Tuesday AM Skate: Mac & Kreider On Ice; Team Plays For Home Ice

Jim Cerny
BlueshirtsUnited.com

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A berth in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs secured last night by virtue of New Jersey's home-ice loss to the Calgary Flames, the Rangers now place their entire focus on trying to earn home ice advantage in the post-season by finishing in second place in the Metropolitan Division. With three games remaining on their schedule in this final week of the regular season, the Rangers are currently two points up on the Philadelphia Flyers for second in the division, though the Flyers do have a very important game in hand.

"Home ice is big, I think, especially if you get later in the series, that Game 7 at home is always an advantage if you have that home ice," offered alternate captain Marc Staal after the team's optional morning skate Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. "Absolutely we want to get as many points as we can and take a hold of it."

The Rangers will host the Carolina Hurricanes tonight and the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday before closing out the regular season in Montreal on Saturday. The Flyers play three straight road games in Florida, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh tonight through Saturday, before finishing off their schedule with a home tilt against the Hurricanes Sunday afternoon.

"We have the check mark now," head coach Alain Vigneault said of the mark by the Rangers team name in the standings, signifying a clinched playoff berth. "To be able to compete for the Cup you've got to get in (to the playoffs), and to get in it's hard. Look at some of the teams that were in last year like Ottawa and Long Island--young teams on the rise-- and then this year they don't get in. It's a challenge. We were able to, because of our second half push, to get in, and now we have the opportunity to challenge for the Cup, and the opportunity to finish as high as we can within our conference. That's what we're going to try and do here for these final three games."

It's clear that the there will be no taking a deep breath and resting on the fact that they have made the playoffs here in the final week of the season. From the head coach on through the rest of the locker room, the Rangers seem hungry to continue their strong run--7-2-1 in the last ten games--to close out the regular season.

"There's still a lot at stake, we still need have a lot to play for," explained Brian Boyle. "You need to still be playing well, playing the right way. We still have a lot of challenges--like tonight this is a team with a lot of skill up front and they gave us a lot of problems down there (in Raleigh March 11th). You want to do as well as you can, I think. That's just the mindset everyone should have. You want to give yourself the best chance once you are in. You want to be playing your best hockey going in."

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The Rangers two injured regulars--Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider--both were on the ice for the team's optional morning skate at The Garden on Tuesday. For each it was their first appearance on ice in a while, though afterwards Vigneault was rather non-committal about placing a time frame on the return to action for either player.

The head coach stated that Kreider remains out indefinitely following surgery on his left hand and that McDonagh's injured shoulder is feeling better.

"I asked Mac when I saw him how he was doing and he said he's doing fine, day to day," explained Vigneault. "I'd say it's 50/50 on (whether or not McDonagh will play before the playoffs begin next week). He'd have to be 100 percent, which he should be. We'll see how today goes (before deciding if he can practice Wednesday)."

McDonagh passed and shot the puck, though did not do so with full force. He will miss his third consecutive game tonight after injuring the shoulder a week ago in Vancouver on a penalized hit from Alex Burrows.

Kreider will sit out his seventh straight game this evening. He skated hard Tuesday morning, but could do little else as he was wearing only glove, with a cast covering his surgically-repaired hand.

Neither player was available to speak with the media following the morning skate.

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Henrik Lundqvist starts in goal for the Rangers tonight, and rookie Jesper Fast will be inserted into the lineup after being recalled from Hartford yesterday. Daniel Carcillo will be the healthy scratch up front to make room for Fast.

The projected lines and defense pairings tonight for the Rangers are as follows:

Nash-Stepan-St. Louis

Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello

Hagelin-Richards-Fast

Boyle-D. Moore-Dorsett

 

Staal-Stralman

J. Moore-Girardi

Diaz-Klein