COLUMBUS -- First off, the probable lineup at Nationwide Arena on Friday night:
Benoit Pouliot skated in the Friday optional after arriving from New York following the birth of his daughter on Wednesday and is expected to play, coach Alain Vigneault said. So as of this moment, the scratches are Derek Dorsett, Ryan Haggerty, Raphael Diaz and Justin Falk. It will be Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky in nets, but the rest of the Jackets' lineup is unclear. They did not skate after arriving in late Thursday night from Montreal.
With the power play 2 for 24, the Rangers tried some variations during practice on Thursday. Players weren’t as static.
Asked about Martin St. Louis fitting in, Vigneault, who has used him on the half wall, said Friday, “There were a lot of right-handed shots [on the Lightning], and we don’t have very many on our team, so that complicates things a little bit, but we tried a couple things in practice.”
Indeed, St. Louis, who had been discussing positioning with teammates at practice, said Friday that getting the puck in the zone quickly and relieving the pressure was important for a successful setup, which has been noted as an issue earlier in the year. “Otherwise, you’re rushing things,” he said. “Then, it’s making decisions.”
Columbus was 0-for-8 on the power play Thursday night in Montreal. Friday's matchup could be decided on the man-advantage.
Nash did at least one more television interview in his former city Friday, and I asked Vigneault if he got the sense that the power forward was more pumped up for this game, which will provide one team with two points and 80 total.
“Rick’s a very quiet type of player,” he said. “I don’t think you need to be hyper to show that you care or that you really want to win and compete and be out there. Everybody’s got their own way of preparing and dealing with things, but I do know Nasher is a highly competitive player. It’ll be his first opportunity to play in front of his former fans tonight and I’m sure he wants to do real well.”
In a playoff-like atmosphere, Vigneault said, “Guys feed off your top players. Some people just thrive on this, every game, every shift, every time you’re on the ice, you have the opportunity to decide the game, and usually your elite players, they thrive on that opportunity to make a difference. And I’m confident that’s what our guys are going to do, from our goaltender out.”
Players are well aware of the implications of games in a playoff race, Vigneault said. “I gotta believe that everybody’s environment, the people we know, everybody’s talking about it, ‘Did you see last night, did you see what happened?’ So everybody’s up to date with what’s going on, but our focus needs to be on the game at hand. We’ve got a real tough opponent and probably one of the hardest-working and highest compete-level teams in the league…Right now it’s about having the right preparations. To execute, players have to prepare themselves, players have to get in the right zone…we help them with team preparation, but that individual part is theirs.”