CHICAGO -- Forget the long view. It's game-by-game for the Rangers, who open the season Wednesday night at the Madhouse on Madison against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Blackhawks, who have lifted the Cup three times in the last six seasons, will be raising the banner before the game, but the Rangers will be waiting in the visitors' locker room.
"On a personal note, I don't need that [extra] motivation," coach Alain Vigneault said on Tuesday. "I've been trying to get this big prize for a long time."
Vigneault used to break down a season into eight 10-game segments. No more. "Before last year, in theory, I always said if you can get 12 points in those segments, that's 96 points. Ninety-six should get you in [the playoffs], but we saw last year it wasn't enough [for Boston], so my theory's out the window. It's one-game segments."
Now in his third year behind the Blueshirts' bench, Vigneault pays attention to predictions. "Last year, people were saying we'd have to fight to get in. You've got two trains of thought now, some guys saying we're a good team and should get in; others said we were going to fight to get in. The important thing is what our group believes, and from our goaltender out, we all think we're a good team; we all think we have to improve individually and collectively. We know that it's going to be extremely hard to get in."
But that will take 82 games to determine. Henrik Lundqvist, who will start the opener, is 5-1-2 with a 1.98 goals- against average and .934 save percentage against the Blackhawks, but it will be his first start against them since Jan. 8, 2014, a 3-2 win at United Center. Cam Talbot played the two games last March against the Blackhawks when Lundqvist was injured, a 1-0 overtime win on March 8 at United Center and a 1-0 loss at Madison Square Garden on March 18. Talbot also earned a 2-1 win on Feb. 27, 2014, at home.
After Wednesday night, the Rangers play in Columbus Friday and host the Blue Jackets on Saturday. Vigneault said he had not decided whether former Blackhawk Antti Raanta will play in those games.
Vigneault, who met with Raanta Monday, told him that with 17 back-to-back games, the most he's ever experienced as a coach, "we need probably anywhere from 20 to 25 games from him. That'll keep Hank around 60, that should keep him real sharp."