GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Home, road, momentum, no momentum — there isn’t time to worry about where the Rangers are for Game 5 and whether they can carry over the effort from Tuesday’s 2-1 Game 4 win that knotted their first round series with the Canadiens.
Thursday’s game is simply about putting forth a full effort to try and grab the lead back in a very evenly matched series that, through four games, hasn’t shown there’s much difference between the two clubs.
“I’m real confident this group is starting to figure out this is the way need to play,” Derek Stepan said after the Rangers practiced at their training center and before they flew to Montreal on Wednesday. “We have to focus in on making sure we take it a period at a time. It’s a big game, going into a tough building. I tread carefully saying momentum carries from game to game. We’re focusing in on the first shift.”
After a complete dud in Game 3 at the Garden, the Rangers did give a fuller effort from opening shift to last in their close Game 4 victory. They may have been a Shea Weber rocket off the post away from overtime on Tuesday — the big Canadiens defenseman came close to tying the game with his slapper inside of 90 seconds to play — but the Rangers were the better team throughout, led by Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist, three of their leaders.
The Bell Centre beckons on Thursday. Alain Vigneault repeated the line he’s used “150 times this year — we don’t play one way at home and another on the road.” The Rangers’ league-best 27 road wins in the regular season may mean nothing now, but the way the team played in Game 1 and for a decent chunk of Game 2 in Montreal is something to recall and build upon.
“We’re going back to a place where I thought we played a real good couple of games,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault didn’t make any obvious adjustments for Wednesday’s practice, leaving his Game 4 lines intact. Tanner Glass and Pavel Buchnevich rotated in a few rushes on the left side with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, but Glass was one of the last Rangers off the ice, an indication that Buchnevich will stay in for Game 5 and Vigneault will try to roll four lines the way he did through Game 4.
Kevin Klein was also on the ice late, meaning Nick Holden likely stays in.
The core group of Rangers has been in this situation before. Five of the top six Rangers in playoff games played will be on the ice Thursday, led by Lundqvist, who has been incredibly sharp in his duel of sorts with Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. Lundqvist has had to be the better goaltender and he doesn’t see much point in comparing himself to the guy in the other net.
“You can’t change your approach,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what anyone else is doing.”
Even if there isn’t much use for momentum between games in this series, the Rangers will try to replicate their consistent, roster-wide Game 4 effort. Aside from a few breakdowns early and withstanding the expected Canadiens onslaught late, the Rangers were a very different team than the one that passively skated through a Game 3 loss.
“I think we have a pretty confident bunch,” Brendan Smith said. “Game 3 wasn’t our best, I love how the boys responded. That’s what you have to do — when you fall off the horse you get back on. I was proud to be part of that.”