Alain Vigneault calls Max Lapierre a “great competitor” before Game 1, but his former player with the Canucks is now an opponent playing for the Penguins against the Rangers.
Alain Vigneault coached Pittsburgh Penguins forward Maxim Lapierre in the Quebec Major Junior hockey league with the Prince Edward Island Rocket (2003-05) and in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks (2010-13).
“We went through a lot of big moments together,” said Lapierre, 30, a key member of Vigneault’s 2011 Canucks team that lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. “He’s the coach who taught me everything.”
Saturday morning at the Garden, Lapierre even lauded Vigneault’s ability to earn the respect of his players.
“It’s an honest relationship,” Lapierre said the coach-to-player dynamic. “He doesn’t try to sell you something that isn’t there. You always know where you stand.”
Vigneault, however, is now coaching the Rangers, and entering Game 2 on Saturday night, he had a big problem with where Lapierre and his teammates have been standing – on top of Henrik Lundqvist’s crease.
Vigneault, therefore, initiated a bit of early playoff gamesmanship on Wednesday afternoon in Greenburgh, chirping the NHL’s officials to pay closer attention to Pittsburgh’s tactics.
“Hank plays in the blue paint,” Vigneault said after the Rangers took Game 1, 2-1, on Thursday night. “When he gets hit, the blue paint’s the goaltender. It’s because there’s a willingness to go there and disturb. There was a lot of stuff from certain of their players that we knew was gonna happen after the whistle. We hope that the referees are gonna see it and call it. We’re going to play whistle to whistle and be a very disciplined team.”
Lapierre insisted the Penguins aren’t trying to injure Lundqvist, just score goals.
“Our game plan wasn’t to go in his crease and hit him,” said Lapierre, who tied up Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle at the crease, allowing linemate Blake Comeau to bury a second-period rebound. “We’re trying to get traffic, but we don’t want to commit a penalty that will put them on the power play.”
Vigneault was emphatic, however, that officials had ignored several blatant infractions after the lone goaltending interference call on Pens forward Chris Kunitz in the first period.
“I would hope that I don’t need to (remind the officials),” Vigneault said. “Anybody who’s followed the Rangers for the past 10 years with Henrik in goal knows he plays in the blue paint. The league has a mandate to protect the goaltenders. If he gets bumped or hit, it’s the referees’ responsibility and the league’s responsibility to ensure that he’s protected.
“But this is something that we’ve gone through for 82 games, and it’s something we’ve gone through for each playoff game that we play,” the coach added. “So it’s nothing new. It’s there. We deal with it.”
Vigneault is undeniably correct on one point: The Rangers will have to deal with it.
This season’s officiating has been exceptionally inconsistent, and obvious penalties are frequently overlooked. Look no further than Patrick Kane’s goal on Friday night being counted even though the Chicago Blackhawks had six men on the ice.
Pittsburgh’s contact with Lundqvist in Game 1 probably wasn’t as egregious as Vigneault made it out to be, but there were a few instances where a no-call was surprising – none more so than Steve Downie’s second-period slash of the goaltender away from the play.
Penguins first-year coach Mike Johnston, though, felt the Penguins’ contact in the crease was more am incidental byproduct of their pursuit of the puck.
“A lot of the stuff that happened with Lundqvist for me was a loose puck in the crease, and our guys are going after a loose puck,” Johnston said. “It’s sitting there. It’s available, and players have free rein to play that puck.”
And so the gamesmanship will continue, as Vigneault makes clear that even though he and Lapierre are familiar, he’d prefer all of the Penguins remain less familiar with his goalie.
Injured Rangers top-four defenseman Kevin Klein may return to practice Sunday in Greenburgh between Games 2 and 3.
Klein (broken left forearm, day-to-day) skated hard with assistant coach Darryl Williams on Saturday morning at the Garden, and though he didn’t have his left arm on his stick much, he experimented with a couple quick wrist shots on backup goalie Cam Talbot before leaving the ice.
Alain Vigneault said Klein’s status for practice will depend on how his body reacts to Saturday’s skate.
“We’re waiting to see how the pain will be for the rest of the day,” Vigneault said before Game 2.
The Rangers coach said Klein needs at least one full team practice under his belt before returning to game action.
Klein, 30, has been sidelined since March 11, when he broke his arm blocking a shot by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in Washington. His timeline for recovery is four-to-six weeks. Next Wednesday will mark six weeks since the injury. Games 3 and 4 are Monday and Wednesday in Pittsburgh, respectively.
The righthanded defenseman had a career year despite his late injury, including a torrid start with seven goals in the Rangers’ first 30 games by Dec. 20. He finished the regular season with nine goals and 26 assists in 65 games, and there was a significant stretch in the late winter when he and Marc Staal comprised the team’s most consistent defensive pair.
The Rangers were able to win frequently down the stretch of the regular season in part because veteran righthanded defenseman Dan Boyle raised his game in Klein’s absence, playing his best hockey of the season in March and April.
Unfortunately, Boyle’s lackadaisical play and poor puck management from the early season reared its head in Game 1 in the form of several bad turnovers, and it almost cost the Rangers dearly.
“He had been playing some real good hockey,” Vigneault said. “He’d be the first to tell you that (Thursday) night he might have been a little bit off in certain puck decisions, but his play without the puck was good and he is a veteran player that knows he can be better.”
The Rangers entered Thursday night trying to sweep Games 1 and 2 as the higher seed in a playoff series for the first time since 1994. The 1994 Stanley Cup winners won the first two games at the Garden in both the first round against the Islanders and the second round against the Washington Capitals. Since, the Rangers have been the higher seed in seven playoff series and split six times, while dropping both games in the other.
DRAFT IN THE AIR
Before Rangers-Penguins Saturday night, the NHL was poised to conduct its 2015 Draft Lottery to determine the order of selection in this year’s first round for the 14 teams that failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The top two prizes awaiting the lottery winners are considered potentially franchise-altering stars: Canadian center Connor McDavid, 18 (Erie Otters, Ontario Hockey League), and Massachusetts-born center Jack Eichel, 18, (Boston University, Hockey East, Hobey Baker Award winner as NCAA Division-I MVP).
The Buffalo Sabres (20% chance), Arizona Coyotes (13.5%) and Edmonton Oilers (11.5%) had the best chance of winning the lottery. The Los Angeles Kings (2.0%) and Boston Bruins (1.0%) had a sliver of hope, to the chagrin of the rest of the league.
Last August, the NHL adjusted the odds of winning the first overall selection to try to limit teams from tanking for high picks. The 10 highest-finishing, non-playoff teams now receive better odds than they did previously, while the league’s worst four finishers’ odds dropped slightly.
The NHL draft will take place on June 26-27 at the Florida Panthers’ BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
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