BRANDON, Florida — Maybe Kevin Hayes has a secret hobby: Gardening.
After practice on Friday, asked about his $5,000 fine for squirting a water bottle from the bench at Lightning forward Alex Killorn, Hayes deadpanned: “I thought the ice was pretty dry . . . it happens all the time.”
Killorn and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos also were fined $5,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety in the wake of the incident at 3:01 of the third period in the Rangers’ 2-1 overtime win on Thursday.
Killorn also was penalized for a retaliatory slash, and Stamkos was fined for arguing with the officials and squirting water himself, some of which struck MSG broadcaster John Giannone, who was between the benches.
Nonetheless, after back-to-back wins, the Rangers’ mood was sunnier both post-game and on Friday. “I thought when we left the rink, everyone was happy with the way we played,” said Hayes, who shrugged off the team’s 5-7-2 record. “It’s too early for doubt,” he said. “We know who we have here in the locker room. We knew it was going to be a tough trip. We’ve just got to win a couple games.”
As players headed out of the facility where the Lighting also were practicing on an adjacent rink, captain Ryan McDonagh said players knew that Thursday’s game would be “ a wakeup call. We had to play a smart game” with an emphasis on defense, and not just “hope” plays, where the risk is higher. “We can use it as an example of the way we have to play.”
Next up are the Panthers (4-7-1 and losers of two straight) on Saturday. The Panthers’ No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo is injured.
A strong start, which has not been the norm through the first dozen games, will help. “I’ve always felt it was just a matter of time before things fell into place,” coach Alain Vigneault said, “as far as us going out and having the starts we deserved and felt we earned.”
Defenseman Steven Kampfer, who had two fights in Thursday’s game, watched practice from the sidelines, but is fine, Vigneault said. “He gooned it up, so we gave him a day off.” . . . Forward Paul Carey, a healthy scratch for nine games, had plenty of ice time in practice and could play Saturday, perhaps subbing for David Desharnais. “He’s been out for a while; I’m looking at the options,” Vigneault said . . . Henrik Lundqvist will start his third straight game . . . Brendan Smith also was on ice, but expected to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. “I just wanted to give Smitty a little more work,” Vigneault said.