Tuesday Practice Report: Rangers Begin To Prep For Game One

Jim Cerny
BlueshirtsUnited.com

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The Rangers concluded the 2013-14 regular season in Montreal Saturday night and then had two straight days off to rest and recuperate before starting preparations Tuesday for their first round playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers, which is scheduled to get underway Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Tuesday was a busy day for the players and coaches, filled with meetings, video sessions, and a fast-paced hour-long on-ice practice. All healthy players took part in the practice, including defenseman Ryan McDonagh--who missed the last five games with an injured shoulder, but who is expected to play in the series opener Thursday--and forward J.T. Miller--who was recalled from Hartford on Monday. 

About halfway through practice center Derick Brassard, who was the team's fourth-leading scorer with 45 points this season, exited the ice in apparent discomfort and did not return. Afterwards head coach Alain Vigneault would not offer any specifs as to what happened with Brassard; but when asked if he thought Brassard would play Thursday, Vigneault answered, "I would say Yes".

Miller took Brassard's place the remainder of practice centering Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello.

"That's one of the reasons why we called up J.T., we feel that if one part of any line goes down that he has the potential and the skill set to come in for an amount of time and take that spot," explained Vigneault. "If we need him, I am confident he will come in and fill a good role for us."

Chris Kreider, who is sidelined following surgery on his hand, skated on his own after practice. Vigneault continued to use the word "indefinite" when discussing any potential return to action by Kreider.

On the blueline McDonagh skated alongside Dan Girardi in all drills and rushes, and also was back on the Rangers top power play unit. He said on Saturday in Montreal he was 100 percent healthy, and he looked it on Tuesday--two days in advance of a likely return to action in Game One against the Flyers.

With all of the defensemen now healthy, Raphael Diaz skated on the extra pairing with Justin Falk. With injuries to John Moore and then McDonagh, Diaz appeared in the final 11 regular season games for the Rangers, notching a goal, adding an assist, and posting a +5 plus/minus rating.

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Rangers Line and Defense Pairings from practice on Tuesday:

Nash-Stepan-St. Louis

Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello

Hagelin-Richards-Fast

Boyle-D. Moore-Dorsett/Carcillo

Extra: Miller

 

McDonagh-Girardi

Staal-Stralman

J. Moore-Klein

Falk-Diaz

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Reports out of Philadelphia state that Flyers goaltender Steve Mason practiced for 15 minutes today before he left the ice. He did not speak with reporters afterwards, but Mason--who was knocked out of Saturday's game against the Penguins after a goal-mouth collision--did share a text through the team's PR staff stating, "I feel better each day and will see how I feel tomorrow."

Veteran Ray Emery is Mason's backup, with Cal Heeter third on the depth chart. Mason turned in a splendid season for the Flyers, posting a 33-18-7 record in 61 appearances, to go along with four shutouts, a 2.50 goals against average and .917 save percentage. The veteran Emery appeared in 28 games, and was 9-12-2 with a 2.96 GAA and .903 save percentage.

When asked about his own goalie's readiness for the playoffs, Vigneault said of Henrik Lundqvist, "Hank's been in the biggest games possible except the Stanley Cup Finals, so he's been waiting for this moment--I would say just like the rest of our team. We had to first get in, now we're one of the 16 teams that has a chance for The Cup. I really believe our guys want to win."