41° Good Morning
41° Good Morning

Rangers need to improve board battles, scoring chances for Game 2

Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens and

Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens and Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers battle for position in front of Canadiens goaltender Carey Price #31 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 12, 2017 in Montreal. Credit: Getty Images / Minas Panagiotakis

MONTREAL — After a collective, determined effort to steal Game 1 of the best-of-seven playoff series against the Canadiens on Wednesday night, the Rangers know they have to improve in several areas for Game 2 here Friday night.

They can’t just depend on another flawless performance from Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped all 31 shots in the 2-0 shutout.

In interviews Thursday, the Rangers made it clear that they believe they must win more battles on the walls and create more high-quality scoring chances against goaltender Carey Price to avoid heading back to New York with the series tied.

“[Game 1] was a good template,” forward Rick Nash said after practice at Bell Centre. “But I don’t know if I had a Grade-A [chance]. I need to get more for sure; you have to work that much harder in the playoffs to get your chances, your looks. As an individual and as a line, we’ve got to be better getting those chances. And I still think the wingers can do a better job on the boards. We gave up a lot of chances by letting them walk out.”

Each team figures to deploy the same lineup, and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the combat along the walls and corners and in front of the nets might determine whether the Rangers can take a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time since 2014 (against a different version of these Canadiens).

“The skill and the willingness to make plays in the tight areas, that’s where it has to come out,” Vigneault said. “You need some players to step up — and I’m not saying you’re going to take some abuse, but you probably are — to make a play out of nothing. That’s where the great players in the playoffs make a difference.”

Rookie left wing Jimmy Vesey, who skated with Nash and Mika Zibanejad, touched on the same themes.

“We have to play the game beneath the dots in the offensive zone and hold on to pucks and wear them out, and find a way to get to Price,” Vesey said. “He’s a great goaltender, but let’s get some guys in front of him and get more than one whack at the puck.”

During the Canadiens’ practice in suburban Brossard, the forward lines and defense pairs remained the same, but coach Claude Julien didn’t rule out minor changes before the puck drops Friday night.

“We know we want to be a little bit better,” Julien said. “We want to make that difference. There’s still room for improvement, but certainly I don’t think there’s any reason to panic here and I don’t think there’s any reason to make major changes to even show panic. I think we’re a confident group that if we play our game, we’re very capable of winning with the lineup we have now.

“The luxury I have is I have another day to think about it. If I tell you something today and I change my mind tonight, I’m the one that’s going to look foolish. So we’ll answer that tomorrow.”

Vigneault, who usually keeps the same lineup after a win, could make some changes on the blue line down the road. “We have seven experienced defensemen,” he said. “It gives us options. At this time of year, whether you look at the minutes or the number of shifts, they are tough minutes and tough shifts. It’s intense out there.”

And the Canadiens’ intensity is expected to ramp up. Said Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith: “We’re going to see a different beast next game.”


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

New York Sports