NEW YORK (AP) — When you are two wins from the Stanley Cup finals you can afford to be casual and coy. New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is playing the part perfectly.
Vigneault was all smiles Tuesday at the team hotel in Montreal hours after his surging club beat the Canadiens again to lead the Eastern Conference finals 2-0.
The Rangers are home for the next two games. Two wins at Madison Square Garden will put them in the championship round for the first time since they took the Cup 20 years ago.
Since falling in a 3-1 series hole against Pittsburgh in the second round, the Rangers have won five straight. Quite a turnaround from almost certain elimination to being the favorite to get to the finals.
“What we try to do is — and I know you get sick and tired of hearing it — but one game at a time, one shift at a time. We want to play the right way,” Vigneault said. “That’s what’s gotten us here, and that’s what’s going to keep us here.”
It is certainly working.
New York is on its longest postseason winning streak since taking seven straight during the 1994 title run. The Rangers have won four in a row on the road — two in Pittsburgh, two in Montreal — for their best playoff stretch since a five-game spurt from May 9, 1972-April 12, 1973.
They are the fourth team to win six consecutive playoff games against the Canadiens, dating to Game 3 of the 1996 first round. The Rangers are the second team to win five postseason games in a row in Montreal.
No club has won more than six straight against the 24-time Stanley Cup champion Canadiens. The Rangers can make it seven in Game 3 on Thursday. It would give them a place in history, and put them in prime position to advance quickly after starting the playoffs with two seven-game series.
The Rangers put themselves in this spot with a stunning 7-2 series-opening win Saturday and followed with a 3-1 victory Monday when Henrik Lundqvist shined with a 40-save effort that Canadiens coach Michel Therrien twice called “phenomenal.”
“You get on a roll because different things happen,” assistant captain Brad Richards said. “Whether one night Henrik keeps you in, you get opportunistic goals, or something. We got a bunch of goals the other night in the third period, and you get some confidence.
“But, really, it’s forgotten about, and we have to really get ready for a great opportunity in our first game on home ice.”
The Rangers were overtaxed in the first two rounds, partly by their own doing in needing to win in Game 7 both times, but also falling victim to the schedule that had them playing back-to-back stretches of three games in four days.
They have two days off before Game 3 and then will have another two-day break before Game 4 on Sunday. At this point, though, they might relish the chance to hop back on the ice sooner.
The Canadiens were the tired team this time, hosting Game 1 on Saturday afternoon after finishing off the Bruins on Wednesday night in Boston.
“The first game was tough for us,” Therrien said Tuesday during a conference call. “Emotionally, it was tough for us. Physically it was tough for us. We didn’t get much time between Game 7 and Game 1. Obviously, it showed with the result. But I thought we regrouped really well.
“I thought we were a team that’s pushing the pace, and we played a solid game. It’s good for us mentally to get a day off. I’m anxious to see my guys (Wednesday), and go to New York. We are looking for one win, and momentum can change quickly in the playoffs. I’m really optimistic.”
Therrien hasn’t said if he will go back to Dustin Tokarski in Game 3 after the 24-year-old goalie made his playoff debut Monday in place of Carey Price — who is out for the series — or Peter Budaj, who replaced the injured Price in the opener. Tokarski made 27 saves in just his 11th career NHL game.
Vigneault implied he has an idea which goalie his club will face Thursday.
“I do, but I’m not willing to share it with you,” he said.
He was no more forthcoming about the status of Rangers forward Derick Brassard, who was injured in the opener and sat out Monday. But he playfully dropped a hint.
“Day to day right now. If I was a betting man …,” Vigneault said.
Heading home with a 2-0 lead can brighten a coach’s disposition.
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