PITTSBURGH -- A confident Rangers team rolled into CONSOL Energy Center for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, their fifth game in eight days and the first in a string of three in four.
“The most important thing is to hit the reset button,” said Derick Brassard. "We roll four lines, no one's tired ... we’re hungry to win some more games, and there's a really good atmosphere in the room right now. We haven’t won anything yet. That’s something we learned from last year. "
The players, said Brassard, also scouted how his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, took the Penguins to the brink of a Game 7 before being eliminated.
“As a team we saw four games,” Brassard said. “I think we can learn a lot from the way Columbus put everything behind their defensemen, made them defend, they forechecked really hard, they didn’t pass up many shots. We’re obviously facing probably the two best players in the world… we’re going to have to make them go into the tough areas and we’re going to need to be hard on them.”
Ranger coach Alain Vigneault, who shrugged off the upcoming three games in four nights schedule. “I come from the West,” said Vigneault who coached in Vancouver for seven years. “Travel out here is pretty easy, so I’m not really overly concerned.”
To prepare for the Penguins, who finished second in the East with 109 points, Vigneault and his staff “pulled an all-nighter” reviewing video of the Penguins-Jackets series.
“It was tough hockey,” Vigneault said. “We’re meeting an elite team. We know coming into this series that for us to have a chance against such a good team, we’re going to have to find another level of execution and another level of compete, that’s how good these guys are…any team that has (Sidney) Crosby and (Evegni) Malkin, those are amazing players. But we’re looking forward to it, we’re ready and anxious to get going.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he anticipated using both Crosby and Malkin (as a right wing) together in certain situations, as he had done for five periods in Games 5 and 6, and tweaked his second and third lines. The Penguins outscored the Jackets 7-1 and outshot them 74-41.
Stopping that pair, as well as the rest of the Penguins, who scored at last three goals in each of the six games against the Blue Jackets and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, will be a major challenge for the Rangers defense and Henrik Lundqvist, who has a 2.11 GAA in this post-season.
But Bylsma said that “there are tendencies and books on goaltenders. Last series, we saw goals go in based on some of those tendencies, on that Vezina Trophy winner (Bobrovsky). There is a book, there are tendencies (with Lundqvist), some of it having to (make him) play the puck.”
During his briefing, Vigneault was a little irritated by a question about the 3-for-29 power play against the Flyers. “You know what? It’s a brand new series, we haven’t had one yet,” he said. “In our minds, our power play was a real good weapon (during the season), we’re focusing now on Pittsburgh and what they do on the PK and come up with a plan.” There will also be pressure on the penalty-kill, which succeeded 23.4 percent of the time during the season, tied for first in the NHL with the Capitals.
Another obstacle is the atmosphere itself and the comfort level of the Penguins in a building where they were 28-9-4 this season and 4-2 in Game 1s since it opened in 2010-11.
It’s not going to be easy,” said Brassard, “but we feel like we can beat any team.”