The playoff engines were revving. No caution flags were waving in the afternoon breeze outside the Madison Square Garden Training Center on Friday. But the Rangers are wary of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who definitely can bring some thunder.
"Highest-scoring team in the league," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after practice. "They've gotten some phenomenal goaltending throughout the season and the playoffs. A team that comes at you hard, very hard on the forecheck, and very good in transition . . . We're going to have to defend really well. A big part of our game is going to be taking away that speed and skill."
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who will start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday at the Garden against 6-7 netminder Ben Bishop, said Tampa Bay presents a different threat from the heavy-checking Capitals, whom the Rangers eliminated Wednesday night after seven one-goal games.
"Tampa might have some more depth," Lundqvist said.
Said Marc Staal: "What sets these guys apart is their top two lines. All these guys can play on a high level. There's no easy shifts. You can't take a shift off or miss a check because they have some guys who are very quick and quick to strike."
That potent sextet is Steven Stamkos, former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn and the Triplets -- Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
"They've got a lot of firepower," Dan Girardi said. "We've got to do our best to get in their faces and slow them down."
Despite several very familiar faces on the other bench, Vigneault said he doesn't expect any distractions.
"This is a very focused and mature group that's dealt with distractions in the past,'' he said. "It hasn't let them wander from the task at hand."
Several Rangers who are friends of Callahan, forward Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Stralman -- now in their first full season with Tampa Bay after playing for the Rangers last season -- backed up that statement, saying that putting aside personal feelings is part of the game.
"They're in our way of our goal, which is getting to the Stanley Cup Final," Staal said. "Relationships are out the window."
During the season, Lundqvist said he stayed in touch with fellow Swede Stralman.
"We hung out a lot when he was here last year,'' Lundqvist said, "but now's not the time to chat."
Girardi, who came up through the ranks with Callahan and whose family is very close to that of the former Rangers captain, said: "It's easy this time of year. Doesn't matter who's on the roster. Come tomorrow, it's all business."
Notes & quotes: Mats Zuccarello, out since Game 5 of the first round when he was struck in the head with a shot, is doing "everything but" skating, Vigneault said. Asked if there is a chance that the Norwegian winger can play in the series, Vigneault said, "There's always hope." . . . Tanner Glass didn't practice but should play. "Today was an extra maintenance day, so unless something changes from now until tomorrow, I would say yes," Vigneault said. If Glass cannot play, Ryan Bourque will skate in his first NHL playoff game . . . Two reasons Vigneault values underrated rookie Jesper Fast? "He can read the game really well and he works like [crazy]."