You may have expected today would be one of celebration for the Rangers, or at least one that would include a little morning-after haze, but the MSG Training Center had an upbeat feel during and after practice. In fact, much to our surprise, everyone took the ice for the skate with the exception of Henrik Lundqvist and Brendan Shanahan, both of whom were mingling around the rink and the dressing room in street clothes. (OK, OK, OK, that’s my first error for today. Lundqvist, for whatever reason, was actually wearing a suit for whatever reason.) Everyone was clean-shaven and ready to grow their playoff beards, even the ever-scruffy types like Jagr, Hollweg and Tyutin.
For me, the message of the day is that the Rangers emerge from last night a confident team. They feel the acquisition of Sean Avery has balanced the lineup and the distribution of ice time, which has allowed them to have more strength for all three periods, especially on defense. I can tell you from our conversations with Jaromir Jagr last night and then again today that he feels particularly strong because of the commitment to four forward lines.
“If I was chasing some records or something, maybe I’d like to play more,” Jagr said. “But I’m not chasing anything.” And then he went on to mention how all that matters now is the playoffs. If you play too much, he said, “you might feel good in the first game. But if you play a lot, you might not be able to play your best in a sixth or seventh game.”
Jagr seemed incredibly loose today, which is exactly how he’s been all week, what with the constant math problems and all. He also feels much more confident in himself, and I’ll have more on that for the paper.
Tom Renney continued to reiterate his stance that the team is headed to Pittsburgh to earn itself the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He said he didn’t want to reveal too much as to why he preferred a matchup with Atlanta or Tampa Bay, just that his personnel is better suited to play those teams rather than the Devils. I don’t think it takes a Boy Genius like Sam to figure out why.
A couple quick news items before I go:
1. Steve Valliquette remains the backup. Renney was asked about Kevin Weekes, who he says is “ready to go.” Valliquette is still eligible to play for Hartford in the playoffs, and though the Wolfpack remain alive they have yet to secure a berth. We’ll have to wait and see if the Rangers make a move after Hartford’s situation is determined.
2. Probably no Hossa tomorrow. But Renney stood by his statement all week that the big forward will return for Game 1 of the playoffs.
3. Rachunek took the ice today. He wore a yellow jersey. Renney estimated that he’d need another week, which would put him in line to dress for Game 3 of the playoffs. The Rangers will need to dress seven defensemen in the playoffs, so I guess someone else will be needed in Games 1 and 2. Obviously, Hartford’s situation, as well as Staal’s in juniors, will be worth watching for that.
4. Tentative playoff schedule. I guess they gave one last season and it quickly changed. But as of now, the Rangers will play on the road on April 12th and 14th, and at the Garden on the 17th and 18th. Obviously, we’ll let you know when it is final.