For the Rangers and Canadiens, there's just one set of numbers that will count Thursday night: 3-0 or 2-1.
In the first case, the Rangers, who snared both games in Montreal, would have a 3-0 stranglehold in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals after Thursday night's Game 3 at Madison Square Garden, with only another win necessary to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.
Or Montreal will be back in the series, down just one game from squaring it and will have guaranteed a Game 5 at Bell Center Tuesday.
Having captured the first two games on the road "is a good feeling, but we've accomplished nothing yet," Martin St. Louis said. "It's a big game for everybody, a big opportunity for us . . . We haven't been here for a few games, and it's good to come back on a positive note. You go in understanding that with a loss or with a win, it's a lot of momentum shifting."
The Blueshirts, who won Game 1 in Montreal, 7-2, and Game 2, 3-1, are likely to have center Derick Brassard back in the lineup. He played just 35 seconds in Game 1. Brassard was rocked by defenseman Mike Weaver's open-ice check on his second shift and was scratched for Game 2, but practiced Wednesday and declared himself much improved.
"I went through the whole practice, so that's a pretty good sign," said Brassard, who has four goals and three assists in the playoffs and is averaging 14:40 of ice time. "It's a long way from where I was a couple days ago, so that's a pretty good sign. We'll see tomorrow. I haven't talked to AV [coach Alain Vigneault] or the medical staff yet. I was pretty frustrated when it happened; you're playing in the conference final against Montreal. I was pretty mad about it."
Asked if he could play if Game 3 had been Wednesday night, Brassard grinned, put on a poker face and replied: "Good question . . . I don't know."
Vigneault termed him day-to-day, but Brassard will likely skate this morning to assure that he is ready to go.
One of his linemates, Benoit Pouliot, skipped practice for a "maintenance day," but Vigneault indicated that he would be ready for Game 3.
Players were unified in demanding an intense, smart start at home. "That's the main focus," said St. Louis, "then we build it up and the rest falls into place."
Vigneault said he hoped there would be "unconditional love" from fans.
The Rangers were fortunate in Game 2 to score twice at the end of the first period, which the Canadiens dominated.
"We want to try and get as good of a start as we did in the first game," said forward Chris Kreider, who surely won't hear the boos that followed him in Montreal after his collision with Carey Price that knocked the Habs' No. 1 goaltender out of the series. "We did a really good job of bringing the puck out, supporting the defense, getting pucks in deep. It comes with a willingness to skate, taking a hit to make a play."