GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It’s a matter of balancing rest and tuning up — at the same time.
So the Rangers, who are locked into the first wild-card berth and will face the Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs starting next Wednesday, will rest four regular forwards “with bumps and bruises” and possibly some defensemen Wednesday night against the Capitals.
Ryan McDonagh, nursing what is believed to be a lower-body injury, will miss his third straight game. Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Jesper Fast also will watch the game from above at Verizon Center. Alain Vigneault said after practice Tuesday that they all would be ready for the start of the postseason.
“We can give them a couple days here,” said Vigneault, but made no commitment on lineups for the back-to-backs at Ottawa Saturday and the regular-season finale at home Sunday against the Penguins.
On Wednesday, the quartet will be replaced by Pavel Buchnevich, who has dressed for five of the last nine games; Brandon Pirri, who hasn’t played since March 9; Matt Puempel, who skated in only two of the last 10 games, and Tanner Glass, who played Sunday against the Flyers but only once in the prior seven games.
Buchnevich will take Zuccarello’s spot with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Pirri will skate with Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey, and Puempel and Glass will flank Oscar Lindberg. Vigneault said he still was debating which six of the eight healthy defensemen would draw into the lineup. Henrik Lundqvist will start his fifth game (1-1-2) since returning from a strained hip muscle that sidelined him for about three weeks.
“Our standing and position isn’t going to change,” Vigneault said. “And we know who we’re going to play, so a couple guys who haven’t played a lot, I have an opportunity to give ice to. In playoff hockey, you never know what’s going to happen down the road.”
Vigneault and his staff have begun prepping for the first round, which will open in Montreal. The Rangers were 0-2-1 in the regular-season series. They last faced the Canadiens in the playoffs in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals, which the Blueshirts won in six games.