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Rangers work on special teams ahead of final games, playoff series against Canadiens

Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York

Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers looks on from the bench during the first period against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers poured sweat into their special teams during practice Friday with their special games set to begin next week — the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We spent a little bit of time on both the power play and penalty-killing, just trying to fine-tune a couple of little areas of those special teams,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Hopefully, it’s going to pay off down the road here.”

The Rangers’ road leads to a first-round matchup with Montreal, the team that sailed to the top of the Atlantic Division. The Blueshirts, who earned the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, have two more games for fine-tuning at Ottawa on Saturday and at the Garden against Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The Canadiens, however, are starting to enter their thoughts.

“I’ve had a couple of conversations with guys, even today, working on our [penalty- killing], talking about what to expect from Montreal, as well as what to expect for the next two days,” Derek Stepan said.

Forwards Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Jesper Fast and defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden and Brady Skjei sat out Wednesday’s loss at Washington with minor injuries but practiced Friday. Vigneault said McDonagh will miss his fourth straight game, but he wasn’t ready to say if the rest will play.

McDonagh sounded ready. “I feel really good out there,” he said. “Timing-wise, hopefully it comes back quick.”

The touch has returned for goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who missed eight games in March with a strained hip. “I feel like the timing is better and the reads are better,” said Lundqvist, who will start against Ottawa. Vigneault plans to play Antti Raanta against Pittsburgh.

The Rangers will need Lundqvist to be at his best because Montreal goalie Carey Price has been at his.

“I know Hank is real excited about the ‘Lundqvist versus Price series,’ ” Stepan said. “It elevates both goalies, too.”

Montreal won all three games against the Rangers this season, one in a shootout.

“You’re going to see both teams play with high amounts of speed,” Stepan said. “It’s going to be a really fun series. It’s the best time of the year. It’s playoff time.”

Notes & quotes: Raanta was hurting after taking a shot off his knee in practice, “but he’s all right,” Vigneault said . . . Forward Taylor Beck was recalled from Hartford.


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