Captain Ryan McDonagh (r.) and the Rangers intend to finish what they started last season with the help of key additions such as defenseman Keith Yandle.
The Rangers are not shying away from the fact that only one outcome this postseason is acceptable: A Stanley Cup.
Their team motto on the back of their warm-up T-shirts says it all: “Barkin’. Change the ending!”
“Change the ending” is a clear reference to rectifying last spring’s Cup Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings. “Barkin’” is a less obvious statement, but captain Ryan McDonagh said it’s a term the players sometimes jokingly use on the ice.
McDonagh said earlier in the year, for example, whenever defenseman Kevin Klein would jump into the rush, the Rangers would say “Kleiner was barking up the ice.”
Klein (broken left arm) is not playing in Game 1 Thursday night at the Garden against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he’ll be a major factor if the Rangers intend to follow through on their shirts’ slogan.
You can find Billy on Twitter at @BJaffe.
SHOW SOME RESPECT
Coach Alain Vigneault on several occasions in the past few weeks has repeated what’s become his favorite line: Most critics picked the Rangers only to be battling for one of the final playoff spots this season, not to win the Presidents’ Trophy and reassert themselves as still one of the NHL’s best teams.
“We’ve obviously lost some very important pieces from last year’s team to this year, and the hockey community had us before the season started fighting to get into the playoffs,” Vigneault said Thursday morning when asked to compare last season’s team to this season’s squad. “I think this team came together, and I think the young players that we added maybe gave us a little bit more speed and made us a little quicker on the transition.
“Both teams defend well: Last year’s team was fourth; this year’s team was third,” the coach added. “I think this one here might be a little bit quicker on going from defense to offense. The key to our team, though, is we still have to defend. When we defend well, it just seems that everything falls into place.”
TO THE MAX
Vigneault coached Penguins forward Maxim Lapierre in juniors with the Prince Edward Island Rocket and also in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks. Lapierre was a relentless, critical piece of Vigneault’s 2011 Canucks team that fell just one win short of the Stanley Cup, falling in Game 7 to Boston. He knows well what Lapierre is capable of in the postseason.
“Max, I had him in junior and I had him in Vancouver – great kid, great competitor,” Vigneault said. “He wants to win. He’ll do anything for his teammates and his coaches to win.”
In addition to J.T. Miller’s relationship with the city of Pittsburgh, there are several Rangers-Penguins connections to follow in this series: Tanner Glass (2012-13-2012-14) and Dominic Moore (2006-07) both played for the Pens; Moore and Craig Adams both played college hockey at Harvard; Derek Stepan and Sidney Crosby both attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota; and Klein was longtime teammates with Penguins forwards Patric Hornqvist (2008-09-2013-14) and Nick Spaling (2009-10-2013-14) on the Nashville Predators.
Rangers forward Tanner Glass is getting the call over James Sheppard for Game 1 against his former Penguins teammates. Glass played in only two of the seven games in last spring’s second-round series while with Pittsburgh, healthy scratched in the other five, but he said that isn’t what drove him to sign in New York in the summer.
“I was planning on staying if the GM and coach stayed,” Glass said of Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma, who were fired after the Rangers eliminated the Pens. “They had a regime change, but there is no bad blood with that. I’m not focused on that. I wanna win the Cup.”
Glass, honestly, was scratched in that series because it appeared he couldn’t skate with the Rangers. That’s been his problem in his roughest outings this season as a member of the Rangers, as well, but Glass is the first one to acknowledge when he’s faltered. He also said he feels better about his game after notching two assists in the final five regular season games.
“I feel good about my game, and I probably couldn’t say that a lot of the year,” Glass said. “I think I’m seeing ice better, developing chemistry with (center) Dom (Moore), getting to the net more.”
One major reason Glass is in the lineup is because, as Vigneault has said several times during the season, he is the only Ranger who makes opponents pick up their heads when he has a hit lined up. If the fourth line is gaining the puck and dumping it into the correct areas of the offensive zone, they can best utilize Glass so he can – in his words – “get a lick in” on a vulnerable opponent.
Sheppard, acquired at the deadline, was underwhelming often following his trade deadline acquisition from San Jose, both with his face-off ability and his battle level. However, he picked up his play and had an especially physical and effective game in the regular season finale 4-2 win in Washington, agitating just about every person in a Capitals uniform.
If Glass falters, Vigneault will not hesitate to give Sheppard another shot.
One more quick side note perhaps of interest to the Islanders: Glass said that Capitals defenseman Tim Gleason’s punch directly to his nose in last Saturday’s third period was one of the hardest punches he’s ever taken in his life.
Rangers forward Tanner Glass (c.) feels better about his game entering the playoffs against his former Penguins teammates than he has most of the season.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE PENGUINS?
Henrik Lundqvist has said all the right things about the challenge of facing the Penguins, even if they’ve had a down year.
“We have to be aware of their top players,” Lundqvist said Wednesday after practice. “And we should not get fooled by their last couple weeks when they struggled. They’re a strong team.”
But this Penguins team is deeply flawed, and I’m not the only one picking the Rangers to win a quick series.
MY CONN SMYTHE PICK
If you’ve been reading the past few days, you know I picked the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup. So here is my pick for the Conn Smythe winner as postseason MVP: center Derick Brassard.
NOTES AND NOTES AND NOTES AND …
Rick Nash had a 24-hour stomach bug on Wednesday and said he couldn’t keep anything down, which is why he missed that afternoon’s practice in Greenburgh. But he participated at Thursday morning’s skate and he is ready to play in Game 1. Nash also shaved the dirty beard that he undoubtedly intends to grow out during a hopefully-long playoff run. McDonagh, on the other hand, has grown a mullet that deserves its own name. Fans, feel free to suggest names for McDonagh’s mane in the comments section below. I’ll pass them along. Personally, I think McDonagh just wants an honorable mention in the 2015 Minnesota All-Hockey Hair team video … Klein skated on his own Thursday morning after staying off ice on Wednesday … The Rangers have kept defenseman Chris Summers on their active playoff roster, so he’s been practicing with the team into the postseason. Summers appeared in three games down the stretch of the regular season after being acquired at the deadline from Arizona in the Keith Yandle deal … If you haven’t read about the Islanders’ Game 1 upset of the Capitals, Scott Darling’s performance in relief for Chicago, or Montreal’s P.K. Subban slashing of Ottawa’s Mark Stone and the ensuing fallout, go do so. Night One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was a wild one.
RANGERS GAME 1 LINEUP
Forwards: Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-J.T. Miller, Carl Hagelin-Kevin Hayes-Martin St. Louis, Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast
Defensemen: Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, Marc Staal-Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle-Matt Hunwick
Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist (Cam Talbot backup)
Healthy scratches: F James Sheppard, D Chris Summers
Injured: D Kevin Klein (broken left arm, day-to-day, out since March 11)
Forwards: Daniel Winnik-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-David Perron, Beau Bennett-Brandon Sutter-Steve Downie, Nick Spaling-Maxim Lapierre-Blake Comeau
Defensemen: Paul Martin-Ben Lovejoy, Rob Scuderi-Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin-Taylor Chorney
Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (Thomas Greiss backup)
Healthy scratches: F Scott Wilson, D Scott Harrington
Injured: F Pascal Dupuis (blood clot, out indefinitely), D Kris Letang (concussion, out indefinitely), D Olli Maatta (shoulder, out indefinitely), D Christian Ehrhoff (upper-body, day-to-day), D Derrick Pouliot (upper-body, day-to-day)
PLENTY OF GAMES
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