GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Alain Vigneault’s latest chemistry experiment worked well over the weekend with a third-line mix for his Rangers that yielded lots of chances in the victory at Montreal and two goals in the overtime loss to Pittsburgh at the Garden.
Now comes the next chance for Kevin Hayes at center, Eric Staal on left wing and Jesper Fast on the right to help the Rangers try to clinch a playoff berth Thursday night in Staal’s return to his old Carolina home. With a regulation or overtime win, the Rangers would be in because they would own the regulation/OT wins tiebreaker over Detroit or Boston.
“I thought the line the last game was our most effective offensively,” Vigneault said after Wednesday’s practice. “They got pucks deep, were able to get in on the forecheck and recover some of those pucks. And when they did, their size and their skill and their reading off one another permitted them to get some quality chances, and they were able to cash in on a couple . . . Hopefully they can continue and do that tomorrow.”
Staal had stalled offensively, scoring once over his first 13 games after coming from Carolina Feb. 28. But he shifted from center and cashed in two goals against Pittsburgh, both assisted by Hayes and Fast.
“It starts with Hayes in the middle,” Fast said. “He’s a big guy, strong on the puck, can make plays. Eric . . . [has] good experience that can help me and Hayesie. I think we have good chemistry so far.”
The 6-5 Hayes had been playing on the right of the 6-4 Staal.
“I consider myself a versatile guy,“ Hayes said. “ . . . It’s nice playing center. I don’t mind playing the wing, either.”
After contributing 17 goals and 28 assists last season, Hayes has only 12 goals and 22 assists with six regular-season games left in his sophomore campaign.
“It’s been up and down for sure,” Hayes said. “I’ve been inconsistent a little bit. But when the playoffs start, it’s a whole new season, and hopefully it’s trending upward and not downward.”
Vigneault wouldn’t rule out tweaking his lines again, especially another Fast move.
“It seems every time I put Jesper on a line, that line seems to be going,” Vigneault said. “He seems to be a big part of any line that I put him on.”