Despite Road Success, Rangers Happy To Be Back Home Tonight

Jim Cerny
BlueshirtsUnited.com

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It's been eleven days since the Rangers last played on Madison Square Garden ice, and so much has happened from then 'til now. After beating the Penguins 3-1 in Game Six of their second-round series in that Mother's Day contest, the Rangers hit the road to knock off the Penguins 2-1 in Pittsburgh two nights later and then opened up the Eastern Conference Final with back-to-back wins in Montreal this past Saturday and Monday.

It will be a 2-0 series lead and a five-game overall playoff winning streak the Rangers will take with them into The Garden tonight for Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final, and due in large parts to those reasons, the Blueshirts can expect a rousing welcome home from The Garden Faithful this evening.

"As a group we're excited to play in front of our home fans," stated Chris Kreider. "It's exciting for sure after having played three straight big games on the road. Our mindset, I think, it's the same approach you have to bring to every single playoff game--get a good start, have to get pucks in deep, and simply play our game."

Many players have spoken in the past two days about the fans' energy and how that will provide even extra life a Blueshirts team that could put a stranglehold on this series with a win in Game Three. Head coach Alain Vigneault took it a step further when speaking with reporters on Wednesday.

"Having fan support is obviously huge this time of the year," noted Vigneault. "Unconditional love is something that's beneficial to a team. They can really help you energy-wise."

Of course if a loud building and wildly enthusiastic fans were always the tipping point in a playoff series then the Canadiens would be leading this best-of-seven 2-0 right now instead of the Rangers. The fans at the Bell Centre provided massive amounts of energy--Kreider said after Game Two that was the loudest hockey environment he'd ever been a part of--but in the end the game is still won on the ice, and it was the Rangers playing the better hockey, making the timely big plays, and winning each of the first two games.

However even after posting victories in Games One and Two, the Rangers are well aware they need to be even better tonight against a very desperate Canadiens squad.

"This is a big game for everybody," noted Martin St. Louis. "We've been away for a few games now and it's good to get back here, coming back on a positive note, looking to take care of business. We understand what's at stake here. We're going to keep pushing, and try to win games, one at a time."

The Rangers are 4-3 on home ice during the playoffs--winning three of four against the Flyers, and losing two of three against the Penguins. They are 6-3 on the road in the post-season--one victory shy of tying the franchise playoff record of seven road wins, set in 1994.

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After returning to practice on Wednesday Rangers center Derick Brassard took part in the morning skate at The Garden Thursday, but Vigneault would not say if Brassard--who sat out Game Two with an undisclosed injury--would be back in the lineup tonight. Brassard remained on the ice later than most of his teammates, while Daniel Carcillo was one of the first forwards off the ice perhaps signaling that Brassard may not be ready to play and Carcillo again would take his place in the lineup.

None of that will be known until pre-game warmups and when the official lineups are posted shortly before 8:00 PM.

Vigneault did say that Benoit Pouliot "is good" to play tonight. Pouliot was given a maintenance day Wednesday, but did take part in Thursday's morning skate.

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Montreal head coach Michel Therrien told reporters that he might have some lineup changes tonight, but would not come close to specifying what he meant. Skilled forward Thomas Vanek was demoted to the fourth line in practice Wednesday, and there has been much speculation about his playing status ever since.

Rookie Dustin Tokarski will once again start in goal for Montreal with Carey Price--seen walking around The Garden this morning with a brace on his right knee--out for the remainder of the series. Tokarski made 27 saves in Monday's 3-1 Rangers victory, his first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff action.