A quick tour of the Rangers dressing room following the team's morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Thursday produced a consistent theme: the Rangers have put their Game Five 7-4 loss in the distant past and are confident they will play a much more solid game tonight when they attempt to eliminate the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final.
"I don't think about last game," stated Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed four goals on 19 shots before being removed from Game Five after having played just under 29 minutes. "I think about tonight."
It's not as if the Rangers are acting as if that sloppy, undisciplined loss Tuesday did not happen. Lundqvist, for one, thoroughly admitted he was not at his best and explained no matter how badly he wants to be at his best every night, sometimes he just doesn't have it. Rick Nash pointed out there were lessons to be learned from Game Five. Alain Vigneault explained that his club reviewed the tape of the 7-4 defeat and have long since moved past it with their focus solely on tonight.
"It's over, and we're coming home with a 3-2 lead, so we're in a good spot," explained Nash, who scored his third goal of the series Tuesday night. "We have to stay positive and upbeat. It was an eye opener (Tuesday), but we're going to be a lot better tonight."
Vigneault kept most of his answers short and to the point in his pre-game press conference, but he did smile and elicit laughs when he mentioned how Benoit Allaire--the team's goaltending coach--was telling everyone this morning that "This is a big game tonight"!
Indeed, it is a big game, for sure. The Rangers get their second whack at advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, while Montreal will desperately attempt to prolong their season and force a decisive seventh game in their building on Saturday night.
Arguably this is the most important game the Rangers have played in the last twenty years, dating to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks on June 14, 1994.
"It should be exciting for everyone--the fans, the players, coaches, everybody", Vigneault said. "It's two teams that are competing real hard, battling for every inch on the ice. It should be a lot of fun."
While Montreal's Rene Bourque questioned how well Lundqvist has played in this series, there is no question in the Rangers dressing room how important he is to the team, and how, to a man, the Rangers believe he will bounce back with a big-time effort this evening.
"I think he'll be the best player on the ice," Derick Brassard said of Lundqvist. "I think everyone knows that."
Added Nash, "We have all the belief in him in the world. He's a world-class goalie. He's been our best player all season, all playoffs. There's no question he'll bounce back."
With John Moore suspended two games by the league on Wednesday, all indications are that Raphael Diaz--the former Montreal Canadien--will replace him in the Rangers lineup tonight, even though Vigneault would not tip his hand as to whether Diaz or Justin Falk would play tonight.
Falk stayed late on the ice working with the other expected scratches after the morning skate Thursday, while Diaz paired with Kevin Klein during the skate and also skated on the team's second power play unit while practicing.
Brandon Prust will return to the Canadiens lineup tonight after serving his two-game suspension. He will take the place of the injured Dale Weise, who did not skate this morning.