NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers aren’t accustomed to this.
In last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals, they went the seven-game limit in the first two series, then needed six games in the Eastern Conference final.
Now, after four straight 2-1 victories — the clincher in Game 5 Friday night against Pittsburgh on Carl Hagelin’s overtime goal — they actually get some time to, as coach Alain Vigneault put it, “heal some bumps and bruises.”
New York will face the winner of the Capitals-Islanders series, which Washington led 3-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Nassau Coliseum. Rather than look ahead to a potential next opponent, the Rangers looked forward to some rest.
“Anytime you can close out a series and heal some bumps and bruises — which we certainly have a few — it’s a good thing,” Vigneault said. “We will take the next couple of days here to recuperate and recover and we’ll get right back to strategizing for the next series and getting ready.”
One of the injuries came in the first period to forward Mats Zuccarello. He left with an undisclosed injury, but looked woozy as he skated to the bench. The Rangers didn’t have an update after the game.
Defenseman Kevin Klein could be back. He was having a superb season when he broke his left forearm on March 11.
“I think it’s good for us right now,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant in the Game 5 win and for much of the series with the Penguins. “We have a couple guys that need a couple days to recover and take care of some stuff. I think it’s huge for us to regroup a little bit and come ready for the second round.”
They’ll need to come to that round with more to offer on the power play, which went 3 for 20 against the Penguins. Too much passing and lots of wasted time trying to set up the perfect shot was damaging.
Still, they won, they shut down two of hockey’s most dangerous scorers in Sidney Crosby (four points) and Evgeni Malkin (none), and they were opportunistic.
“I think it’s pretty good but I still think we need to find another level,” said defenseman Dan Girardi, who blocked 23 shots against Pittsburgh. “Every series from now on gets harder. For points in this series we were spot-on and playing great hockey. Sometimes we were on our heels a bit and in our end for an extended period of time.”
Most encouraging was the work on Crosby and Malkin.
“I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” Girardi said of the lack of production for the Penguins’ stars. “We would have liked to have done a little better job on Crosby in Game 2 (when he had two goals), but sometimes you have to tip your cap to the world’s best player. I think overall we did a strong job. It’s everybody helping out. Obviously we’re pretty happy with the job we did against those guys.”
Vigneault praised, well, everyone, and it was clear that from the top line to the fourth line, from the first defense pairing of Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to the third, enough clicked to move on.
“You can’t go anywhere in this league if you don’t have depth,” Vigneault said. “You are going to get some players banged up now and then. You are going to need some guys to step in and play and play important minutes and find ways to contribute. That’s just the way the NHL is. These playoffs are a battle of survival.”
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