Alain Vigneault said Thursday that Mats Zuccarello was “getting close” to a return, though when pressed further the coach reiterated that the injured Zuccarello remains “day-to-day.”
The Norwegian right wing, who’s been out since April 24 when he took a slap shot to the left side of his head in Game 5 of the first round against Pittsburgh, skated in a yellow, non-contact jersey Thursday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh before the full team practiced. Once practice officially began practice, Zuccarello hopped off the ice and did not return.
As the team finished its morning skate in Tampa on Tuesday ahead of Game 6, Zuccarello joined his teammates for a bit with a new white mouthpiece. He seemingly wasn’t supposed to skate that morning but dressed and jumped on the rink to briefly skate with his teammates.
The Rangers’ urgency to win now is not only based on the window of Henrik Lundqvist’s prime, but also on everything Glen Sather gave up to capture the Cup now.
He sent Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, defenseman Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round pick to Columbus for Rick Nash in the summer of 2012. He dealt Marian Gaborik to Columbus in the spring of 2013 in the trade that brought Derick Brassard from Columbus.
He sent his 2014 and 2015 first-rounders to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis at least year’s trade deadline. And then he shipped prized right wing prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a first-round pick in either 2016 or 2017, and a second-round pick in this year’s draft for Keith Yandle, depth D-man Chris Summers and a fourth-rounder in 2016.
Yandle is red-hot at the right time, registering seven points (two goals, five assists) over his last four games. He’s the first Rangers defenseman to record at least three multi-point games in a four-game span in the playoffs since Brian Leetch’s run in 1995 of five multi-point games in a six-game span.
The conditional first-rounder in the Yandle deal is lottery-protected, which means it’s dependent on hwo the Rangers finished next season, in 2015-16. If the Rangers make the playoffs next season, the Coyotes get next summer’s Rangers 2016 first-round pick. If the Rangers miss the playoffs next season, they keep it and Arizona gets their top choice in 2017.
Ryan McDonagh continued his recent trend of skipping practices and morning skates for maintenance on Thursday, but the Rangers captain still did interviews and said he’s fine. Vigneault expressed no concern over the defenseman’s health.
CONFERENCE FINAL NOTE
The Eastern and Western Conference finals both have gone to a Game 7 for the first time since the 2000 playoffs, when the New Jersey Devils topped the Philadelphia Flyers in seven and the Dallas Stars eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in seven. The Devils, with the help of Scott Stevens’ headshot on top Philly center and future Ranger Eric Lindros, went on to win the Stanley Cup.
For the second time in two years, a New York-Chicago Stanley Cup Final is just a game away. The Chicago Blackhawks lost in seven last spring to the L.A. Kings, after the Rangers dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in six.
The Anaheim Ducks will host the Blackhawks on Saturday night at the Honda Center in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, so even if the Rangers advance with a win over the Lightning on Friday, they still will have to wait to find out their next opponent.
The NHL announced Thursday the Stanley Cup Final will begin Wednesday, June 3. All games are set to start at 8 p.m. Since the Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the most points in the regular season, they’d have home-ice advantage in the Cup Final if they won Friday’s Game 7. There will be two days between Games 1 and 2, as well as Games 4 and 5.
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