Lundqvist To Start in Carolina, Zuccarello May Play

Jim Cerny
BlueshirtsUnited.com

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The Rangers held a brief early afternoon practice Thursday at the MSG Training Center--Martin St. Louis' first with his new club after he debuted in Wednesday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs--before heading out to Raleigh, NC where they will skate against the Hurricanes in an important Metropolitan Division contest Friday night.

With his team having lost three straight (0-2-1) and perhaps reeling a bit after the trade of its captain, Ryan Callahan, on Wednesday, head coach Alain Vigneault issued a warning after practice Thursday.

"OK now, we've lost our captain, some guys have lost a very close friend, I understand the feelings that go with that, but we can't suffer from a hangover because of (the trade), and it has to be a short one," stated Vigneault. "Any time you change one player you change the dynamics in your room. Yes we lost a very important member, but I think we've added a great piece, and we now need to let those new dynamics form."

Vigneault added that Henrik Lundqvist will make his fourth straight start in goal Friday night, despite his own personal three-game slide; and the coach also said there is a chance Mats Zuccarello returns to the lineup after missing four in a row following the Olympic break due to a non-displaced fracture in his left hand.

"I would say right now it would be a gametime decision," Vigneault answered when asked about Zuccarello's availability in Carolina. "He practiced today, felt pretty good, and should see the doctors some time later today; and we'll make a decision tomorrow."

For his part Zuccarello was non-committal about whether or not he expected to play against the Hurricanes, saying only that he "is getting better and better, so I feel more comfortable with the puck and certain situations out there. I feel good."

While Zuccarello was rather tight-lipped about his own health status, he was much more effusive discussing the Rangers' acquisition of Martin St. Louis, referring to him as a "role model" for smaller hockey players, though Zuccarello added "he's almost as tall as me!"

"Obviously he's a world-class player, probably the best player in this league the past five years," Zuccarello said of St. Louis. "It's for sure going to help our team score more goals and win more games. It's really nice for us younger guys to have him here and learn from him. He's one of the best in the game."

Unshaven, and looking a bit weary after having played five games in seven nights--not to mention having been traded from a team he had spent the past 14 years with--St. Louis practiced, met with reporters, and then was off to another plane ride, this time with new teammates heading to Raleigh.

"There's no time to be emotional about it, not much time to think and reflect, we've got games to win in a tight playoff race," explained St. Louis. "There's no dipping the toe in. I have to jump right in here."

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Newly-acquired defenseman Raphael Diaz is meeting the team in Raleigh, and will fly back with the Rangers following Friday night's contest against the Hurricanes. The team announced on Thursday that he will wear uniform No. 4.

As for his role with the club, Vigneault said of Diaz, "He has been brought in as a depth guy. Once he gets an opportunity to play, what he does with that opportunity--if he comes in and plays better than one of the other players, I never have hesitated in the past to use that player. We'll see what happens."