If there was one constant theme expressed within the Rangers dressing room after the team's return to--indoor--practice at the MSG Training Center Tuesday morning it was this: that the Blueshirts must make sure there is no letdown in their excitement and energy levels when they face the Islanders outdoors at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night after having already played an outdoor game Sunday in the Bronx.
"We have to make sure there's no letdown from our first game there," explained defenseman Dan Girardi. "We know (the Islanders) will be full of excitement, their first chance to play there, so we have to have that same excitement we had going into the first game. We just have to treat it like the big rivalry game it is."
In their first crack at playing outdoors in Yankee Stadium on Sunday the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Devils 7-3. Along the way the Rangers learned how to adapt to the different challenges presented by playing outdoors on a newly-created ice-rink with ever-changing weather conditions. Some consider that to be an advantage for the Rangers since the Islanders will have had only a light Stadium practice, not under any game conditions, when they try and deal with the strange bounces of the puck, frigid temperatures, and more on Wednesday.
"Well it's defnitely not going to hurt," head coach Alain Vigneault answered when asked about any advantage to having played already at Yankee Stadium. "Probably the individual it would help the most is Hank (Henrik Lundqvist). He'll have his bearings, the fact that people (fans) are not right behind (the glass). I think having had a practice and played in a game I think should help him. We all saw how challenging it was for the goaltenders at the beginning of that game (Sunday), so it should help."
Lundqvist allowed three goals on the first nine shots he faced over 16 minutes seven seconds on Sunday before he and his team settled down and, as Derek Stepan stressed, "adapted to the ever-changing things thrown our way". He finished with 19 saves.
On Tuesday Lundqvist admitted that it took quite a while for him to adjust to the conditions on Sunday, and he felt that having played once outdoors in the Bronx already certainly would have him more prepared for what's to come on Wednesday night--though playing under the lights in the evening will add a whole other dimension to the contest with the Islanders.
One thing that will not change, though, in Lundqvist's mind, is that this is another tough divisional match up against a true rival of the Rangers, and he knows it will not be easy to skate away with the much-needed two points.
"It's a big game because you can feel as we're going down the stretch the points are more and more important," shared Lundqvist, who is 2-0-0 with a 2.50 goals against average in two career outdoor games. "This is a team that has fought back in the standings, so they're coming to play, and we have to match their urgency and desperation out there."
Aded team captain Ryan Callahan, "That excitement will still be there--the crowd, the atmosphere--it's so easy to get up for these games. (The Islanders) are a hard-working team. The last time we played them at home (last Tuesday) they came at us pretty hard. We have to expect that again, plus they'll be real excited getting their first (outdoor) game."
The Rangers will hold their morning skate Wednesday at the MSG Training Center, then will get game-day hotel rooms, creating a more usual road-game game-day routine. The puck will be dropped after 7:30 with temperatures expected to be in the teens.
"Yeah, how about it? It's going to be chilly!," laughed Callahan when asked about Wednesday's expected weather. "I'll put another layer on, I guess."