GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The afterglow and the emotional buzz of an overtime win in the Winter Classic hasn’t faded, so the Rangers said they have to guard against any letdown when the Chicago Blackhawks arrive at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
“There’s certainly a high coming off a game like that,” said Marc Staal, who has some reference points, having appeared in all four outdoor games — all victories — with the Rangers. “Hopefully, it will get us going, and we can string a few wins together, not be so up and down.”
But things can turn quickly, said Staal, “if you’re not paying attention to the little things, playing the right way. We just have to make sure when it’s time to play, we’re ready to go.”
There’s precedent for that: On Nov. 15, the Hawks ended the Blueshirts’ six-game winning streak with a 6-3 win at United Center. Although the score was tied at 1 after 40 minutes, the Hawks scored five goals in the third period, including Artem Anisimov’s hat trick. Anisimov, the former Ranger, is currently injured, but the Hawks (18-14-6, 42 points) surely will be desperate to get 2018 off to a strong start.
“With their skill set and the reputation they bring to the table, it should have everyone’s attention,” said coach Alain Vigneault.
Chicago goalie Jeff Glass, 32, who won his NHL debut with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Oilers on Dec. 29 and lost in overtime to Calgary 4-3 on New Year’s Eve, will be in net. Henrik Lundqvist will start for the Rangers (21-13-5, 47 points).
The game is the first of three in five days, with matches in Arizona and Las Vegas on Saturday and Sunday before a bye week, with a choppy schedule the rest of the month, which entails a four-game West Coast trip before concluding with the All-Star break. In all, the Rangers will play 26 of their final 42 games on the road.
In a short practice on Tuesday, Vigneault modified some lines. J.T. Miller, who had the overtime game-winner and an assist at Citi Field, moved to the top trio with center Mika Zibanejad (pointless in six games) and Mats Zuccarello. “Mika’s line wasn’t generating a lot 5-on-5 (against the Sabres),” said Vigneault. “Hopefully it’ll get Mika going a bit, get him to play up to his qualities, by putting J.T. there.”
Rick Nash, working hard but with only one goal in his last nine games, was shifted to the second line with center Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner, a combo that Vigneault likes. David Desharnais will center a third line with wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey and right wing Jesper Fast will be on the fourth line with center Boo Nieves and Paul Carey. The defense pairings from the Winter Classic: Ryan McDonagh-Nick Holden; Staal and Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk-Brendan Smith, remain the same.
“It was obviously an emotional game, an emotional week . . . it’s kind of nice that’s it’s behind us now,” said Nash. “We’ve been good at home all year (15-6-3), we’ve got to keep that up.”
Notes & quotes: Rookie Vinni Lettieri, who scored in his NHL debut on Friday but was a late scratch Monday when Fast’s quad strain healed, will travel to Arizona and Las Vegas. “We’ll keep him this week so we have an extra forward and go game-by-game,” said Vigneault . . . Chris Kreider, who will miss his third game while receiving treatment for a blood clot in his arm that shelved him during the Capitals’ game on Dec. 21, did not attend the Winter Classic to see his teammates because “he said he didn’t want to be a distraction,” Vigneault said . . . Backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec, expected to play in one of the back-to-back games on the trip, said the cold was so severe Monday that he couldn’t “feel his feet” while on the bench and stayed in the hot tub for 20 minutes after the game.