By Matt Calamia
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault Monday said Derek Stepan did travel with the team to Montreal following surgery on his jaw Friday morning, though Vigneault said he could not say whether Stepan would be available Tuesday night.
Vigneault said Stepan, at “minimum,” would have to take part in Tuesday’s morning skate to be available. When he returns to the lineup, Vigneault said he would wear “some facial protection.”
The coach added that Dan Carcillo is also on the trip while he appeals his 10-game suspension. J.T. Miller did not travel with the Rangers due to what Vigneault called an “upper body injury.”
It was just over two weeks ago that the Rangers found themselves trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, in their Metropolitan Division Final series. Fast forward, and the Rangers find themselves with the advantage of being up two games heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens, with a win propelling New York to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.
After a demoralizing Game 4 loss against the Penguins, the Rangers were up against the wall before rallying off three consecutive wins to take the series and advance to face Montreal.
So, the Blueshirts know better than anyone the importance of putting a team away when you have the chance.
But does that recent history give the Rangers an advantage into knowing what their opposition is going through, down 3-1 with their own season on the brink? Martin St. Louis isn’t sure.
“I think because of sometimes you’re on, you know, the other side of the coin, so you understand what they’re going through, how they’re thinking and how they’re feeling,” St. Louis, who had the overtime winner in Game 4 Sunday night, said Monday from Montreal. “So that’s why you can’t take anything lightly. You don’t want to give them any hope, you know? I don’t think it’s an advantage. I think it’s more of an understanding what we’re up against and I think it’s helping us to try not to get the foot off the gas.”
With the series shifting back to Bell Centre, the Rangers are expecting the best out of the Canadiens, especially after taking Games 1 and 2 on the road to open the series. The two teams then split the games at Madison Square Garden, with both going to overtime.
“They’ll be a dangerous team,” said Brad Richards, who has one goal and one assist in the series. “[A] little bit of hope can change everything. They’re at home which helps even more. We just did it [coming back from 3-1], and we had two road games out of the three to win, and they could possibly have two home games. So they’re going to feel comfortable here and feel that they can win one. They probably feel like it’s going to go seven. So, it’s far from over.”
A win and the Rangers move on to compete for the Stanley Cup. The focus, according to Brian Boyle, cannot move away from Tuesday’s match.
“You can tell that if you’re not 100 percent in the moment and focused and have all your energy on what’s the task at hand,” said Boyle, who picked up an assist on Carl Hagelin’s goal Sunday night. “We were embarrassed in [Game 4 against Pittsburgh]. It can happen quickly, and momentum, obviously, can turn quickly in a series and throughout games even.”
“Sometimes it’s harder than other to stay even keel,” St. Louis added. “But we’ve done nothing yet, you know? We keep reminding ourselves we understand the fourth game is the toughest one to win, and we know we’re going to have to bring our best and more.”
The postseason is a struggle for all players, and added into the sub-plots are friends taking on friends, something this series has featured both behind the benches and on the ice. With the ultimate goal so close at this stage of the game, the prize at hand puts friendships on hold, including the longtime friendship between Vigneault and Michel Therrien.
“We all have friendships in life. Sometimes friends push the limit,” Vigneault stated. “Sometimes they do things that you’re not crazy about. But there’s a reason why they’re your friends, so relationships are about giving and taking. So right now, he’s trying to do what he thinks is right and I’m trying to do what I think is right.
“When it’s all over, then we’re going to move on.”
Both St. Louis and Richards understand the nature of facing off against a close friend and former teammate.
“I just played against one of my longest friends in the Philly series,” Richards said, referring to Vincent Lecavalier. “I played with him since I was 14 years old. It’s definitely awkward, but you both want to win. It’s weird to just kind of the — it’s the way our sport is.”
“I think we’re all competitors,” St. Louis said. “I think I have friends all around the league and once you get in a battle, there is a sense of pride and a sense of competitiveness in you that just wants to beat, whether it’s your best friend [or] your brother.”