By Matt Calamia
It’s back to normal tonight for the New York Rangers, who open the post-Olympic portion of their schedule against the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden.
After two months of looking ahead to playing outdoors in the Bronx and the nearly three-week break for the Games in Sochi, there’s a sense of normalcy returning to the Blueshirts, who skated this morning for the first time at The Garden since their game against Edmonton on Feb. 6.
“There was a lot of focus on the Stadium Series and a lot of focus on the Olympics. Now we’re back,” said Carl Hagelin, one of six Rangers who participated in the Games. “We’ve got 23 games or so left. Everyone in here wants to make the playoffs. We have a tough start here starting with the defending champs. We need to bring our A-game here to have a chance.”
Forward Derick Brassard said that despite those two events, he felt the team did not allow them to shift focus away, and that the team played well, going 7-3 prior to the break.
“I think it’s going to be the same fore every team in the league now,” Brassard told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “We had two weeks off and we’re back at it now. For us, we want to play like we had been playing before the break. Hopefully we’re all rested and we’re down to business.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault said his team has to be ready to play right out of the gate, as the playoff race in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference is so tight.
“From our standpoint, the games are so important and the points are so important,” Vigneault said. “I think every body understands here that we can’t take a couple of days to get back in it. We’ve got to play well and we’ve got to play well right now.”
It’ll be Cam Talbot in goal for the Rangers, Vigneault and his staff have opted to rest Henrik Lundqvist one more day after he played all six games for Sweden in the Olympics.
While the nearly three weeks between games could be an adjustment for the skaters, Talbot said it’s nothing new for him.
“For the past little while, I’ve been playing one game every two weeks, so for me, it’s about the same,” Talbot told reporters after the morning skate. “After 10 or 11 days off, you lose a little bit of conditioning, but we’ve had about six good skates here now and the pre game skate today, so you get it back pretty quickly.”
Defenseman Marc Staal participated in the morning skate but did not speak with the media. Vigneault said he’s a “game-time decision” but that “the back is a funny thing.” Vigneault said he believes he’ll be in the lineup.
Despite Vigneault saying forward Derek Dorsett is ready to go, he’ll be kept out of the lineup against Chicago. Vigneault said he’s like what the fourth line of Dan Carcillo, Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle has given the team, so it’ll remain intact, and that wi’ll be a “game-to-game” basis going forward.
Mats Zuccarello skated, but remains out with an injured hand.
Brassard said it’s “disappointing” to lose Zuccarello, but that J.T. Miller should fit in well with he and Benoit Pouliot.
“We want to just play the same way we’ve been playing,” Brassard said. “Work hard and be good offensively and be good in our own end. J.T. Is a really strong player with a good shot. He’s been playing really well [in Hartford] and he seems like he’s got energy. We’re going to try and keep it going.”