggling Dan Girardi replaced by Kevin Klein on the top pair with Ryan McDonagh. Girardi skated with Keith Yandle and Marc Staal was with Dan Boyle.
The hope is to regain the pace and defensive structure which has slipped from their grasp too often, first in December and again recently. “That’s when we have success,” said Lundqvist. “We have the skill to do extra things, but it doesn’t start with the extras.”
To be sure, the mood is changing with 13 games left.
“I am sensing a sense of urgency,’ Vigneault said. “If you’re a player on this team and you get up in the morning and you look at the standings, you’ve got to have a little sense of urgency with the competition that’s there. I think we’re in a good spot, if you talk about getting the check mark by our names (signifying a clinched playoff spot), but there’s still some work to be done here.”
Blue notes: Although rookie Dylan McIlrath is “making strides” in his recovery from a right knee injury on March 6, the Rangers will recall a spare defenseman when they have cap space, which Vigneault estimated would be “in the next ten days”, but not before Saturday . . . Oscar Lindberg is expected to be a healthy scratch against the Ducks.