Brandon Dubinsky, Mats Zuccarello and Kris Newbury all skated with the big team at the morning skate, and John Tortorella said that Brandon Prust will return from his suspension and that there could be additional changes to the lineup tonight.
But anybody who’s guessing what those changes might (or might not) be are, well, guessing, though John Mitchell staying on the ice late and Dubinsky leaving with the regulars is a pretty big hint. Looks like Stu Bickel remains in, on defense, and Steve Eminger comes out.
By the way, was I the only person who knew that Torts was joking when he said, “pray” yesterday? I mean, everybody in the room laughed when he said it.
Here’s my story from The Journal News and LoHud.com today:
By Rick Carpiniello
NEW YORK — The Rangers have been here before. Twice. They have done this the hard way, and they’ve done it the easier way and made it harder.
They have lost Games 2 and 4 in each of their previous two playoff rounds, after winning Games 1 and 3, as they now have done again in the Eastern Conference final against the Devils.
Against Ottawa, the Rangers lost Game 5 at home and had to rally to win Games 6 and 7. Against Washington, the Rangers won Game 5 at home, then lost Game 6 on the road and had to win another Game 7.
So who knows what path they will take this time, with Game 5 of another 2-2 series tonight at the Garden?
But be assured, Game 5 has nothing to do with the topic of ridiculous conversation today — Mike Rupp’s tiny little baby punch of Martin Brodeur in the third period of Game 4, which had the coaches screaming at one another.
If the Rangers’ intent was to create a distraction with that minor melee, mission accomplished.
That it was even a story a day later is just an indication of how many non-hockey eyes are focused on this series, some of whom have no idea what real playoff mayhem is, some of whom it seems, are watching playoff hockey for the first time.
Yeah, it sometimes gets a little rough and even cheap when one team is three goals behind in the third period of a playoff game. Yawn.
The real story, the underlying reality, is that the Rangers haven’t solved what the Devils are doing to them: that the Rangers’ game is based along the walls and deep in the offensive zone, and that the Devils have taken away the walls and Brodeur’s puck-handling has removed them from the offensive zone.
Yes, the Rangers were better late in Game 4, and in fact, have probably been the better third-period team throughout the series. The problem is the Devils have owned them in the first period, and to a somewhat lesser degree in the second, and if Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t throw a shutout, they’ve lost.
So again Tuesday the Rangers leaned on their resilience, an unchallengeable reputation they’ve earned through 100 games this season that, they expect, or know, will be there tonight.
“It defines our team,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday, after a brisk, upbeat and positive Garden practice that he cut short.
What they don’t know is if they can solve what the Devils do.
“We don’t have the puck enough,” Tortorella said. “Jersey has the puck a lot more minutes than we do. I think that’s something we need to try to change.”
He was asked if it was more tactical or execution.
“I think it’s both, tactical and execution,” he said. “Willingness. All sorts of things come into play as far as territory and puck possession. And it’s a simple fact. We need to get better at it.”
In one of his lighter moments of the postseason, Tortorella was told that the Rangers have gotten three goals from rookie Chris Kreider, an empty-netter from Ryan Callahan and the rest of his top six forwards have zero goals. What, he was asked, can be done to get them going?
“Pray,” he said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. We’re going to keep on trying to play, pray and hopefully something good happens to them.”
Prayer isn’t in the game plan, though. The Rangers’ effort should be a given in Game 5, their desperation level high. They will get Brandon Prust back from his suspension, and that could help the forecheck. They might add Brandon Dubinsky, who skated again in a full practice, but hasn’t played since Game 7 of the first round with an ankle/foot injury.
They need to figure out some things for which they’ve had no answers through four games of this series.