After practicing and taking part in a fun family skate afterwards with the snow falling outdoors at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon the Rangers (27-23-3, 57 pts) are set for their first of two Stadium Series games this week when they skate against the New Jersey Devils (22-19-11, 55 pts) on Sunday afternoon. With just two points separating these two local rivals, Sunday's game is not just about the awesome experience of playing outdoors in such an iconic venue, it is about another big-time divisional battle.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has stressed in the days and weeks leading up to Sunday's outdoor game that his team would not look past any opponent or game beforehand, and that when it arrived, Sunday would only be about the task at hand: earning two points against a division foe. However after practice Saturday Vigneault seemed to soften his stance just a tiny bit, acknowledging that the Stadium Series outdoor games are a welcome diversion for his team when considering the grind of any 82-game schedule. The head coach seemed to allow himself the opening to embrace the spectacle of what will take place, and even admitted that he has watched every NHL outdoor game over the years hoping that one day he would get the chance to coach in one.
Of course now Vigneault will have the opportunity to coach in two outdoor games, back-to-back, with a tilt against the Islanders awaiting on Wednesday night at The Stadium; and he and his players are relishing this special moment. But even with his acknowledgement, Vigneault has stressed to his players that winning is paramount Sunday--and Wednesday, once the Rangers can focus on that game, too; and his players have most definitely fallen into lockstep with their coach. In fact Henrik Lundqvist has stated repeatedly that the only way to fully enjoy the experience of playing outdoors is to win. Plain and simple.
Lundqvist will start in goal for the Rangers on Sunday afternoon, and he has spoken about how the wind, glare of the sun off the ice, and how far the rink is from the fans and stands takes some adjusting to for him as a goaltender. He, of course, does have the experience of having played outdoors two years in the Winter Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers, something that his counterpart in goal, Martin Brodeur of the Devils, has yet to experience. If that give Lundqvist any edge at all, he'll take it considering he is locking horns with a future Hall of Famer.
In his last seven games Lundqvist has allowed only ten goals, and never more than two in a single game. Brodeur gets the start for New Jersey despite the fact that Cory Schneider has been the better goaltender of late, posting a 5-1-2 record and 0.96 goals against average in his last eight starts. Devils coach Peter DeBoer stated that starting Brodeur was "the right thing to do" in deference to his status as one of the game's greats, and certainly his place in Devils history. Brodeur is 1-2-1 in his last four starts, allowing 12 goals in that span.
The Rangers have ten players on their current roster who played in the 2012 Winter Classic, a 3-2 Blueshirts road victory over the Flyers at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Joining Lundqvist as outdoor veterans are forwards Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and Brian Boyle, and defensemen Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman. Among the firtst-timers will be Rick Nash--who has scored a whopping ten goals in his last ten games and is riding a four-game goal-scoring streak, Chris Kreider---who is second among NHL rookies with 30 points on the season, and defenseman Kevin Klein--whose first practice since being acquired from Nashville last Wednesday was the one held outdoors at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
Having lost two straight for the first time since December 8-12 entering play Sunday, the Rangers will be plenty motivated to play a strong game against the Devils. New Jersey has won two in a row and is 5-1-2 coming into play against the Rangers. Newcomers Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder lead the team in goals with 16 apiece, with Jagr leading the Devils by a wide margin in points with 42.